All reader reviews by I Laite
According to Dominique Corolleur, the Restaurant Director on loan from Claridges on the night I dined, the 3 Michelin accolade only comes when the whole experience package is just right. And remember; just two other UK restaurants have this award: Blumenthal’s Fat Duck and Michel Roux’s Waterside Inn, both at Bray in Berkshire. This is meant to be fine dining as good as it gets.
So just how good was the whole Ramsay package at 68 Royal Hospital Road?
First, I had to negotiate a strange, ritualistic system. No easy online booking here! To get a table, I had to ring at 9 am sharp, exactly two prior calendar months to the day and wait in a telephone queue. I can’t remember if the moon had to be waxing or waning, but the magical aura of this surreal system probably did add something to the anticipation.
Amazingly, it only took about ten minutes before a real human picked up. I wanted a table for eight for my 40th birthday. Since none of us wanted the tasting menu (£110 for seven courses) and my wife has fairly conservative tastes, thinking that some of the dishes sounded like a bush tucker trial, we needed the choice that only the £85 a la Carte menu could provide. Unfortunately, the restaurant refused. We were a group over 6, and so my choice was simple - either take the tasting menu or find another restaurant. “What about two tables of 8?” “No, not if you want to eat at the same time.” So very regrettably, we became a group of 6.
We arrived a little early, and a very polite Polish doorman let us in. The glass and ivory décor was was cool and understated, nothing overly grand or ostentatious. We were quickly made welcome and shown straight to our table where we flicked through the weighty wine list. For the well heeled Chelsea set, there were plenty of fine wines marked at over £1000 a bottle, including a 1900 Chateux Margaux grand cru with an obscene price tag of £11,000. We settled for a few perfectly adequate bottles at under £40 each.
Then the show began. We were treated to a great selection of amuse bouche delivered with panache, each morsel explained passionately by another strongly accented French waiter. Our first was a filo horn with cream cheese, topped with oscietra caviar atop a layer of spiced aubergine puree. I heard one of our group (I hope it wasn’t my wife) say, “this is better than sex.”
Our second treat was a ball of crisp and crunchy coating (was it potato?) containing a buffalo mozarella on a spoonful of light green dressing.
The third treat provided almost as surreal an experience as trying to book the table, but far more pleasant. It was an unusual but delicious take on egg and beans. This bouche was layered up inside a chicken’s eggshell – tomato foam on top, soft-boiled egg white in the centre and a bottom layer of baked beans! The big kid in me couldn’t resist cutting the bread into soldiers. Am I the first person ever to dunk a soldier into an egg in a 3 Michelin star Ramsay restaurant?
Then came the meal proper – the starters. I opted for the ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon poached in a light bisque and served with a lemon grass and chervil veloute. For me, this was the highlight. The dish was flawless. Each flavour was simple, clean, and intense and the whole was perfectly balanced. The presentation was Zen like in its simplicity and finished with a flourish at the table.
I also tasted a friend’s scallops and another’s vegetarian alternative. The scallops were perfectly cooked – good browning on the outside, melting within, but the vegetarian course was disappointing.
My pigeon main course was also cooked perfectly. Obviously knowing that a well-cooked pigeon could be insufferably tough, they insisted on serving it very pink. It worked beautifully, so much so, that the extra fattiness provided by the foie gras wasn’t strictly necessary.
I was a little disappointed by my dessert, but only because I tasted my friend’s and preferred that. My chocolate cylinder with ginger and ice-cream was delicious but slightly over rich and sickly for my taste. However, my friend’s apple based dessert was outstanding. The apple was incredibly sharp and vivid, exactly what I needed to cut across the palate.
All through the dinner, the service was speedy and attentive, and without any of that annoying hovering that can be so unsettling. All plates were cleared instantly, every crumb swept away, and every sip of wine immediately replaced with a top-up. And when one of our group got up from his chair to pay a visit, a waiter rushed over, walked him to the gents and opened the door for him. We held our breaths. We were all very relieved that the service stopped there.
We finished with another round of complimentary amuse bouches. We had truffles covered in white chocolate that had been spiked on to the branch ends of a tree-type decoration, a pot of dramatically flowing dry-ice with another chilled confection, some meltingly soft Turkish delights and a pineapple cocktail with a mouth tingling kick. And then a raspberry confection was brought out with a candle and the waiter kicked off a chorus of Happy Birthday.
Three of us opted for the kitchen tour. Simone Zanoni, the head chef, acted nonchalantly, just as you’d expect from someone weary of taking so many compliments; he politely took all ours in his stride. As we listened to Monsiuer Corolleur explaining his insights into the Michelin criteria and how Gordon still comes in to oversee the restaurant every day, I picked up another powerful Ramsay influence. Zanoni had picked out one of his staff and was subjecting him to a blistering F word tirade about something he was or wasn’t doing with the fryer. It was obvious that the Gordon we know in the public eye was still very much a part of this establishment.
Overall, it was a fine and memorable experience for a 40th birthday.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Food 9 | Service 9 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 7