Over a year on from its launch at the historic Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, Beck by Brown’s is going strong with an ever-changing menu making the most of seasonal delights, including this, the Summer Truffle Menu.
A bowl of ice, out of which stick pop-sticks of raw vegetables, is a strange start to a five-course summer truffle tasting menu. There’s also warm, squidgy sourdough and bowls of olive oil dolloped with whipped Greek yoghurt. There are cocktails with names like je t’aime in reference to the swinging ‘60s, most of which are Italian and revolve around Ferrari Perle sparkling wine. And there is Whispering Angel, for it is rosé season.
But we’re at Beck at Brown’s not for the À La Carte or ‘60s’ cocktails, though anyone eating here would be silly not to sample je t’aime’s champagne and Manzanilla sherry sweetness. We’re here for a month-long dedication to grating, flaking, marinating and infusing the venerable truffle into and onto the restaurant’s Italian fare.
Truffle is always distinctive, often overpowering, and occasionally sprinkled on simple dishes in the hope that it will elevate them from the ordinary to the sublime. It’s also everywhere. Flake it over toasted cheese sandwiches, dust on top of gourmet popcorn, drizzle oils infused with it onto artisanal sourdough pizza and let its earthy pungency invade your nostrils. Its democratisation is down to an abundance of cheap, accessible flavourings that can be added to oil, for example, to appeal to diners who associate its distinctive flavour with decadence.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Beck at Browns’ Executive Chef Heros de Agostinis would focus on returning truffle to its ostentatious roots – this is Mayfair, after all – but this proves not to be the case. Each course revolves around just a handful of simple and seasonal ingredients, all of which are found in, or inspired by, his Italian heritage.
Our first dish comes in the form of paper-thin Sea Bass Carpaccio, fanned into a flower shape and decorated with tiny petals. Truffle has been mixed with vinegar and used to quickly cure, so its distinctive depth of flavour is pared-back and allows the sweet, delicate fish to shine. Cannellini beans add firm texture and nuttiness to an entrée that’s refreshing and light, leaving you wanting more.
Next we get primi-sized plates of perfectly formed ravioli parcels. This is our favourite dish: mouthful after mouthful of fresh, supple pasta that breaks with the slightest hint of pressure so that the ricotta, parmesan and truffle filling oozes and mixes with more grated truffle melted on top. It has all the comforting elements of traditional ravioli but is served sauce-less, save for the melt-y truffle, so there’s none of the post-carb slump.
Waiting staff whip away our plates and de-crumb (of course they de-crumb). The waiting staff we chat to are the true stars of the show. Warm and charismatic, they all appear willing and able to explain every nook of the menu without faltering or hesitation. They’re also pleasingly liberal with the truffle, grating it into a fluffy little peak over our main course, a fist-sized Fillet of Veal. It comes medium rare and sits in a rich, truffle-infused jus on a bed of pureed and wilted spinach, with turnip halves for crunch. It’s the most typically “Beck at Browns” dish on the seasonal menu, but our minds are still on those glorious, glorious pasta parcels.
We finish with an Apricot Tart, which is more like a buttery biscuit and is piled with sharp, tangy fruit that’s just the right side of sweet. Here the key ingredient is found in an ultra-smooth scoop of vanilla truffle ice cream, that takes over the senses before it’s even on the spoon. Paired with the tartness of apricot and the sickly sweetness of salted caramel sauce, its earthiness is more than welcome.
Petits Fours come as fun raspberry fruit pastilles, chocolate orange truffles and a small citrus tart – a pleasant way to end a pleasant three courses at a pleasant restaurant.
If £65 a head for a three-course menu seems a little steep, it’s worth mentioning that the À La Carte will have you choking on your £42 grilled dover sole. When you put it like that, these monthly rotating menus are a brilliant way to sample de Agonstinis’ take on refined, seasonal Italian food for a lesser price tag.
Beck at Brown’s, Brown’s Hotel, Albemarle St, Mayfair, London W1S 4BP
Words by Jade Hammond