I suppose this is the big one. The blow-out. Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous flagship restaurant (commonly known as “Royal Hospital Road”) is a “3 Michelin Star” restaurant – one of only three in the whole of Britain. Famously difficult to get a booking, prospective diners are required to request a table exactly two calendar months in advance. Credit card numbers are required and no-shows are subject to a charge of £200. Each. Clearly this place is at the top of London’s fine-dining tree.
I’ve been longing to visit “RHR” for a while now, not only because the menu contains many signature dishes of the great man himself, but because I was keen to discover why a restaurant is deemed “3 Star” when so many other chefs will only dream of obtaining the top accolade.
I’ve dined at Pétrus and Maze in the past. Both establishments, while belonging to the Ramsay empire, mostly owe their fantastic menus to their executive chefs – namely Marcus Wareing and Jason Atherton respectively. (Note, Wareing has since split from the Ramsay camp following an acrimonious public spat. But he hasn’t gone away, you know. The Berkeley hotel apparently decided that they would rather work with Marcus Wareing directly and gave Ramsay his cards. The restaurant is now called “Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley” which I’d highly recommend you visit.)
The restaurant is situated on a quiet residential street in Chelsea. Due to the fact that I had left it quite late in the day to ring for a reservation, the earliest I could get a table was 10pm. We cheekily walked through the door 15 minutes early but were greeted warmly and ushered immediately to our table. The first thing that struck me was the size of the room – it’s absolutely tiny. We counted 13 tables, not the smallest restaurant in the world, but I was still taken aback at how small the tables were and how close they were together. You could call it “cosy” if you were being charitable. I wasn’t blown away by the décor either. The whole design is a little cold and slightly austere.
Moments after we sat down, we had two glasses of champagne and some amuse bouche in front of us. The first amuse arrived in a retro toast rack - a dinky potato ‘wafer’ filled with basil pesto and mozzarella. Tasty and very light. The second amuse was a ‘cornet’ of tomato and avocado.
After perusing the three menus on offer, we opted for the tasting menu, known here as the “Menu Prestige”. It’s not for the faint-hearted – 7 courses, not counting the inevitable procession of show-off amuses, pre-starters and pre-desserts. We also asked the sommelier to bring us a selection of wines (by the glass) to accompany the dishes.
Some elements of the menu were off limits for me because of my designer shellfish allergy. However, The Wife bravely stepped in and provided opinions on the parts of the menu I didn’t sample. Naturally, the Maître-D was quite charming and assured me that every care would be taken to keep the shelled critters away from my meal. He also assured me he would bring me something “very special” to replace the “Langoustine” starter. A nice touch, which I very much appreciated.
But enough yakking already, let’s get to the dishes…
Tomato consommé – this dish was our “pre-starter”. The chilled soup was light and very intensely flavoured. Unfortunately, I had the vegetarian version without the langoustine and caviar, but I didn’t feel too cheated.
Pressed foie gras with Madeira jelly, smoked duck, peach and almond crumble – it’s often said that foie gras is an “acquired taste”. Worryingly, I think I’ve acquired it. Animal welfare concerns aside, it’s true that foie gras can be a little daunting for the uninitiated. It’s just so incredibly, heart-stoppingly rich. This was a masterful dish, so many different flavours and textures – the rich foie was accompanied by micro-leaves, a crunchy crumble, soft fruit and the most wonderful brioche, all of which served to lighten the rich liver. So this is 3-star cooking – masterful. We accompanied the dish with a sweet and spicy Gewürztraminer “Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre“.
Ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon with tomato chutney, vinaigrette – I’ve seen this dish described as Gordon Ramsay’s signature dish, but sadly I was unable to partake. Matters were not helped by The Wife gushing praise upon the dish with every mouthful. I think she may have even described the ravioli (a raviolo, surely?) as the best dish she’s ever eaten. Praise indeed.
Vitello tonnato with shaved fennel salad, pickled anchovies and caper berries – While The Wife enjoyed the lobster and langoustine I tucked into this Ramsay interpretation of an Italian classic, straight off the lunch menu. It was very good, typically Italian, full of clean and distinct flavours.
Fillet of turbot with braised baby gem lettuce, leeks and cep sauce – soft, translucent turbot which flaked beautifully. How do they do this? Sous-vide possibly? Loved the earthy sauce and vegetable accompaniments. Our fish starters were accompanied by a minerally Australian Riesling, “Egon Müller“.
Roasted pigeon from Bresse with grilled polenta, smoked pork belly and date sauce – happily, the tasting menu includes a choice of lamb or pigeon for the meat course. Being the blogging anorak that I am, I went for whatever option The Wife rejected. In this case, I scored the pigeon. No harm there, I adore pigeon, absolutely love it. (The pigeon dish I ate at Maze ranks as one of my all-time best restaurant dishes.) This bird was expertly cooked and matched perfectly by the sweet date sauce. I’d have happily eaten an entire dish of the smoked pork belly, the flavour was amazing and the texture as soft as butter. The sommelier paired my pigeon dish with a Sicilian “Rosso del Soprano” – to my palate, a fantastic combination.
Canon of Cornish lamb with confit shoulder, ratatouille and thyme jus – lamb was always going to be a winner with these two diners, but this was superb. The meat was beautifully rare, with a quirky little surprise – the intensely flavoured ratatouille was served inside the roasted pepper.
Crème brulée with Granny Smith Apple Shot – This dish arrived as a pre-dessert. I figured I should drink the zingy apple shot first, as a palate cleanser, then have the rich crème brulée. Visually appealing and very satisfying.
Strawberry, Champagne and elderflower soup with vanilla cream – this soup (a milkshake really) was served in a tall glass, to be consumed with a straw. I didn’t pick up much elderflower from the soup (maybe it was in the foam?) but it did deliver a delightful surprise – the addition of “space dust”. You remember that fizzy popping candy we used to enjoy as kids? I imagine every Michelin star kitchen in the world has a huge vat of this stuff in the larder!
Caramelised tarte Tatin of apples with vanilla ice cream – I was surprised to have been offered this dish as it is not officially on the “Menu Prestige”. It is however, on the “à la carte” menu. The Wife could not resist the urge to have such a classic dessert prepared in such a fine restaurant and ordered it before I knew what was happening. We were now truly starting to feel the effects of this feast, especially given the lateness of the hour. The presentation, as we had come to expect, was fantastic. The waiter presents the tart, decorated with sugar-dusted vanilla pods. He then swirled the most wonderful toffee sauce on each plate before carving the tart. It was incredibly, almost overwhelmingly rich. As delicious as it was, both the Wife and I failed to finish the dish. Time to admit defeat.
Bon bons – So full and tired were we that we declined coffee and asked for the bill. Undeterred, the waiter brought us out a selection on bon bons. The show-stopper was the white chocolates filled with strawberry ice-cream, presented in a steaming “cauldron” containing dry ice. Great theatre. We also nibbled on some tasty chocolate truffles and some Turkish delight, but our hearts were not in it at this stage. I can honestly stay, I’ve never been so well and truly stuffed in all my life.
A little aside…
I noted that some diners were quite obviously regulars. Strange to think that a restaurant like “Gordon Ramsay” is a local, neighbourhood restaurant to some people. But Chelsea is that kind of neighbourhood. My wife and I pondered that we had been looking forward to this meal for so long, and the fact that it was such a big (read expensive) treat. When you have the kind of money that GR is your local noshery, where do you go from there? Interesting…
Let’s not bother with figures, let’s just say the bill was pretty hefty. It’s certainly the most I’ve ever paid for a meal. The food we were served was quite literally flawless in terms of taste and technical execution. The service was friendly, charming and effortlessly slick. But I do feel that for a lot of restaurant lovers, the whole experience will never live up to the price tag. There is a certain premium to be paid because of the sacred “third star”. Despite this, we had a wonderful meal and would recommend it to any fans of fine-dining, as long as money is no object.
Next up, tapas at Soho’s “Barrafina“. Olé!