Given the global origins of its clientele, 27 is faced with the tricky task of perfecting a ‘round the world’ menu (the abridged version, at least). That 27 may be a dining dilettante is an initial worry. More established critics than I may glare suspiciously at a menu that doesn’t focus on one national (or even pan-continental) cuisine. I thought about this around midway through my meal, as I worked my way through the Chinese sambal prawns, a glorious confection of light batter and stickiness. I sighed and carried on. I had crispy deep-fried things to eat. I’d just have to suck it up.
I arrived at Aspinall’s, a private casino in Mayfair, one Thursday night and signed in with my guest (it’s members only, of course). Established by the eccentric John Aspinall back in the 1960s and family-owned ever since, it mirrors other high end gambling clubs in that it attracts a global patronage of a certain calibre. Accordingly, its restaurant needs to be up to scratch, and take it from me, kids – 27 is a force to be reckoned with. Discreetly tucked away on Curzon Street, with the dining area framed by a huge fireplace of marble filigree, it was obvious this was a special find.
Upon arriving, we’d agreed to have the chef prepare a range of dishes for us. We consequently found ourselves going glamorously off-menu, which began with a starter of Japanese fare. God, they say, is in the details. Were I to subscribe to a deity, I’d bring out the baptismal font and christen 27 at Aspinall’s as a holy place. Given we had a few more continents to get through before dessert, we were anticipating a modest Japanese offering of a few hosomaki rolls and perhaps a drizzle of soy sauce. This, however, was something else. The Japanese was not so much a course as a religious offering; a biblical platter. There were sweet, glossy translucent prawns in variegated pink. A rainbow of sashimi – from the deep purple of tuna to coral salmon with lines of fat ribboning it in white – perched primly to one side. Spicy tuna rolls, cocooned in buttery rings of avocado with a sneaky kick of heat, came alongside bright orange beads of tobiko, which burst satisfyingly when bitten. Delicate slices of yellowtail sashimi were topped with webs of saffron and a slice of black truffle, a flavour profile that perfectly balanced both subtlety and strength.
A hard act to follow, it was oh-so-nearly topped by Chinese – bowls swimming with thick, slippery udon noodles and topped with minced pork richer than Aspinall’s highest rollers and the sambal prawns I daydreamed over. ‘Modern European’ came next: here, a coil of jade-green tagliatelle, fresh and effortlessly al dente, comes piled with a ragout of the heartiest venison. It was topped with a heap of mushrooms that packed an umami kick I mentally lingered over for days. They want you to remember you’ve eaten here. A seared scallop was topped with tiny jewels of smoky pancetta, a classic combo were it not for the seabed of mango sauce. We had our reservations but took the plunge – the sauce was surprisingly buttery, offsetting the sharpness of the mango, and combined with the saltiness of the bacon made for a dance of flavour so flirtatious it could rival Calum Best.
I looked at my guest across the table. God, it’s good. Really, really good. The sort of food that makes you bite your tongue and blink a lot to hold back the emotion. By this point we were starting to burst at the seams, but feasting our way through 27 had become our raison d’etre. Cheered on by a host of charming staff, our game faces were on.
Crispy naans, accompanied by heavy dollops of yogurt and chutney, introduce us to 27’s Indian offering. A platter of handi bowls is the centrepiece, filled with rice as light as pillows and generous portions of makhani. The chicken makhani – butter chicken for those less travelled – is an expert blend of golden spices. The black dahl variety is so deep and creamy, we could have easily been in the finest of Delhi’s eateries ( certainly an upgrade from crying into a pasanda-for-one from your local takeaway on a lonely Saturday night, or so I hear).
I took a moment out before dessert to appreciate the culinary journey on which we had embarked. This was a long-haul flight of epic proportions but there was one final leg to go. Summoning a final burst of motivation to avoid hitting the wall – there is always, always room for dessert, a mantra we should all live by – we were presented with a denouement of the finest French treats. Punchy rum baba was just the pick-me-up we needed before we polished off a velvety crème brûlée, spiked with tangy lime and ginger. A warming poached apple, laced with toffee and accompanied by a palette-cleansing apple ice cream, rounded off our ménage à trois. Très bien, 27, I thought over a Chablis. I’m seriously impressed.