6-course tasting menu at £80/person, 3-course à la carte menu at £70/person
A very special gift
Well, it’s not every day one prepares oneself for an indulgent Sunday evening affair at Claridge’s. Unless you are obscenely loaded, I suppose. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been there if it had been for an extraordinarily kind gift I had received through work (opting instead for GR @ Chelsea Road), which entitled me to a meal at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s with a credit of £500. Yes, you read correctly, five hundred quid! I actually received this gift at the beginning of the year and had re-scheduled the dinner 3 times due to various conflicts, but last Sunday was the night.
Now, if you know me (but how can you, this is an anonymous blog!), you will know that I will have downloaded and printed out the wine list to see what 750ml of bliss we could afford when subtracting £160 (the maximum spend/person on food) from £500. Well, after looking now and again at the list over the past months, I had my ideas…more on that later, though.
In a very unfortunate turn of events (for me at least), I began to feel slightly ill on the tube journey into town. Yes, I do know that one should not take public transport when one is expected at Claridge’s, but I wasn’t exactly planning to be sober enough to drive back home afterwards!
We arrived on time and gazed for a few second at the exterior of the hotel and restaurant. I tried my best to put on a brave face once we sat down, but I remained woozy and nauseous (couldn’t really look at cream) through the end of the main course, and was a real shame as it meant I couldn’t properly enjoy what seemed like some pretty good food.
The upshot of all of this is that my dearest, Mrs. LF, has kindly agreed to write the bulk of this review. So I will turn it over to her for now…
Sumptuous surroundings and a familiar face
In order to arrive at the Gordon Ramsay section of Claridge’s, you must first walk through the extremely decadent foyer and then through the hotel’s luxurious ‘fumoir’, and I have to say that an ostentatious yet incredibly elegant atmosphere was slowly sweeping me away. At this point, I couldn’t help feeling relieved for the extra vestimentary efforts my husband and I made this evening. I was going to just turn up in jeans: good lord, what was I thinking of?!
As we were seated at our table which, I must say, was quite near the entrance of the dining room, we decided not to lament our luck too much as we soon realized that it provided us with an excellent view of the overall restaurant, and this way we would be all eyes and ears :).
After a few minutes of looking around, adjusting ourselves to the ambience and looking at the menu, we suddenly noticed a very familiar face amongst the staff. We kept on staring at him, wondering if it was really him! Jean-Francois, previously Maître d’hôtel at one of our old favourite restaurants, La Noisette, suddenly clicked on and made his way to greet us. Jean-Francois is one of the best Maître d’s I know; he owns the stage of the restaurants he orchestrates and delivers in style and savoir-faire.
After this joyful and unexpected reunion, the sommelier brought me a glass of 1999 Vintage Bollinger, soon followed by Italian bread-sticks with a couple of dips: sour cream with summer truffle and taramosalata. It was delicious and highly addictive, especially the truffle sour cream!
The à la carte menu was divided into two parts, the starter on the left side, and the main course on the right side. The desserts, we were told, would only be revealed at the end of the first two courses: fair enough! The ‘Menu Prestige’ (their name for the tasting menu) was presented on a separate menu card and, after a few minutes of scrolling the different dishes up and down, we opted for the latter option. In this Menu Prestige, one had the choice between 2 main courses (a nice touch), so the natural choice was for us to ensure we ordered differently.
After we had ordered, our Italian sommelier made his second appearance and asked if we had any preferences for the wine this evening. Mr. LF explained that with our unusually high budget, we were after a ‘very special’ wine and that we would welcome any recommendation he may have for a bottle that would cover the whole meal. The sommelier opted for a 2005 Condrieu, Domaine Mathilde et Yve Gangloff (£160/bottle), which is a Viognier from Côte du Rhône in France. Yve Gangloff is one of the rising stars of the region, having been named by Wine Spectator as one of the 28 most promising producers in the world a while ago.
At this stage, I would like to mention the wine, which was so extraordinary that I will never forget it. It had a deep and seductive golden color, the nose was complex with hints of apricot, pear and almond biscuit. Each sip enwrapped my palate with the most amazing gustatory sensations such as apple and pear, almond, vanilla, and honey. We thank our sommelier for his choice and with true Italian passion, he said that he was “so” happy that we were happy!
Now, onto the ‘star’
So the wine had me very much in the mood for the food. Even though Mr. LF wasn’t feeling well, he was also in awe of the wine (which he seemed to have no problem drinking :)). The first of the ‘prestigious’ courses was arriving…
- Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Salad, Virgin Mary Sorbet. The first course of a tasting menu has the duty of standing out and being a reflection of what you are about to experience. This small starter failed to do so and really wasn’t anything special. In fact, it was exactly as written on the menu: tomato, basil and mozzarella salad with a sorbet on top that tasted like bloody mary! It was okay, with nice ingredients and everything, but hey, come on, this is Claridge’s, this is a Michelin starred restaurant! The expectation for the evening is therefore very high, I wanted to be ‘wowed’ from start to finish and, quite frankly, this starter was a bit of a waste of time. I felt that I was being robbed from one course as this one didn’t really count. 4/10.
- Marinated Quail Breast and Crispy Leg, Confit Foie Gras, Green Bean Salad. Mmmm…delightful! You know what? Forget about what I just said earlier. This dish really redeemed the whole first course episode. We were back on track! This was a splendid, divine delight to my palate…the marinated quail breast was beautifully carved and tender, the leg that had been deep fried in a tempura-style batter was crispy indeed, and as I enjoyed picking it up with my fingers, a light sour cream sauce that was hidden underneath revealed itself and added extra flavour to the quail. The simplicity of the green bean salad was a good accompaniment, as it kept the dish light and simple. Then finally, pure indulgence was thrown on this dish with a small piece of confit de foie gras, which made me reach to heaven and back, oh yes! 10/10.
- Ravioli of Lobster and Salmon, Lemongrass and Coconut Bisque. This generous ravioli filled with meaty, flavoursome pieces of lobster and salmon was yet another well thought-out dish. The lemongrass and coconut bisque transported me somewhere exotic, maybe Thailand, whilst the ravioli naturally conveyed Italy. In any case, the fusion of the two created something special and memorable. If I must flaw this dish in anyway, then I would say that perhaps the lobster and salmon filling was a little too dry, possibly because the ravioli had been so liberally filled (?). 7.5/10.
- Main Course A: Suffolk Pork Belly, Fillet and Cheek, Crushed Peas, Pickled Shallots, Sable Potatoes. The chemistry between the pork, peas, pickled shallots and sable potatoes was awesome, contributing to one harmonious and delicious dish. Starting with the pork belly, I was slightly disappointed with the texture as I like my pork belly to be crispy on top and this one wasn’t. The cheek was tender and delightfully moist. The fillet was skilfully seared all around, giving colour and extra flavour to the meat. The crushed peas were ever slightly cooked, so that they kept their authenticity in taste and colour. The sable potatoes were succulent, melting in your mouth like mini-gnocchi’s. Last but not least: the pickled shallots! These tiny little guys more than delighted my palate as they delivered a subtle sour and sweet taste. I could have eaten a dozen of those, but sadly had to settle for the three that were on my plate :(. 8.5/10.
- Main Course B: Streamed Menai Straits Bass, Cucumber; Asparagus and Apple Fricassée with Oscietra Caviar Sauce. Unfortunately, Mr. LF still wasn’t feeling very well (despite finishing each previous course?!), but he did say that this was a very well executed fish dish, although not particularly inspiring. However, we will refrain from placing a rating on this dish as he didn’t have enough appetite and his judgement may have been skewed.
- Raspberry and Grapefruit Cream, Champagne Mousse. What can I say about this mousse? That it was served in a small glass, that it looked pretty in pink, that it was smooth in consistency with a domineering flavour of raspberry. Nothing to really rave about, but it was there and tasted lovely :). 6/10.
- Cold Valrhona Chocolate Fondant, Mint Ice Cream. Somehow, after the pre-dessert had arrived, Mr. LF seemed to be doing better, and had his appetite back. We concluded he must have gotten sun-stroke (I know, in England…?) from playing too much tennis in the afternoon. In any case, the chocolate dessert was very good. The fondant was a little cylinder of firm, deep, cold chocolate joy, and the mint ice cream was unusually good – and as this is one of Mr. LF’s favorite combinations of flavors, he gave it an 8/10.
Toward the end of the meal, Jean-Francois came over to say hello again and had a little surprise up his sleeve. He explained that he had arranged to give us a tour of the kitchen, which included being introduced to the head chef on duty that night, who was very friendly and lovely to talk to. This small personal touch from our favourite Maître d’ left us content and happy, and we enjoyed the rest of the evening in the ‘fumoir’ room for coffee and degustation of our petit fours.
We’ll be back
I’m back now; hope you enjoyed a different voice for the review.
Despite feeling completely ill for the first part of the meal, I could not help but feel cosseted by the amazing service and ambience of the main dining room. The chairs were wide and comfortable, the table was more than ample for a couple, the service was exquisite all-around, and they really did make us feel at home from the first instant. It is one of those places where you feel that nothing much could go wrong during your stay.
From what I could make out and from what the missus said above, the food was also in general up to scratch for a 1 Michelin star kitchen. While certainly not an adventurous menu (but then again, you do expect Claridge’s to remain fairly traditional), the flavor combinations generally worked well, and the food was cooked to a good standard. I personally thought there was some room for improvement in the first course for sure, as it was just too plain and the ingredients weren’t good enough on their own to stand out and wow, and maybe also in the ravioli and fish dishes – although due to the state of my tummy at the time, I can’t trust my judgement 100%.
Based on how comfortable and at ease we were made to feel during the evening, and at the general good quality of the food, we will definitely return to Claridge’s in the future – probably for a long weekend lunch – even though we’ll have to pick up the tab next time :(. Maybe we’ll take my mother-in-law, who would just love the classic and polished experience of Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s.
As a side note, although we did bring our camera, we felt overly self-conscious and exposed in the dining room, so opted not to take photographs. I do hope to start adding photographs to future blogs though – let me know what you think.
For more about my rating scale, click here.
*Note: we have only dined at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s once, and I wasn’t feeling particularly well on the evening. We also did not pay for the meal, but it was a corporate gift, not an invitation from the restaurant.*