Restaurants such as today’s always give me a sense of disquiet before I set off. Perhaps it’s their sense of gentle righteousness that puts me on the back foot. We all, roughly speaking, would love planet Earth not to die, choking in an oily fire slick littered with drowned polar bears, but how many of us actually do anything truly useful about it?
Then along comes a place like Chantelle Nicholson’s Apricity, staffed by mellow, thoughtful, industrious types who genuinely care about how the restaurant scene affects our planet. Suddenly, terms such as hyperseasonal, foraged, zero waste and low intervention enter the ether, which are all lovely concepts, obviously, and then I’m nine courses in and having the ass end of a reclaimed turnip-top fricassee explained to me, blinking in submission as the server explains how the chef rose at dawn to drain sap from trees. And, yes, the fricassee does taste a bit fizzy, doesn’t it? It’s at this point that I think guiltily about the punnet of Moroccan blueberries I ate that morning before hurling the plastic carton in the recycling, like some sort of planet-hating sociopath.
With Apricity, however, the evening turns out to be nothing like that at all. This is an airy, elegant, happy room in Mayfair with a menu that will send vegetarians doolally with joy, but also has meat and fish dishes that are certainly no afterthought. The vegetarian stars of the show, to my mind, are the soft, jammy Isle of Wight aubergine made even more glorious with a vivid green zhoug and roasted almond butter, and the miso-roasted cabbage with smoked hemp cream and molasses that’s awash with an umami sauce that you’ll want to cast a finger over to scrape up every last drop.
What’s more, they’re delivered without sermon or soliloquy, because Apricity just kind of gets on with it. They’re just good people in beautiful uniforms running a very fancy Mayfair restaurant and serving delicious things that make minimal impact on all our futures. If you go, do order the London red butterhead salad, which, let’s be frank, sounds like nothing to write home about, but is, in fact, a fairytale arrangement of pond-green leaves, lettuce and crispy kale, all assembled into a flower and dotted with miso aïoli and fragments of cashew. The dish feels oddly otherworldly, as if it might flutter and speak of its own accord.
For the record, I took a meat-lover with me, the long-suffering Charles, who is still mentally scarred by the time I took him to Beetroot Sauvage in Edinburgh and made him eat chilli sin carne not six feet from a woman in yoga pants with a camel toe. How he suffers for my art. Yet we have spoken several times about Apricity since our visit, about the good sourdough with Hollis Mead salted butter and the excellent grilled sea trout with a side of pink fir potatoes in brown butter, and have agreed to go back for the tasting menu some time. In fact, though there is meat on the menu in the form of Devon pork belly with kimchi and cull yaw ewe (mutton to you and me) with spicy chickpeas, we didn’t order them, because the other dishes just felt instinctively better. Perhaps in the near future we will find a good, working name for this new burgeoning genre of vegetarian-with-meat restaurants, but nothing quite sums it up yet – the word “flexitarian” makes me cringe, while “demi-vegetarian” doesn ‘t quite cut it.
Semantics aside, Apricity is a restaurant dedicated to making vegetables the star of the show, which is a skill we’ve never quite nailed in this country. Yes, there are oysters, but you glory in the black pearl mushrooms alongside them, spiced with XO sauce, Flanders wheat and wild garlic. There’s a baby kale salad with hemp tahini and crispy onion that is a purely pleasurable way to get one of your five a day. I drank kombucha, which is my idea of a party these days (they make it themselves, of course), but they’ll also get you gloriously tipsy on sloe vodka spritz or a Rémy’s beet made with cognac, beetroot and raspberry liqueur.
We ate early on a Saturday evening, and left even before the chihuahua at the next table looked like calling it a night, though not before inhaling a chouxnut – the clue is in the title, being part-choux, part-doughnut – with stewed apple and double cream, plus, because two puddings are my talent, the Esmeralda milk chocolate baked mousse with miso and brown sugar custard, which was really too dainty to share, so I didn’t. Eat dinner, save the planet and be a superhero while eating vast amounts of brown butter smothered on spuds. Apricity, you are too good and truly delicious.
Apricity 68 Duke Street, London W1, 020-8017 2780. Open Tues-Fri, lunch noon-2.15pm (2.45pm Fri), dinner 5.30-9pm (last orders); Sat noon-9pm. About £ 65 a head to the map; five-course tasting menu £ 65, seven-course £ 80; set lunch £ 35, all plus drinks and service
The next episode in the third series of Grace’s Comfort Eating podcast is released on Tuesday 24 May. Listen to it here.