Al Mare in Knightsbridge: “I walked out of the restaurant reeling”
We have ruined the words “blessed” and “grateful”. Reading them, one might either assume irony or picture an accompanying hashtag and the image of a sunset blocked by a pair of knees. But there’s no other way to describe the feeling of eating beautiful food in a beautiful restaurant after a very ugly pandemic. Yes, it’s been a few months since the magic of dining out was returned to the serial frolickers of London (myself included), but I vow to never stop feeling #blessed or #grateful. This blessèd (does it sound less lame when I make it Shakespearean?) feeling was never stronger than the afternoon I indulged in a wet lunch at the flagship Italian restaurant at the newly renovated Carlton Tower Jumeirah in Knightsbridge.
Al Mare is special, not only for its light-filled, luxurious interiors – featuring Rosapino marble, velvety chairs in bright blue, and crisp white tablecloths – but also for its superior hospitality. That rare kind of service that strikes a balance between convivial and slick, keeping tabs on your every need but taking the time to be human and make you smile. Don’t be too surprised if you see your initials on the cocktail’s ice cube.
The menu maintains this level of luxury, honing in on seafood with offerings of crudo (raw fish), pasta and shellfish. Head chef Marco Calenzo is ex-Zuma – an old but gold favourite. We started our meal with two crudo dishes, Tonno al Tartufo Nero and the Tartare di Tonno, as well as an antipasto of scampi (seared langoustines with mostarda di Cremona). The presentation was spectacular, elevated by irreverent elements like the langoustines in a martini glass and a sprig of lilac flowers atop the tartare. The seared bluefin tuna was soft and buttery with subtle hints of truffle, while the salty caviar and orange ponzu on the tartare balanced the umami of the raw fish. The stars of the starters, however, were those magnificent scampi on skewers. Plump and juicy, the searing on them provided a slight waft of smokiness, while the mustard dip at the bottom delivered a harmonious hit of sweet and sour in every mouthful. Washed down with a glass of the aromatic verdeca wine Alice from Manduria, it was heavenly.
It was naturally impossible to ignore the alluring holler of the Linguine all’Astice (blue lobster linguine). We succumbed to the call, and partnered it with the Granchio Reale (king crab, fusilli with basil pesto, tomato and balsamic vinegar). The former featured perfectly al dente strands of pasta, with delicate flavours that let the worthy lobster sing. For drama, the crustacean is served in its shell, but there’s no faff involved. The flaky meat lifts out of the shell and allows itself to be easily interspersed with the pasta with a swivel of the fork. The Granchio Reale, though delicious and generous with juicy chunks of crab, was fated to shine a little less brightly.
Given that I’m a savoury person through and though, it takes a special kind of dessert to have me enamoured. If you’re a vanilla person, the French toast will have you starry-eyed. Breaking into the seemingly rigid slab of brioche with its caramelised top revealed that it was completely drenched in creamy vanilla goodness. The ice cream on the side signed off this love letter to the spice (yes, vanilla is a spice – I checked). Meanwhile, the tiramisù was divine, but not for half-hearted coffee drinkers – it packed a strong but welcome punch. Resembling a work of minimalistic art, the Peruvian Chocolate Tart was equally special, with soft yet rich ganache sweetened by its accompanying pistachio ice cream. Our sommelier gave us a dash of sweet 2013 Royal Tokaji wine to have with it – a nostalgic reminder of my first taste of wine and the reason I fell in love with it in the first place.
Giddy with gratitude, I walked out of Al Mare reeling. The pure refinement and attention to detail at the restaurant results in an indulgent experience that makes its high-end locality proud. And while fine dining always comes at a price, perhaps the business lunch at £49 each isn’t too big a price to pay for something so special.
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at Al Mare, 1 Cadogan Place The Carlton Tower Jumeirah SW1X 9PY, call 020 7858 7250 or visit their website here.