Long-standing and supremely elaborate restaurant in the equally iconic 5* Ritz Hotel, Picadilly serving some very impressive food
What a fantastic meal this was. After an unfortunately disappointing canard a la presse (pressed duck) that my father had at Otto’s, I had received a heads up that this could be done at The Ritz which the head chef John Williams had informed me could be done. In short, this was a magnificent version for all the reasons I will outline in the full body and it was also very nice to start the meal in the terrace which is only opened in the summer (where guests are still required to wear a jacket and tie). Everything regarding the duck is prepared at the table to add to the classic theatre and this dish served at The Ritz is frankly one of the highlights of London right now in 2019/20. You need to book a week in advance and I assure you it is worth it.
Our meal began with canapes of cheese and pepper puree placed on top of parmesan biscuits which had excellent cheese power and a lovely combination, followed by coronation chicken in mini pastry ‘cigars’ which are stunning with their sweet pastry complementing the sweetness of the coronation which usually has small pieces of mango chutney. Steak tartare also came in pastry tubes with small drops of mustard on top which are luxurious and brilliant, as were the wonderful and simple cheese gougeres, which are frankly better than those served at 3 Michelin starred Gordon Ramsay on my last visit.
Our first course inside was a tomato salad served with lobster, wonderfully fresh tomato consomme and on the side a tomato tartlet with almonds, garlic, more basil and almond mousse – a beautifully fresh and light starter for the summer and brilliant that the tomatoes had come from Provance as well. Next up fresh langoustines were shown to the table (alive) along with red mullet prior to both being cooked. First back were the langoustines in a creamy nage sauce (white wine reduction, dairy and herb) and this was a perfectly judged fish and cream sauce – the langoustines plump and sweet and the sauce complimentary without overpowering, a brilliantly handled dish. Red mullet then arrived with crispy skin and sat on top of basil puree and with the additional basil leaves, olives and artichokes was a splendid collection altogether with the fish being light and spot-on in terms of cooked state.
Then came the main event and what I had booked the week in advance – duck a la presse. The dish was conceived in the 1800s and popularised in the following century by the restaurant Tour d’Argent in Paris, where every suck is numbered and guests receive a card of which duck they have had – if you go now for duck a la presse in 2020, based on the historical projection, you will be receiving the millionth and something duck. Anyhow, the duck (from Bresse) comes in two parts. The first is carved at the table from the breast of the whole duck and the remainder is placed in a press to extract every last bit of juice from the bones and carcass of the bird. This is then poured in to a pan with port, butter, foie gras and then flambéd at the. This was a wonderful piece of theatre and the sauce being utterly top-notch as was the perfectly cooked duck, served with wonderful pomme souffle as well.
The second part of the duck were the legs which had already been removed and were confit cooked (soaked in duck and goose fat and left in the fridge overnight prior to being oven cooked in this fat the next day). These were served with a mustard, onion & herb breadcrumb and endive leaves on the side which were both wonderful together. Both of these parts of the duck were as good as you are ever likely to get any duck and it was a sheer privilege to be joined by the Head Chef, John Williams afterwards to explain how classical cooking remains at the very core of his cooking philosophy.
Two small desserts were then enjoyed. The first was a refreshing compressed cherry and vanilla elderberry gel and vanilla yoghurt which was lovely. Even better was the strawberry sorbet served in a strawberry meringue cup with vanilla mousse which was wonderful. These were followed by simple yet pleasing petit fours of vanilla macarons, madeleines and dark chocolates. This concluded a sensational meal and one I will not forget for a long time.
This meal was a treat that I was giving to my father who will be reading this review so I do not wish to upload the receipt or state the final tally, but suffice to say, for what you are getting from the sheer quality of the ingredients and the supreme execution combined with the splendour of The Ritz setting, this was extremely reasonable for what was enjoyed.
Food Grade: 92%
A lovely revisit to The Ritz roughly a year after my first experience. This time, a brief lunch visit, which included another glimpse at the superb crêpes cooked at the table. In fact, these are one of the gems of any visit here and the two a la carte dishes for each diner were a pleasant preamble before the crêpes. Thankfully, the preamble parts were right on the money again and a genuine pleasure. Service was impeccable, seen clearly when the staff worked to accommodate a shorter lunch window on request. Two starters, crêpes to share and two glasses of vin worked out at just over £100pp and I would say this was not unreasonable considering the setting and all aspects included. A double pleasure was the lunch occasion itself and this was followed by a brief chat with head chef, John Williams MBE at the end as additional icing on the petit four cake.
There really wasn’t much not to like about this meal and I used to think years ago that this would always be a stuffy affair, but you do have to come to see for yourself that this isn’t as much as you would initially think. The rules on attire are still very much the same which I have commented on at length in my previous review (draconian rules on dress code still persist) but these are mainly cosmetic. Once inside the service once again proved very accommodating and warm.
Canapés at this meal were lemon macaroons with creamed salmon (topped with eggs from salmon), caramelised pastry cigars with coronation chicken and shortbread with whipped goat cheese. Not one of these were out of line and all simply really enjoyable and what a treat to have coronation chicken in a bite-size tube that turned out to be a joy. The homemade brown bread was served warm and in a similar fashion to that of The Typing Room, and whilst visually pleasing, plain, brown bread itself is only as exciting as it is.
The soft boiled egg, with shallot croutons on top, girolle mushrooms and watercress leaf with edible flowers and watercress puree was as pleasing as you can imagine with those components when done well, which was the case. A simple and effective starter. There was a faint kick of heat from mustard within the watercress puree and this was very well done – just enough to jazz the dish up. The crispy shallot rings on top were frankly a delight and perhaps the secret weapon of this dish giving it a final spark.
The terrine of goose liver is a signature classic of the restaurant, modified slightly from the last year and by all accounts, still as good as it has been in the past. As it was another game season visit, clearly the grouse had to be sampled and this breast of grouse came with juniper powder on top, pickled blackberry, mushrooms, celeriac puree and walnut crumble with a gravy sauce. The grouse itself was perfectly tender and with the supporting elements, the bird itself was enhanced with the creamy celeriac, combined with and sharpness from the pickled raspberries but thankfully the rich flavour of the meat was not lost. I can’t say I noticed the juniper very much, but this wasn’t a problem when the dish is coated with a gravy that would make you want to drink from a gravy boat (the environment was the only thing that stopped me doing!).
Then clearly it was time for the flambé show of crêpes at the table, capably done by our man, Daniel. This actually takes upwards of 10 minutes at the table to be done, and it very much worth the wait. There are probably enough calories in this dish to sink the Titanic, however, the flavours of the caramelised sugar, grand mariner and orange lusciously draped over virtually perfect crêpes, cooled down by wonderful, buttery vanilla ice cream that melts into the sauce from the surrounding heat makes it simply a crime not to go for this if here. Petit fours seem to be the same as they were last year as signature items, but again, there was nothing about these that I didn’t enjoy (especially the chocolate cream) which basically makes a very high strike rate and a strong level of consistent dishes enjoyed here on the second pass.
It was the very good to have a quick chat at the end with the Exec chef (John Williams MBE) who was in and in full regalia, discussing his classical roots of cooking and how these underpin all signature and new dishes, using British produce. I don’t think it’s possible to come here and not be pleased when everything fits so well and this is now two from two as far as I am seeing and experiencing. Moreover, it was a milestone and special occasion for me which was a sheer pleasure to enjoy with my dining companion. We agreed that perhaps the decor and dress code simply attracts a clientele of a more senior age bracket, or maybe it is the fact that it is simply the institution that it is. Either way, it was a lovely meal all round and I still don’t like the chairs(!). Perhaps a slight adjustment here or there without breaking the iconic feel may attract a younger crowd, but every single other aspect seems to work like a charm. Another great meal here.
Food Grade: 84%
First up, I was only too pleased to finally get here with adult eyes and see for myself the place that I have heard a wide range of differing views. Some saying too over the top with no specific justification, others outlining far too expensive and others citing it as spectacular and an unrecognised gem for food. I would like to think that my version is as close as one can get to the actual score and this is a longer review than normal to fully justify why as a result. Great food, showmanship and the iconic setting proving an event in itself but you need to accept and embrace the formality if you are to enjoy.
First up, if you are dining here, you have to accept that there will be an added filter on attire. Guests are not allowed in the bar or restaurant without a tie and my host was asked to make his way to the changing room to change his trousers from the expensive jeans he was wearing to chinos, that were hopefully washed, but with no guarantee. My version on this is that if a house has these rules then so be it and the diner should be willing to abide however, I simply don’t think it is necessary for ties these days and is in fact out-dated.
Equally, I don’t think anyone should be allowed to bimble into this restaurant (mainly filled by wealthy senior citizens and travellers who don’t say a word during dinner and generally look absurdly miserable) wearing trainers or sandals either. It was however, actually getting quite hot towards the end and although we were by the window, the staff either weren’t able or forgot to open it and the tie is quite restricting and ultimately I was burning up. Formality in this context yes, ok, but to be uncomfortable or borderline suffer is a big no no for me at the expense of an out-dated sense of protocol.
The service could not have been more attentive. It was not stuffy nor condescending however, with the confidence of the staff in their environment and number of times we were asked how everything was throughout the meal, I can imagine that lesser-experienced diners might struggle to feel as though they can’t say anything other than “Oh yes everything is wonderful”. Fortunately, it’s been quite a while since I was intimidated by a restaurant as the key is that these enquiries of the staff are mainly as they are on show and they wish to check how they are rating.
And so on that note, I’m happy to report that I was actually exceedingly impressed with the cooking here and the technical skill and care of attention to detail was genuinely sitting in the Michelin starred family. I say this from comparing with all the other 65 Michelin starred restaurants in London and numerous other 2 and 3 starred venues I have visited and reviewed. That’s not to say that every dish was brilliant. I will get the negatives out the way first, as I found the pea sponge, beautiful as it was a little too soggy, the liver paté just a bit too large for its density and similar to the sweetbreads, although prepared superbly, it seemed to be missing a sweeter spark. I say this when reflecting on the sweetbreads had at Daniel Clifford’s 2 Michelin starred Midsummer House sweetbreads with maple foam in comparison – the latter was simply a higher level of happiness.
However, those dishes were still good on the eyes and on to the full-blown positives, the langoustine was utterly divine all round – such soft, fresh and lovely combination of flavours making everything in the world right again. The cod was immaculate and it was also a testament to the restaurant that they were able to accommodate the beef wellington which was a swap on the menu. The wellington itself was a work of art and virtually faultless (but if there was one thing I thought was marginal it was the foie gras in the centre which, needed something to make less bitter). The crêpe Suzette cooked at the table, flambéd twice with brandy and grand Marnier was not only a lovely touch as I think cooking at the table is a lost art and not seen much anymore and were frankly out of this world. It was hard to fault this and this course has actually entered the pantheon of the greats.
And if that wasn’t enough, the strawberry dessert done multiple ways was also genuinely a delight. The only problem being that at the end of the meal I was absolutely overloaded. I can accept that French cooking and occasions like this and that had at Le Gavroche will need doing a half-marathon beforehand to reduce some of the calorific damage, but I was utterly stuffed at the end, borderline bloated and that was leaving some dishes unfinished. Perhaps we should have been careful not to ask for the beef wellington, but having one slice of this would have been better as the two were virtually a meal in itself as that was a lot of protein on a plate(!). I have had 19-24 courses at 3 Michelin starred venues and not felt too packed and that is where the difference lies.
That said, my conclusion of finally getting here is that it was a genuinely pleasing experience with warm service. I still don’t like the chairs as they look as if they haven’t changed since the 70s and are as outdated as the stipulation for the tie. But, I thought the food was easily 1 Michelin starred – without a shadow of doubt. In fact, I cannot see why the guide has historically avoided awarding a star here to this venue. A great food show – make sure you don’t forget your wallets and best rags when coming and probably save the visit for a special occasion and you will be very well looked after here.
Food Grade: 85%
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