I love the Maze concept: small “tapas-style” dishes served in a buzzy, informal atmosphere – but with an attention to detail that is all part and parcel of the Gordon Ramsay brand. It almost seems a little unfair that Ramsay’s name is above the door given that the menu seems to be very much the vision of head chef Jason Atherton. Atherton certainly has an accomplished CV, including stints at the likes of La Tante Claire, Harvey’s and El Bulli. He joined the Ramsay empire in 2002 as executive chef of Verre, Ramsay’s Dubai outpost. He and Ramsay then opened Maze in London’s Grosvenor Square in 2005, winning a Michelin star months later.
Although it’s now awfully fashionable to assign homely, familiar titles to posh, teased-out restaurant food, I love the sense of fun on Atherton’s menu. One of Maze’s better known dishes from the tasting menu is “Assiette of Sandwiches“. A lot of people know this dish because Atherton cooked it as part of BBC’s “Great British Menu” series in 2008, winning the “Starter” section of the competition with the dish. It’s a cheeky little number, consisting of a “Croque Monsieur” and a novel take on a “BLT”.
My dining companion (her indoors) and I sat down with some great breads and a glass of wine and were allowed to take our time over the menu. We rejected the set lunch in favour of the amazing tasting menu. The waiter nicely asked if we had visited Maze before (which we hadn’t) and explained the menu to us. The tasting menu is divided into two sections; the first section containing smaller, lighter dishes and the latter section containing larger and heavier dishes. He suggested that we both order two dishes from each section, which turned out to be spot on.
Here are the dishes. I’ll do my best to describe the dishes my wife kindly let me taste!
Assiette of sandwiches, ‘BLT’ and croque monsieur – As I stated above, this dish was an absolute eye-popper. The “BLT” comprised a tomato jelly, a rich bacon and onion cream with tiny onion rings. The final flourish was the shockingly green lettuce velouté, poured by the waiter during service. Unfortunately it’s let down slightly by the flavour; I think the tomato jelly needs to deliver a bigger hit here. The “Croque Monsieur” element was pleasing but unremarkable.
Iron bark pumpkin latte with braised duck, black truffle syrup and cep brioche – another great piece of food theatre, assembled by the waiter at the table. The cup contains only foam, the waiter pouring the rich and perfectly flavoured pumpkin soup through the foam before finishing the dish with a drizzle of truffle syrup from a dropper bottle. This was an excellent dish, great looks and a sublime flavour. A definite highlight.
Braised octopus, oxtail vinaigrette, dehydrated black olive, fine herbs and confit lemon – a great combination of flavours; tender pieces of octopus which are lent a deep savouriness by the oxtail vinaigrette. The lemon flavour is very distinct and lightens the dish, but I feel the olive flavour is lost here.
Roasted sea scallops with textures of apples, butterscotch and bacon – I didn’t sample this dish as I’m not into shellfish, but my wife described it as the best scallops she’d ever tasted. ‘Nuff said.
Roasted Anjou pigeon, 70% chocolate ganache, blueberries, red wine and celeriac – definitely another stand out dish for me. I’ve often seen game meats paired with chocolate but never tried it. It works perfectly here, the rich flavour of the pigeon coming through the bitter chocolate. The blueberries are a great addition, offering a sweet, fruity contrast to the chocolate. For me, one of the most well-conceived dishes of the day. Triumphant.
Roasted hake in Parma ham, chorizo and pimento purée, squid paint – a tasty but very simple dish; good flavour from the fish, the pimento purée is quite fiery but does not overwhelm the hake. Pretty good.
Cornish lamb and tongue, salt marsh mutton shepherd’s pie, spring cabbage and mint jelly – as you’d expect, the lamb here was perfectly cooked, the cutlet particularly melting in the mouth. A nice hit of mint delivered in the unusual form of a slice of jelly. The flavour of the accompanying “shepherd’s pie” (not pictured) was intensely savoury and well presented in a small cocotte.
Irish ox ‘tongue ‘n’ cheek’, caper raisin and ginger carrots, horseradish pomme purée – another cheeky dish title and probably the most impressive dish I ordered. The cheek was particularly fine, perfectly flavoured and as soft as butter. The tongue unsurprisingly had a firmer texture but bags of flavour. I was intrigued with the idea of pairing these meats with such strong flavours as ginger and capers, but they were subtle and perfectly complimentary. 10/10, no question.
Peanut butter and cherry jam sandwich with salted nuts and cherry sorbet – nothing like a jam sandwich of course, but a fitting end to a great meal. The salty nut topping made a nice contrast to the peanut and cherry cream.
Madagascan vanilla rice pudding, fig jam and fig roll – how I wish I had ordered this! Definitely the better of the two desserts we ordered. This is the rice pudding of kings, rich and sumptuous with a big hit of vanilla. I wouldn’t normally eat a regular fig roll for love nor money, but Atherton’s witty interpretation of the classic biscuit was perfect!
We finished our trip to Maze with a tour of the kitchen and were permitted not only to ask plenty of questions of our guide, but to take a few photos as well. A very nice touch for two inquisitive (and extremely full!) foodies. Highly recommended.
Maze, 10-13 Grosvenor Square, London, W1K 6JP