Music For Your Mouth at London's Bel Canto

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Jeff Gilbert

Musical mealtime: The staff at Bel Canto belt out Verdi and Mozart while you dine

Could this be what it felt like for Alice when she went through the looking glass? The elevator that transports guests down to Bel Canto provides a surreal start to an evening in London's first lyrical dining room — the elevator carriage resembles a shrunken La Fenice, Venice's gorgeous opera house. Downstairs in the plush velvet-and-gilt dining room, which convincingly resembles an opera box, dimensions are restored to conventional expectations. The service, however, goes beyond them. Not only are the waiting staff attentive and swift, but all of them boast voices so utterly pure and transforming that it's hard to remember you're in a City restaurant and not a rehearsal room for the Royal Opera House.

This is the London debut of Bel Canto,, an established Paris eatery which harmoniously pairs understated French cuisine with theatrical entertainment of the highest order — the front-of-house ensemble are all trained opera singers specializing in bel canto (meaning beautiful singing), the melodic Italian vocal style of the 18th and early 19th centuries, which impresses with all manner of embellishments, fast scales and long trills. The playlist judiciously balances pieces that appeal to the aesthete yet remain accessible to the opera-ignorant: most of the extracts — performed for a couple of minutes at approximately 15-minute intervals — are familiar arias by Verdi, Rossini, Bizet and Mozart. (See 10 things to do in London.)

Rest assured, the singers do not operatically draw attention to enthusiastic diners double-ordering the gratin dauphinois. It may be the singing standard — the cast are fresh from the prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the London College of Music — that elevates dinner at Bel Canto from an evening meal to a night at the opera, but the food plays a mean second fiddle. Bistro classics include a beautifully caramelized shallot tatin and dill-rich salmon gravadlax, king prawn and black pearl scallop skewers, and hot chocolate fondant with violet ice cream. Still, the most delicious parts of the meal come with a side of virtuoso cadenzas.

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