Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
Recently I finished reading “Heston Blumenthal; In search of perfection” a book that accompanies the series of the same name. In the book Heston describes how perfection is found in many different forms dependent on each individual’s version of it, something I totally agree with now. I used to think Thomas Keller’s version of perfection, that it is something you strive for but can never find was the correct mind set, that is until the day I finally ticked off one of the tasks on my bucket list. That was the pilgrimage to the original Gordon Ramsay Restaurant in Royal Hospital Road, London.
My experience started six months earlier with the booking process. I was going back to the UK for the first time in over four years and I had managed to convince my wife I needed to go to Ramsey’s. She declined to join me (she’s not much of a foodie) so I decided to dine with my close friend James Mitchell who is also a chef working in London. Browsing the website to make the booking I noticed they had a wine on the menu from Kumeu River, a vineyard which was within walking distance of Allely House, the restaurant where I was head chef at the time. I quipped that I would bring them a bottle to save on cost, an innocent remark that became relevant when we visited the restaurant.
The day came and James and I made our way to the upmarket area of Chelsea, for some reason I was very nervous. The outside of the restaurant doesn’t give much away, it’s the same décor as a few of the houses and blends into the neighbourhood. The only standout difference is the very recognisable sign which signals you have made it, like arriving at the Wailing Wall, the pilgrimage was well under way.
We were given a very warm greeting, the oh so familiar maître d Jean-Claude Breton (I also gather he is the restaurant director) began with “ah good evening you must be Kevin from New Zealand, I believe your friend is also a chef. We have arranged a tour of the kitchen for you and also a meeting with the head chef after dinner!” I couldn’t believe it. My online joke in an email which meant nothing had gotten me a hall pass to a culinary workshop most chefs can only dream about. I had a feeling I was not going to be let down this evening!
We were seated in a mostly white, pleasantly light dining room. I was surprised by the brightness, with this being my first experience with a Michelin stared restaurant of this standard I had always imagined it would be dark and quiet. The atmosphere was relaxed with friends and family happily chatting. This came as a relief, it meant we were able to talk freely without being stuffy or whispering.
There are a few options when dinning at Ramsey’s, the seasonal inspiration menu, the al a carte menu or the “menu prestige” which is the best of the best from the years of Ramsey’s, (similar to the nostalgia menu at Antoine’s in Auckland). I had already pre-decided on the menu prestige and James decided to join me. It was offered that one of us could switch out our pressed foie gras for a terrine of foie gras, black pudding and pigs trotter. This is my type of food but it doesn’t always sell on a menu. We decided under instruction to do this and swap plates half way through the dishes. Swapping plates is something I thought might be frowned upon at a three star restaurant but they suggested it! It was disclosed that this dish is sometimes hard to sell, information we possibly only received because of our affiliation in the secret club that is the hospitality industry.
The first wine selected was of course Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay, delicious as always!
Amuse-bouche was up first, chicken consommé with an in-house made melba toast and the ever present foie gras parfait. The flavours were clean and the consommé was a rich dark colour yet perfectly clear. It takes a skilled and patient chef to make a consommé, one slip and it becomes cloudy and filled with sediment. The foie gars was creamy and matched the consommé perfectly. This was certainly dish number one in a line of faultless dishes.
With the formalities of the amuse-bouche out of the way it was time to get down to the menu. James was presented with the Pressed Foie gras with peppered Madeira jelly, smoked duck, peach and almond crumble. I received the aforementioned foie gras, black pudding and pig’s trotter terrine.
The flavours of the terrine were incredible, perfectly layered there was obvious pride in presentation as each layer was clear and precise. It ate the same way, there was a clear flavour variation between the pig’s trotter and the black pudding. It fell apart and melted in the mouth, the only problem was I knew the ever impending swap was coming. With every bite I looked at my plate and looked at James’, it was time. I didn’t know the joys that were to come so I sadly said goodbye to the terrine and received the foie gras.
The foie gras was a well-balanced dish. All the components played their part without going missing. The madeira jelly and dressings were just sharp enough to take the edge of the rich and unctuous foie gras and this was sweetened by the peach and almond crumble.
The next dish is probably the dish I know of Ramsey’s the most, it was an exciting moment. The ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon in a light bisque with a chervil veloute is a classic.
As you can see the presentation is simple, sauce then ravioli. The first signs of what was to come came with the first cut. With little resistance the knife slid through the ravioli, the fish was tender throughout and the pasta didn’t fall apart. One important element that James noted was the salmon was still pink. The precise cooking time was perfect. The danger with these types of dishes is some parts of the dish can be over or undercooked whilst others cooked well, not here. The salmon was spot on and the surrounding shellfish was also cooked well. The effort to find the best cooking times, size of salmon piece, thickness of pasta etc is what makes the difference between a three Michelin stared restaurant and your local Italian restaurant (even a good one). Again the flavours hit you and with every bite you can taste salmon, langoustines, lobster and chervil. Nothing goes missing and there is a wonderful balance of flavours brought together by the not overpowering bisque. We both thought this dish would not be beaten and this would be as good as it gets.
The fish course was up next with us both enjoying roasted fillet of line caught turbot with asparagus, morels and wild garlic. I had a list of food items to try on my visit back to the UK and on the list was turbot. We do get a version of turbot here in NZ but it’s not the same fish as the European version. This turbot is a full flavoured (and full priced) fish which is a premium on any menu.
Take a moment to look at the picture which shows fresh morel mushrooms. This was a first for me, I had personally never eaten a fresh morel, only the dried version you rehydrate with boiling water that smell a bit like tea, wet wood and wet dog all combined. The fish was cooked to perfection and fell apart with the touch of a knife, it was incredibly tender which is to be expected from a piece of turbot. The element that made the dish was the wild garlic with the morels. The morels acted as a sponge and I can tell you now of all the great flavours I have tasted in my life so far this element of the dish is the single greatest flavour I have ever had the pleasure to taste. It was luxurious, stick a fork in me, I was done! Dried morels are chewy and not very good, these were tender, the flavour was just incredible. The garlic didn’t overpower the fish and it was just a symphony. Hands down the best dish so far and eventually when we left the restaurant this would still be the case.
I was in my element at this point and it was time for a new bottle of wine. We went for Saint-Joseph, domaine Bernard Gripa, we wanted to even it up with a sommelier choice of a red European wine to match our pigeon as opposed to the personal selection of the Kumeu Estate Chardonnay.
With the restaurant buzzing and the service on each table noticeably attentive it was time for the main event. The choices, Cannon of Cornish lamb with confit breast, braised shank and navarin of spring vegetables or roasted pigeon from Bresse with grilled polenta, smoked ventreche (pork belly) and date sauce. We both opted for the pigeon with the theory you can always eat lamb but pigeon is more unique and special.
The dish delivered what we were looking for. It was rich, earthy and gamey, exactly how I like my main courses. The pork belly was beautifully glazed, the polenta, onion and beetroot all set the dish off with their creamy texture. It was wonderful to see the leg on the plate as well as the breast. Not only does it taste delicious but it is a beautiful addition to the plate. This was my first time trying pigeon but I am definitely a fan. Although gamey this was offset by the delicious addition of a sweet date jus. This was probably the best dish visually off the menu.
This being a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, James and I couldn’t say no to the £10 supplement for a cheese course, in the same way we only intended on one bottle of wine. Instead after two bottles we found ourselves accepting a suggested amazing sweet white wine whose name and type evades me but it was so delicious James found himself ordering a second glass. This was to be our last drinks of the night, what a way to go out.
I had seen the cheese board on my way in, it was a huge table with an amazing selection on offer. Unfortunately you will have to take my word for it as we forgot to photograph the table, we were so enthralled in conversation with the Scottish cheese waiter who was extremely knowledgeable. Not once in the description of the approximately 30-50 different cheeses (mostly French) did the waiter have to refer to the kitchen, something that happens all too often with wait staff these days.
So stomachs now becoming stretched with amazing wine and food it was appropriate and quite deliberate I’m sure that we would be served a simple Eton Mess…
… if only it was that easy. This is after all a three Michelin star Eton Mess. Described on the menu as Gariguette (wild strawberries that are small, soft and aromatic, and in my opinion the best strawberries you will ever taste) and lemon balm Eton Mess with vanilla ice cream wafer. The whole dish was sweet, light and a relief because it seemed unindulgent. The dish was simple in presentation, again however all the components were perfect, the lemon balm that coated the mind blowing strawberries was truly divine.
With the end of the meal in sight we were served some delightful petit fours. Pictured are chocolate truffles (silver balls on the tree), white chocolate filled with strawberry ice cream and simple rosewater jellies.
After dinner it was time for us to enter the engine room and see the seemingly superhuman chefs who could create such delight for the diners. We met Chef De Cuisine Clare Smyth, she was calm and incredibly passionate about her job and she talks about food as if she is madly in love with it. This is great to experience because that’s how I like to see myself. We must have spoken for around twenty minutes, the whole time I notice with every plate that comes to the pass she glances her eye over it even when in deep conversation. It was a fantastic end to a wonderful night. We were given bags of chocolate truffles for our other halves and a menu each to keep. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life to date and a true delight. We tried in vain to find flaws but they simply did not exist. The bill totalled £410 for two people but in reality I would have paid four times that much for the experience.