Bel Canto takes the pianist in the corner of the dining room concept to new extremes. Waiters double up as opera singers and turn the restaurant floor into a stage as they perform operatic excerpts throughout the course of the meal.
The London venture is based on a hugely successful Paris version that has become quite a celeb hotspot and a favourite hangout for visiting Hollywood folk. This side of the channel, there’s been much less fanfare and certainly no A-list attention. The unique restaurant opened quietly a couple of years ago within spitting distance of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, but has now upped roots and moved out to Lancaster Gate, where it presumably hopes to capitalise on the swathe of hotels that line Hyde Park as well as less competition and lower rates.
The performance takes a bit of getting used to and is not without its issues. Waiters circling the table in song could be considered cringe worthy, and there’s nothing like a bellowing soprano to kill a conversation. That’s not to dismiss it, though. The waiters are all either professional opera singers or opera students earning bit of extra cash, and the quality of their vocals is stunning. As the evening progresses, you’ll start to think of it as theatre with food rather than a dinner with singing, which gets rid of the expectation to make conversation.
One would worry that such an elaborate set-up could leave the food overlooked, but that’s not the case. It’s classical French dishes that predominate the menu, and they’re executed with as much precision and flair as the performances. A crab and lobster ‘mille-feuille’ made with layered slices of cucumber is unashamedly elaborate (and unintentionally retro?) but all the more fitting for it; a confit leg of lamb is simpler but unctuously tender; and an impressive cheeseboard is noteworthy not just because of its generous size, but because a French restaurant has actually included some British cheeses.
Bel Canto would make a good initiation for an opera first-timer or for anyone feeling restaurant fatigue. Prices are reasonable for a night out, with menus costing £35 for 2 courses and £42 for three, both including a glass of fizz as well as the performance.