Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant doesn’t get a lot of good press. At least not from those, who eat in better restaurants rather frequently. Many claim that the food is too clinical, without any emotions, without much interest. I’ve had one lunch at this restaurant, about 18 months ago, when I ate a few of his classics. Those were all decent, without being moving at all. Would I pay £90 for three courses there again, not for the ones I ate last time. But, a friend and I decided to go back to see how things are around Royal Hospital Road. Lunch isn’t as pricey, at a mere £45 it must be one of the friendliest 3* lunch menus around (even if JG’s in New York is still cheaper).
One of the annoying points of my first visit here was the service. The famous Monsieur Breton was there at that time, and service was the stiffest, most annoying that I’ve ever had in a 2 or 3* restaurant. You were treated like you were an idiot, not knowing how one roasts a pigeon, or what polenta is. This time, it was refreshingly different. Robert Rose was running the show on our lunch, and he was doing it, as good as one can hope it to be. Service was efficient, friendly and there when needed. There still are some silly things like them announcing a surprise, especially prepared by the chef, when it’s a simple amuse bouche, but well, that’s how it is I suppose…
As it was a lunch, and I still had a dinner with quite a bit of good Champagne to look forward to, we decided to skip the apero, and go for a bottle of 2000 Scharzhofberger Kabinett Riesling from the truly amazing Egon Mueller (the IV. at this point in time). It was decently priced, amongst a list of rather erratic mark-ups. There were some steals, like this one, and some outright foolish, silly prices on there. The wine in question was stunning, for a Kabinett Riesling, you really can not expect any more. It’s concentrated, powerful, fruit-driven, if backed by a finely balanced acidity. Lovely, really, really lovely stuff.
We had a selection of nibbles, which were all decent, and perfectly harmless. I wouldn’t mind having a bit of it again, but I wouldn’t ask for them neither. This seemed to be like the stuff we had last time…
Bread was very good, I really enjoyed the black olive, and honey breads, which were made in Ramsay’s federal bakery. Very good.
The amuse today was a deep-fried frog’s leg with potatoes and a wild garlic soup. Now, the frog’s legs were really nicely cooked, quite tasty, but the portion was too small to really taste much of what was going on in there. The soup was decent, if not remarkable by any means. Compare this to the stuff one serves at other 3* restaurants, this seemed a little weak, Good.
To start with, I tried a version of Ramsay’s classic tortellino. This time it was filled with crab and prawns and drowned in a lemongrass consommé. Now this really wasn’t bad at all. Tasty, well-seasoned and featuring good pasta, I rather enjoyed it. It was already a notable step up from the previous bites. Very good.
Next up was a porchetta with lardo, confit tomatoes, olives and basil. Hhhhm, if you have a copy of Ducasse’s outstanding Grand Livre de Cuisine lying at home (either the haute cuisine, or Mediterranean) you’ll find a recipe which looks pretty similar to this one. This is not to say that Ducasse invented this dish, but to use rabbit in it, and serve it in this way is reminiscent of the way a certain Franck Cerutti used to serve it… However, I don’t really care about copies or not, this was the best dish of the day. It was tasty, beautiful, well made, and really enjoyable. This was a straight 3* dish, one which was great. Only thing I’d have liked was a mention of the fact that it was a rabbit porchetta on the menu. Excellent.
Next came two meat courses (the fish dish on the lunch menu looks not interesting to me). First was a beef cheek, braised in red wine, and served with a jardinière of spring vegetables. On the side came a great creamy polenta. It is always great to see things like this well made in a good restaurant. However, for a lunch menu it was pretty good I must say. What was great about it, was the Polenta. It was creamy, powerful in taste, and very deliciously fatty. That’s all a polenta should be, and that’s how I love it. Very good.
Next up was my second favourite dish of the day: A porky treat with fillet, black pudding (very nice), Saucisse de Morteau, and that outrageous smoked belly, they serve with the pigeon too. It came with Sauerkraut and a Madeira jus (hhhm sounds a bit funny nowadays). This one really was tasty. Everything was tasty, as pork often is, and perfectly cooked. The Sauerkraut worked well with it, and the sauce bound things together. With the rabbit, this was my highlight. Very good.
As a pre-dessert, we had a great little Eton mess. This one was very pretty, and very very good. I really enjoyed the various textures and preparations in this, and found the little Ramsay sticker on the ice cream sandwich rather amusing. Excellent.
Dessert came in two parts. First up I had asked for a pear tatin with Stilton and a walnut ice cream. Boy, this tatin was really great. Far, far better than the pretty poor tatin (sorry guys) at the Square a few days earlier, this had the perfect amount of sweetness, great puff pastry, and the right amount of caramelisation. The Stiltion wasn’t really added in big enough quantities, but gave the whole thing a little bit of saltiness. Excellent!
A rhum baba was decent, if a little over-cooked and therefore not all that great. The addition of the citrus fruits certainly was a nice idea, but couldn’t save things at the end of the day. Good still.
Petit-fours are funny, the little tree of chocolates is great, while the ice cream balls in liquid nitrogen seem a little bizarre in this restaurant. Looks like one is trying to suddenly be very modern. It doesn’t add anything to the dish, so the point of it’s use escapes me. They are tasty though.
Overall this was a faultless lunch, even if the baba was over-baked. Everything was perfectly executed and presented, the food was very good indeed, if that lack of emotion really could be seen as a valid point. What I found interesting was the close similarity to the Louis XV’s food. In terms of presentation and cooking, quite a few of Clare Smyth’s dishes really look like someone has tried to transplant that restaurant to London. It might not be the best of ideas in the long-run, as the Louis XV is what it is due to it’s location, and the products of the area. For me, this might be the only thing Ramsay and Smyth could work on a bit. However, I can see that this is a 3*, that is worth the rating despite the criticism.