Rocco Forte throws a party to remember, celebrating the launch of Beck at Brown’s, the hotel brand's flagship restaurant, writes William Cash
London's summer party season kicked off last Wednesday night with Sir Rocco and Lady Forte and their children co-hosting a chic society party in the dining room of Beck at Browns's, the iconic London hotel where Heinz Beck, the award-winning chef, has been installed for the last few months following a major renovation of the restaurant.
The Forte family is one of the best hosts in London, bringing sophisticated Italian charm to Mayfair at a time when Albermarle Street is now being talked up as the smartest street in Mayfair with Robin Birley's new Oswald's just opening a few doors down. Sir Rocco personally tested the Perrier Jouet champagne and some of the gin cocktails before the party with the founder of Spear's. The cocktails were 'Old Curiosity colour-changing' Gin & Tonics made with Secret Herb Garden Gin.
We also tried out some of the canapés which included: crostini burro e alibi, fresh oyster station, marinated sea bass in lemon vinaigrette and fagotelli alla carbonara - all showing off the Italian cooking skills of Beck's kitchen. After a 'classic tiramisu' and then a 'chocolate mousse praline', one almost felt inclined to book a room for the night so that one could return to enjoy the menu again without having to go home. Despite his tasting duties, Sir Rocco looked characteristically tanned, fit and well. But then he is a man who will think nothing of cycling for 60 km around the Surrey lanes before breakfast and used to compete in Iron Man competitions.
The party attracted an eclectic mix of British and Euro-society guests with the likes of Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill and the new Duke of Beaufort (Bunter) mingling with writers (William Shawcross, Anthony Beevor and Tom Bower), newspaper editors (Martin Ivens of the Sunday Times and his wife Anne McElvoy), and a good turn out of A-list socialites (Celia Weinstock, the Von Bismarck family and Petronella Wyatt). Others included Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, former private secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Swiss-based financier Sebastian Taylor and Veronica Wadley, chairman of the Arts Council London.
The only group that were underrepresented were politicians (with the exception of Francis Maud) and that was only because the House of Commons were still voting on the EU Withdrawal Bill. The party also felt the charismatic presence of various carved stone heads by the British sculptor Emily Young who lives near the Tuscan coast in Italy. It felt entirely appropriate that these marble headed guests had come from Italian quarries.
The party celebrated the re-launch of the hotel's flagship restaurant. The new design by Sir Rocco's sister Olga Polizzi is a triumph of elegant and cosmopolitan good taste, understated and not too fussy, nor too obviously fusty or British. A truly eclectic marriage of contemporary and classic with striking bespoke dark green botanical wallpaper by interior designer Adam Ellis which hangs boldly above the polished paneling. The effect of the dazzling wallpaper is to make you feel as if you are eating in a private dining room inside Kew Gardens. I liked the vert de terre velvety dining chairs and banquettes which give the room a low-key natural glamour and lushness. Another winning touch are the artisan chandeliers from the Florentine designers Chellini which add to the contemporary Italian designer aesthetic spirit.
I have been to the new Beck restaurant at Brown's three times now and each time the food has only been more refined and exquisite. On the first occasion, I was a guest of Sir Rocco and so we were indulged with some of the best Italian wines including a sublime Barolo. On the second occasion, I took Alex Tomé, our very own Discriminator who, like Beck himself, is of Italian heritage. Tomé declared Beck a triumph after ordering the 'spaghetti cacio e pepe with lime marinated scampi'. The Discriminator is a very exacting food critic and probably holds the World Record for the number of times he went to (the late) elBulli in Spain.
The invitation for chef Beck - a short man whose culinary sinews are flexed with a Teutonic precision and intensity - to become the head executive chef at Brown's came after the success of Beck’s Pop Up restaurant at the hotel last Christmas where the hotel collaborated, in inimitable Italian style, with cocktail and 'drinks maestro' Salvatore Calabrese. Beck trained at the Professional School in Passau, Bavaria, before establishing his name work in such kitchens as the three Michelin-starred Tantris in Munich.
He now is regarded as one of Europe's top chefs with feted kitchens in Rome (La Pergola and Attimi). The whole kitchen has also been replaced with a state-of-the-art techno-kitchen, with induction rings which allow various sauces and dishes like the bluefin tuna to be seared with laser-like precision. My favourites on the new menu include the grilled Scottish scallops served in green and white asparagus and a superb roast veal served in a pistachio crust and braised onions. There is also grilled Norfolk chicken breast and oven roasted leg of 'milk fed' lamb from the Rhug estate which has to be shared.
While the Italian influence in Beck's cooking is obvious, it is not overbearing. Like the mix of guests at Sir Rocco and his wife Aliai's summer party, the new menu is cool, classical and a wonderful mix of the best of Italian and British. The Italian cooking is not simply one region, either. Beck encapsulates techniques from all the regions of Italy, from the zesty scorpion fish of the south to the classical, and the north's heavier meat dishes (Iberico pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes). The coup de grâce I thought was the 'Baba pineapple rum', good reason alone to return as soon as possible for a fourth outing.
William Cash is Editor-at-Large of Spear's