db Eats: Ora

db’s resident glutton, Lucy Shaw, heads to Heinz Beck’s London pop-up at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair for an ethereal Meursault and the best risotto of her life.

Heinz Beck with his protégé Heros De Agostinis and cocktail maestro Salvatore Calabrese

The concept: While far too modest to admit it, Heinz Beck is something of a big deal. Born in southern Germany near the Swiss border, Beck dreamed of being a painter, but his father wouldn’t allow him to pursue such a fanciful profession, so he trained as a chef instead.

Having cut his teeth at the three star Tantris in Munich, in 1994 Beck moved to his beloved Italy, where he made a name for himself among the restaurant glitterati at La Pergola in Rome, the first restaurant in the eternal city to be awarded three Michelin stars.

While running La Pergola, Beck somehow found the time to launch Apsleys at The Lanesborough, which ran from 2009 to 2013 in one of the prettiest dining rooms in London, and won a star just five months after opening.

Langoustine with cucumber and apple

Beck’s brief return to London is welcome news to lovers of his food, which, no doubt due to his passion for art, is painterly in its presentation with a thread of freshness running through it. Keen to cook in the capital again, Beck has teamed up with Rocco Forte’s Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair.

The fruit of the collaboration is Ora, a six-week pop-up running until Christmas in what used to be Hix Mayfair, showcasing some of La Pergola’s signature dishes alongside new plates created specifically for the London venture.

The décor: While some pop-ups feel a bit half-hearted, Brown’s has gone all out to make Ora seem like it has always been there, from the sign outside to the snug interiors in the wood-panelled room.

Designer Ashley Hicks has given the room a festive makeover for the Christmas residency, complete with a crackling fire, chic silver baubles floating from the ceiling and curious cut-outs of demijohns and amphorae lining the walls. Ella and Nina’s mellifluous tones drift through the speakers and the atmosphere is cosy and convivial.

The food: With Beck manning the stoves, we were in safe hands. His food has a distinctly Italian accent but tips its hat to classic French techniques. The menu reads like a ode to the jewels of the sea, with the likes of langoustine and lobster given (three Michelin) star treatment.

My starter of marinated langoustines with cucumber and apple, and aniseed gelatine, was almost too pretty to eat, crowned with a crisp crafted into the shape of a sea sponge and decorated with edible flowers.

The dreamy langoustine risotto

The langoustine was sweet and juicy, while the cucumber foam and cubes of apple gave the dish an intense freshness that acted as the perfect palate cleanser before the main event.

My king crab taglioni with smoked aubergine purée had a wonderful umami savouriness to it, while the smoke from the aubergine added a moreish barbecue sweetness to the dish.

The only slight disappointment of the evening was the John Dory marinated with lime and curry, which promised a lot but failed to ignite my taste buds.

Beck, I’m sure, didn’t want to overpower the fish with explosive flavours, but the end result was too subtle and whispering to deliver culinary joy.

Signature dishes: No trip to Ora would be complete without ordering the langoustine risotto with pickled vegetables that curl playfully around the plate. It was not only a thing of beauty but the best risotto I’ve ever tasted.

The perfectly al dente grains of rice mingled in a rich, creamy, savoury, unctuous sauce given added interest by plump pink langoustines lurking amid the tangy veg.

Wines chosen by head somm Nicolo Barbera

“I made it with no cream or butter”, Heinz announces when he emerges from the kitchen after the meal to say hello. This seems miraculous given the opulence of the dish. The man is a magician.

The drink: The wine list celebrates Italian drops and offers a tempting selection by the glass. Head sommelier Niccolo Barbera (brilliant surname for a somm), will guide you through the list and edge you towards the Etna wines, which are well worth a look.

Our meal began with crisp flutes of Ferrari Perlé 2010 – a compelling traditional method sparkler from Trentodoc that gives most Champagnes competition. Torricella – a Chardonnay/Sauvignon blend from Tuscany’s Barone Ricasoli meanwhile, was rich, nutty and unctuous, and paired perfectly with the risotto.

Barbera went off piste with the match for my John Dory, daringly paring it with a 2013 Massolino Barolo from Serralunga d’Alba, which offered notes of cherry, liquorice, chocolate and cigar box and had surprisingly supple tannins for its youth.

The wine of the night however, was an ethereal 2015 Meursault from Domaine René Monnier, which was so good, we cheekily asked for a (generous) top up.

Who to know: The main man himself. Heinz Beck can be found in the kitchen most nights. This isn’t just a PR exercise – Beck is excited to be back in London and is fully dedicated to the pop-up. Could it be that he’s testing the water for a restaurant of his own in the capital?

Don’t leave without: Ordering dessert. The cosmic-sounding hazelnut planet was a riot of nutty, chocolatey deliciousness, but small enough not to pop the buttons on our shirt.

Negroni and Martini lovers should pop into cocktail maestro Salvatore Calabrese’s pop-up at the Donovan Bar after dinner for a bracing digestif.

Last word: For anyone who loves fine Italian food, a trip to Ora is a must. It isn’t cheap, but you’re made to feel like a visiting dignitary by the eager to please staff who kindly accommodated my order of a second risotto with grace.

Ora at Brown’s Hotel, Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BP; Tel: +44 (0)20 7518 4004

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