Bel Canto, Lancaster Gate, London

Chicken Caesar Salad for a fresh start

Chicken Caesar Salad for a fresh start

Set Menu:

  • Location: Bel Canto, Corus Hotel Hyde Park, Lancaster Gate, London, W2 3LG (nearest tube is Lancaster Gate)
  • Date of Visit: Tuesday 4th December 2012
  • Time of Table: 7.00pm
  • Deal Bought From: Groupon
  • Deal Price: £75 for Four
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister Jess, mum Tina and grandmother Hazel

Getting More for your Money?

This dinner deal includes:

  • Starter
  • Main Course
  • Live Opera
  • For Four People
Hotpot Fish Soup

Hotpot Fish Soup

What we ate…

Katie:

  • Starter: Chicken Caesar Salad
  • Main: Pan Fried Prime Beef Fillet served with Caramelised Shallots
  • Side: Homemade Chunky Fries, Mixed Vegetables and a Peppercorn Sauce (not included)
  • Dessert:  Hot Chocolate Fondant with Salted Caramel Ice Cream (not included)

Jess:

  • Starter: Opera Salad
  • Main: Char Grilled Corn Fed Chicken Breast, Sautéed Mushroom and Creamy Truffle Sauce
  • Side: Homemade Chunky Fries and Mixed Vegetables (not included)
  • Dessert: Hot Chocolate Fondant with Salted Caramel Ice Cream (not included)
Divine dessert - chocolate fondant

Divine dessert – chocolate fondant

Tina:

  • Starter: Fish Soup
  • Main: Char Grilled Corn Fed Chicken Breast, Sautéed Mushroom and Creamy Truffle Sauce
  • Side: Homemade Chunky Fries and Mixed Vegetables (not included)
  • Dessert: Hot Chocolate Fondant with Salted Caramel Ice Cream (not included)

Hazel:

  • Starter: Salmon
  • Main: Char Grilled Corn Fed Chicken Breast, Sautéed Mushroom and Creamy Truffle Sauce
  • Side: Homemade Chunky Fries and Mixed Vegetables (not included)
  • Dessert: Hot Chocolate Fondant with Salted Caramel Ice Cream (not included)
Dramatic theatre vibe

Dramatic theatre vibe

What we drank…

  • Bottle of Rose de Cinsault, Domaine de Peras – Pay d’Oc France (not included)
  • Tomato Juice (not included)
  • Slim-line Tonic (not included)
  • Four Cappuccinos (not included)
  • Tap Water (not included)

What did we think?

Descending the steps that lead into the decorated entrance of Lancaster Gate’s hidden gem, Bel Canto, is very much like joining Alice as she somehow stumbles across a whole new world of enchantment, although the quirky glee of childhood animals is instead replaced by an intimate and suggestive glamour encapsulated within the world of theatre and music.

I didn’t really know what to expect, but the presentation of the restaurant definitely gave a few hints. Walls were painted in the decadent red of falling stage curtains, while alcoves were homes for golden painted violins and harps, the centrepiece of the room being an immensely elegant black grand piano, sheet music already scattered on the stand. Dotted around the room were also a variety of mannequins draped in fantastic floor length gowns, fit for the theatre, with textures, colours and patterns galore. Despite the emphasis on luxury, Bel Canto has a strangely homely atmosphere that is oddly intimate, like having your closest friends over for dinner. I believe this is because of the joint anticipation of the evening, as we are all here for the same reason – deliciously divine food and classical music.

Showpiece piano and source of grand entertainment

Showpiece piano and source of grand entertainment

With branches in both Paris and Neuilly and a roster of over 60 artists, Bel Canto know their stuff. We were one of the first parties to arrive, with a wonderfully central table situated just in front of the gleaming grand piano.  Our attentive waiter was more than happy to cater to our wishes, pouring out our wine, and then putting it on a separate cutlery and drinks station that he manned so that the bottle wouldn’t clutter our space. There was a nice choice of starters and even though I normally shun anything overly green the sound of the chicken Caesar salad was really hitting the spot and I was pleasantly surprised by my choice. The chicken came in thick slabs draped across single plucked gem lettuce leaves, like they had been cut from a freshly cooked breast. The bacon was crispy, crunchy and thin, the small diced croutons adding extra bite with the dressing. The portion was also very decent and would have actually made a very filling lunch! Considering I never usually go for greenery, I thoroughly enjoyed this starter. There was also plenty of choice with a variety of options to suit everyone, and all four of us opted for different starters.

Veggie starter Opera Salad

Veggie starter Opera Salad

Mains were also tricky to decide upon, but being a big steak lover it was no contest in the end as I chose the beef fillet. I must say, it was the most stunning presentation of steak I have ever seen, with a gorgeous and elaborately curled floral spring onion, a bed of diced tomato supporting a beautifully round and succulent chunk of steak. Propped up against the meat was a tall, slim tube of the peppercorn sauce – I have never seen sauce presented in this way so I really loved that. My whole meal looked divine and it was so different to usual steak dishes that it was love at first sight. The steak was also perfectly cooked with fantastic flavour so I munched away happily. We shared the two sides between the four of us, the mixed vegetables containing your usual suspects as well as peppers, which is a bit more out there. The chips though were heaven sent, as we all know, you just can’t beat a pucker chip. The rest of our group opted for the chicken, which had them umming and ahhing as well, the light and fruity rose wine a perfect accompaniment.

Beautiful costumes

Beautiful costumes

It was while we were eating our main course that the music began, and it completely took my breath away. One minute, the waitress was passing me my plate, the next she was about a metre away by the piano, blasting out opera. There were four singers in attendance, also serving as waiters, although there were also normal waiting staff too, trained to an incredibly high standard of service. The musicians though were astounding. Not only was I hearing simply stunning opera literally inches from me, but it was sheer performance. The beautiful ballads were in Italian or French but the aisles between tables seemed to transform into our very own personal stage, as they acted out the lyrics, clearly conveying love, sadness, anger and relationship triangles so complex yet still evident to our eyes. It was like a front row seat at an expensive Parisian opera house and I adored the professionalism. Even the pianist, Sam, was spellbinding, his fingers flying as they flickered and flayed across the white and black notes. They had a mix of singers including two women who were both varying sopranos, a husky baritone called Rodney and your typical tenor, a brooding Italian Marcio.

Every 15 minutes or so, one or two of them would hover by the piano, giving Sam the signal before letting rip with the high notes. My mum even commented at one point how the glasses on our table had been vibrating with the sheer power of their voices. They sang solos, duets and all together, to weave artistic musical stories among the diners as we let our cutlery still for the duration of the song. What I personally found to be fantastic was that each night would be entirely unique, so every time you attend, you would have a different experience. Different performers play every single night, the music only decided at 5.30pm before guests arrive at 7.00pm. They literally settle the schedule those couple of hours beforehand really making it a very organic, artistic and creative experience.

Salmon to start

Salmon to start

Even though dessert wasn’t included in our offer, I couldn’t say no to the notion of chocolate fondant and salted caramel ice cream – two of my very favourite flavours combined rather gloriously. The fondant was perfect with a delicate spongy outside and insides so oozy it required the utmost skill to slide it onto your spoon. The ice cream was amazing as well, the saltiness really giving the caramel a vibrant zing that pepped up the rich chocolate. Plus, hot and cold is always a good combo, this one done with aplomb.

As our cappuccinos arrived, the singers also came round with complimentary glasses of Prosecco as they began to sing ‘The Drinking Song’, urging us into the chorus with “la la la la!” They moved gracefully around the tables, clinking glasses with every single visitor. We all felt included, part of something special and part of something much more than just a good meal. It had a classy party vibe too, especially when Marcio burst into the traditional ‘Amore’, pausing halfway through to melodiously exclaim about one cornetto that was delicious ice cream… from Italy.

Simply stunning steak

Simply stunning steak

The food may have been long gone, but we didn’t want to leave, the mere thought of missing even one song heart breaking. They began to pack the tables away at 10.30pm so we drifted back towards the entrance to get our coats from the cloakroom. Looking at the guest book where people were signing, our eyes zoomed in on Kate Winslet’s scrawled signature.  For a night of mouth -watering food and achingly beautiful music, I couldn’t have wished for any better.

Making a second reservation? Most definitely. As I mentioned before, due to the vast quantity of musicians, and the last minute organisation of classic opera compositions, every night would be completely unique. A perfect excuse to return if you ask me.  I liked the fact that the menu had all of the bases covered with fish, chicken, red meat and vegetarian options available, clearly catering for all main tastes. It meant that there was bound to be something to suit every guest.

Chicken breast dressed with sauce

Chicken breast dressed with sauce

Also, price wise, it felt like a bargain, because of the music. The initial Groupon offered saved us approximately £100 on the offer Bel Canto do anyway of a two course meal including opera music, and split between four of us makes it much more manageable anyway. Granted we paid £124 at the table, but for four people and the music, it still felt cheap. The quality of the food was impeccable and faultless and thoroughly enjoyable. The opera was beautiful and so natural, it felt like they were singing just for you as they maintained eye contact and touched the back of your chair. No gimmicks, no fuss, no microphones. Just a black piano, four stunning voices and an all-encompassing menu cooked to perfection. What more do you need?

Coffee cappuccino conclusions

Coffee cappuccino conclusions

The Dinner Dates Opinion:

Jess:

“I can’t convey enough how much I enjoyed my evening at Bel Canto. Firstly, it was a very easy journey and only a stone’s throw from Lancaster Gate station.  The service staff were both friendly and professional from the beginning to the end of the evening. Food wise, everything I had was lovely. The opera salad was a nice mix of flavours and had loads of pine nuts which suited me! The chicken for mains was delicious, the sauce complementing it perfectly and the dessert might actually have been the best chocolate fondant I have ever eaten. The performances all night were exquisite, there was a range of songs performed and each one was amazing, and it felt just like a private performance just for your table. I would definitely come again as it is such a unique night, something so different to normal, and so perfectly done. Although I felt like we had a good deal, I might go for less extras next time to keep the price down if I didn’t have a voucher.”

Can't beat a chunky chip!

Can’t beat a chunky chip!

Tina:

“Bel Canto was an evening out like no other – it was a truly memorable evening.  On entering, the restaurant was immediately like finding an enchanted nook with elaborate opera outfits adding to the plush ambience of the room.  The menu was not vast but there was certainly enough to tempt the taste buds and all our choices were fabulous.  The staff were wonderfully welcoming and efficient, and as most of the dinner guests seemed to arrive quite early, it was as though we were all invited to a rather select soiree.  And then the singing started as four of the waiting staff regularly took it in turns to burst into operatic song about every 10 minutes.  They covered a variety of operatic voices between them and they were all simply amazing.  The crowd became hushed at every tuneful interval and burst into great applause after each aria. The combination of a lovely meal and the wonderful entertainment made for a fantastic night out and I very much look forward to a repeat experience soon.”

Inside Bel Canto

Inside Bel Canto

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