68 Royal Hospital Rd
London, SW3 4HP,
Overall rating: 9/10
Date of visit: February 2009
This visit took place before I started taking pictures.
Many people don’t like Gordon Ramsay, simply because they’ve seen his TV shows. I’ve only seen two episodes of “Hell’s Kitchen”, so I can’t comment on his behaviour.
His food is usually great for me. I have five of his cookbooks, and have tried several more that I took out from the library, and the quality is usually very high. My favourite is “Fast food”. When I use cookbooks, I often like 5, 10, 15 recipes in one book. In “Fast food” there are around 10-15 recipes that I don’t like – the rest is good. As the name implies, it is easy food, but nevertheless tasty food of good quality. I’ve had the book for five years and still use it almost every week. The food is however nothing like in this restaurant. He has, however, also released the book “*** Chef” with recipes only from this restaurant. They are, obviously, a lot more elaborate.
At this restaurant, it is actually possible to have a great meal for a very reasonable price. For dinner, you can choose three courses for £90 (and there’s also a longer tasting menu at £120), but at lunch you can choose three courses for £45 (all prices plus service charge, 12.5%). There are less options at lunch, and some do have a supplementary charge (but I think it’s the same at night), but all three of us all easily managed to choose three courses for £45.
I didn’t have wine here, but the glass of white wine my girlfriend bought was £5, which I believe was the cheapest white wine per glass. My friend also had a glass of kir royal to start with, which set him back £12.
Ramsay is at times listed as being the chef here, although it is doubtful how often he is actually there. Nowadays he seems to be a businessman rather than a chef. He opens restaurants and hires people to run them rather than run them himself. When we asked if he was there, the waiter responded no, but that he could easily walk through the door ten minutes later, and that he sometimes stayed there for several weeks. I’m sure they’ve heard that question often, and I’m not sure I would believe that response. Clare Smyth is actually the proper chef at the restaurant.
Ramsay now has many restaurants around the world, and many people say he’s spending too much time on telly and on being in the US, and therefore the quality of his restaurants have declined drastically. That might be true. This restaurant, however, is still considered his flagship restaurant, and it’s the only one with three stars in the Michelin guide.
My friend arrived a bit late, so while we were waiting we were served some root vegetable crisps with an aubergine pure. It was a bit plain to me, but nevertheless a very nice gesture of the restaurant.
Before the meal itself began we had a small appetizer of a very tasty saffron soup with some diced vegetables at the bottom, among others celery or celeriac and carrots. I think this might have been the moment my attitude towards celery and celeriac started to change. Previously I was quite disgusted by it.
My starter was a big ravioli stuffed with crab meat and tiger prawns served in a consommé with lemon grass and chilli. Tasty and very well-balanced. My friend already noted this at this stage. The chilli could easily have been too much.
My friend had the same dish, whereas my girlfriend had a salad with foie gras and chicken liver on a piece of toast and leaves with a truffle dressing. I had a small taste, and the foie gras definitely had a lot better texture than the one I had at Maze the week before. She wasn’t keen on the dish, but I think she didn’t realise that she doesn’t like liver until she was eating this dish.
My main course was shin of beef with red wine sauce, potato mash with horseradish, an incredibly sweet shallot, and mushrooms stuffed with toasted almonds and parmesan. A simple and classic dish, but still well-cooked and bursting with flavour.
My girlfriend had pork belly with apples, but I don’t remember more than that.
My friend had sea bream with vegetables wrapped in either a lettuce leaf or a cabbage leaf. I tasted a little bit, and I can honestly say that this is the best sea bream I’ve had my entire life. To me, it’s an overrated fish that is usually dry, even when it’s well-cooked. Here it was super juicy and like no sea bream I had ever had before or after. When I asked how they had cooked this, the waiter unfortunately said, tongue-in-cheek, “we teach this at the cooking courses we have here” (which at the moment cost £600 for two people).
For dessert I had a rice pudding with orange, candied oranges, pistachios, and maple syrup. Again, well-cooked, very well balanced and with top-quality ingredients. The orange was not bitter at all.
My girlfriend had ice cream with a chocolate cake with lavender, and I believe my friend had a dessert with mango and passion fruit.
Afterwards, we were served a container with liquid nitrogen containing small balls with a very intense strawberry ice cream covered with white chocolate, and chocolate truffles arranged on sticks so it looked like a decoration for the table.
The food was not rocket science, but that has never seemed to be Ramsay’s goal. He just wants to make high quality food based on the classics, but nevertheless with a slightly modern twist. Everything was perfectly cooked and flavourful, and the ingredients were top-notch.
I have heard many stories about the decline in quality in this restaurant. The “wow factor is gone” some people say. We were there when the decline had already started, but apparently before it became really bad. Maybe we were just lucky. The chef, Clare Smyth, was not even at the restaurant the day we were there. Still, I couldn’t put a finger on a single thing that went wrong.
Since our visit I have heard stories about over- and undercooked fish, undercooked pasta and so on, so…
I simply remember this meal as one of the best I’ve ever had, and it’s usually the meal I size others up against. Although she really liked Ramsay, my girlfriend at the time preferred AOC in Copenhagen where we went around six months later. My friend had been to the popular River Café a few days before. He was terribly disappointed by that one, so he was dreading this would be the same at Ramsay, but he was pleasantly surprised and very happy too.
The service was perfect too. When I read that the dress code was “no trainers and no jeans accepted, jacket preferred” I was dreading that it would be very snobbish. Nothing could have been further from the truth. They probably wouldn’t have said “no, we don’t want your money ’cause you’re wearing trainers” if I hadn’t followed the dress code. The dress code was also less strict than in New York where you actually have to wear a jacket. At Ramsay, the service from the French and British waiters was very forthcoming, talkative and humoristic. Just before leaving we were shown the kitchen. The pace of the meal was perfect too.
So, if this was one of the best meals ever, shouldn’t I score it 10/10? Well, no. When I left the restaurant I was thoroughly impressed, but I nevertheless felt that there was just some tiny thing missing. Some meals seem wonderful when they are over, but are then forgotten when you wake up next day. This meal really has lived on well in my memory. How many restaurants you went to almost four years ago can you say that you remember every single ingredient? That says something about the meal. Although I enjoyed Maze too, I clearly preferred this restaurant.
Maze and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay were some of the first high-end restaurants I went to, so I can’t say if I would enjoy the meal as much if I had it today, where I’ve been to many top restaurants.
All in all I really had the impression of a restaurant running terribly well.