Wednesday, 31 October 2007
Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, Mayfair
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Gordon Ramsay used to spend most of his working days in a kitchen, making food for people to eat. And he was really rather good at it too, his flagship restaurant in Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea achieving 3 Michelin Stars which, despite his recent more hands-off approach, it still holds to this day. And back in the days before F Words and Kitchen Nightmares and Hells Kitchens, when Mr Ramsay still claimed to cook in the restaurants he put his name to (an affectation long since dropped) came Gordon Ramsay at Claridges. Britain's best chef in Britain's best hotel cooking Britain's finest food. At least that was the plan.
For some reason, Gordon Ramsay at Claridges never achieved the level of success awarded to the Chelsea place. True, it has a Michelin Star, which is something, but then so does Benares and that's rubbish. Could it be that as his TV career was taking off Gordon just never bothered spending the time perfecting the kitchen at Claridges, or was he spreading his talent too thinly? Alain Ducasse famously has a string of 3-star places under his wing, proving it is possible to "farm out" cooking expertise to some extent. For whatever reason, Claridges just feels like the forgotten Ramsay venture, an experiment in the classiest of classy fine dining that never really got the attention from the big man it deserved.
However, I have a confession to make. I love Claridges. I love the cozy, hushed bar with the spacious leather seats and impeccable service. I love the stunning Art Deco foyer and Afternoon Tea room with the Dale Chihuly glass chandelier. And I still love Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, which despite a few niggles in the food department is a gloriously decadent way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
After a perfectly made martini in the bar to whet our whistles, we padded through to the dining room 10 minutes late, which turned out not to be a problem as our table still wasn't quite ready. This was actually a blessing in disguise as it allowed us to sample the lovely canapes of truffle mousse and taramasalata which I immediately recognised from my trip to Royal Hospital Road in February. A very good start.
Once seated (no more than 10 minutes later I don't think), we made our choices from the set lunch menu and sipped on a couple of glasses of house champagne. Pre-starter, appropriately enough for late October, was a pumpkin veloute, which was creamy and rich and expertly made but suffered only slightly in comparison to a divine truffle veloute I had been served at the same restaurant last year. Still, they weren't to know.
Starter proper was a duck liver terrine with beetroot pickle. Again full marks for seasonality which really paid dividends in the fresh taste of the beetroot. But some of the textures in the terrine were a little unpleasant - some slimy veg didn't really add much - and even some of the fois (though strangely not all of it) was dryish. Otherwise, not bad.
My main course was Welsh lamb fillet wrapped in (I think) parma ham with seasonal vegetables, and it was delicious. The lamb was juicy and tender and the vegetables were really interesting too - all sorts of things going on in the mix and was great fun working out the flavours in each mouthful. There was also a scattering of roasted pumpkin seeds to provide a bit of texture. More of an assembling of ingredients than a technically difficult dish, but I had no complaints.
For dessert I paid the £4 extra for a selection from the impressive cheese tray, and had a creamy but slightly bland goats, a Comte, an Epoisse-style gloopy cheese and a nice salty blue. I know I've said before I don't often pay for cheese in restaurants when I can get it myself for a fraction of the price, but I wasn't disappointed with my choices here.
Finally, before the bill arrived we were presented with 3 chocolate truffles, which was slightly odd as there were only 2 of us. Perhaps it was designed to create tension and conflict and Gordon Ramsay was actually secretly filming us for a starring role in his latest reality TV project. Either way, they tasted very nice, and I had the extra one.
The damage came to around £150, which is a lot but included some excellent wines by the glass and luckily I had a £50 voucher from my old job to go some way towards it. Service throughout had been as charming and efficient as you would expect in any of London's best restaurants, and the whole experience had been superb entertainment. I will almost certainly be back at some point in the future. I think I deserve it.