À la carte small plates from $13-20, market specials (i.e. mains) from $20-32, desserts from $9-11; or five-course chef’s tasting menu at $70/person
Ramsay over Broadway
On my recent trip to New York (see also Le Bernardin, Ess-a-Bagel and photos), my brother and his girlfriend invited us to the Broadway musical that she was managing. It was a very nice gesture, and we in turn wanted to treat them to a nice pre-theater dinner. After looking through the different restaurants that were within a few blocks of the venue, I eventually decided to book a table at maze at The London NYC. As many of you will know, maze is part of the Ramsay Empire (RE), being the American sister of the restaurant that goes by the same name in London. I have not yet been to the English version, but have always liked the look of the chef’s (Jason Atherton) cooking, which features small plates with bold colors and, at times, small nods to fusion flavors.
maze at the London NYC (heretofore referred to as the only slightly less complicated name of M@TLNYC) has the same small plate approach although, based on the menu when we dined there, it seems to focus on slightly more traditional flavor combination and ingredients. It is housed in what used to be the iconic New York all-suites hotel, the Rhiga Royal, home to rock stars of yesteryear. That hotel has been completely overhauled by the Blackstone Group and renamed as The London NYC. They have also recently done the same thing in Los Angeles with The London West Hollywood. And in true RE/Blackstone fashion – Blackstone helped to bankroll Ramsay’s international expansion – the two groups have collaborated in both ventures, just as they have with the RE’s other US venue in Boca Raton, Florida, where Blackstone owns the Boca Beach Club that Angela Hartnett’s Cielo sits on top of – by the way, it is a very good restaurant with a nice view.
Phew, now that we’ve navigated that labyrinth, onto the maze at hand.
Unfortunately, my brother’s girlfriend had to leave town earlier in the day, so it was just going to be the three of us for dinner, two from London and one from NYC – perfect.
Small plates, healthy prices
Mrs. LF and I arrived at 5.30pm, quite early but we didn’t want to rush the meal to get to the play. There is not much of a lobby to the hotel, and the two restaurants are located through a door on the right side when you walk in. When you pass through that door, you are in maze, which functions as the hotel’s bar and casual dining restaurant. To your back left is Ramsay’s eponymous fine dining restaurant, which is not really visible unless you actually walk over and look through the single door – it does 45 covers.
My brother was already there and had downed a drink at the bar. For being so early in the evening, the place was actually fairly busy. It was a very mixed crowd, with some in jeans and t-shirts and some in suits. The place is decorated very nicely and is quite dark. It has a nice vibe to it, with cool blacks, flourishes of metallic (mostly silver but some gold) on the walls and fittings, and dark gray-green accents provided by the upholstery on the chairs and banquettes. There are nice little details too; for instance, we noticed that the indentations in the banquette’s leather were filled with metal ‘buttons’ and not just circular pieces of metal, and you can tell a lot of care has gone into the design of the room. The tables are also quite cool, with an interesting layer of fabric underneath a transparent cover, lending it a textured appearance. It does all feel very RE, but it has been executed well in this case, except for a few of the wall fixtures which we thought were a bit silly.
There was a tasting menu available, but given the time scale we thought it would be safer to order à la carte. There were a number of dishes that sounded great, however I was slightly surprised by the relatively high prices of the ‘small’ plates and was hoping they would be worth the money. I also had to keep reminding myself it was dollars, not pounds, although the prices still seemed a little punchy for being the informal dining space for hotel guests.
Would anything steal the show?
The head waiter knew that we had a show to get to, and acknowledged this when he first introduced himself (he did also tell us that we could fit in the tasting menu if we wanted, which was good to know). That said, it did take a little while for them to come back and take our order.
Once these formalities were out of the way, the sommelier came over to offer some help with the wine. After recommending two or three which the missus didn’t like the sound of (subtle glances confirmed this), he finally arrived at a bonafide US specimen which I had never tasted, so we went for that (Mrs. LF’s eyebrows had perked up at the description, you see). Oddly enough, I am least familiar with US wine, so I thought it would be good to experiment. The bottle in question was a Stony Hill Chardonnay, and while I liked the taste of it when I was given the first sip, the other two at the table were less enthusiastic. After taking a few more sips, I saw what they were saying and moved closer their opinion, although I did think it was a pleasant wine – it was just a very neutral and ordinary chardonnay with no bite and little finish to speak of. At $78/bottle, that had been a pretty costly decision – oh well, it’s always good to try new things, right?
The food began to arrive, which deflected attention away from my poor choice of wine :).
My scallops were excellent and started the meal off with a bang. Dusted with paprika salt, they were plump, meaty, sweet and seared perfectly. The compote hidden beneath was perfectly matched to the scallops, adding sweetness (onion), saltiness and bite (bacon) and a tad of acidity (orange). The scallop crackers served on top of the scallops gave the dish a great alternating texture, between soft flesh and crunchy scallop. It may have been a bit too sweet for some, but I’ve got a sweet tooth, so 8/10 from me.
Mrs. LF had ordered the salad, which sounded pleasant and certainly looked very beautiful. She said it was good, but nothing more than that. Each vegetable was fresh and tasted nice in its own right, however it wasn’t a particularly unified dish. 5/10.
My brother had ordered the short rib tortellini, after a bit of debate around the table. It certainly looked the part. After it was laid down on the table, one of the servers poured the dashi (a Japanese soup/stock) around it. When I think short ribs, I think slow-cooked, rich meat. The meat on the inside of the pasta was a bit too dry and lacked depth of flavor; it tasted alright, but didn’t live up to any of our expectations. The accompanying broth was very nice on its own, but it was also quite sweet and, in our opinions, overshadowed the beef flavor. 6/10.
The duck was a successful dish, which is a good thing because both my brother and I had ordered it as our main course. The Long Island duck breast was nicely pink in the middle and the texture was spot on, and not at all rubbery (which you often find). The accompanying bits were very Thanksgiving-ish, but I have always liked cranberries with turkey, and the fairly sweet caramelized plums and corn provided me with the same kind of satisfaction. The soy vinaigrette went nicely with the flavor of the duck too. I don’t recall much of a chilli heat from the dish, though. Another 8/10.
Mrs. LF had ordered the pork for her ‘market special’ (i.e. a main course portion). The chop itself was perfectly cooked, moist and flavorsome. The best part was the tiny piece of braised belly tucked beneath the carrots, and the apple cider gravy was perfect. We can’t remember can’t remember the pear and saffron chutney though! 7/10.
The fondant was superb. The slight notes of salty caramel and cardamom felt right at home with the rich gooey chocolate, and the almond ice cream was able to cut through some of the richness. It wasn’t overly sweet and all of the ingredients worked to support each other. 8/10.
This was my kind of lemon cheese cake. It had a soft texture and I recall little bits of crunchiness hidden within the lemon velvetiness. There was not that much strawberry, being located in the bottom middle of the little tower, but fit in nicely. The pistachio ice cream was well done (not overly and artificially green), and again provided a nice counterbalance to the main part of the dessert. Simple, well conceived and well executed. 8/10.
The petit fours were good too, we liked both (my brother and I especially adored the brittle, as it brought back childhood memories, whereas Mrs. LF loved the caramel truffle), and it was a good close to a very pleasant meal.
Cool loos, big kitchen
The scallops, duck breast, pork and desserts had certainly given a good performance, but there were two supporting acts which deserve special mention too.
A trip to the bathrooms revealed a narrow corridor with lots of doors and funky lighting. All of the bathrooms are for one person only and have their own door. They were very nice and very clean, which is always a good sign.
Secondly, we had organized to have a brief tour of the kitchen. In the interests of full disclosure, after my review of Claridge’s, Gordon Ramsay Holdings tweeted me to thank me for the review, and when I told them I would be at maze in NYC in a few weeks, they offered to set up a kitchen tour: nothing more, nothing less.
So the head waiter took us into the trenches after our meal. What is crazy is that the kitchen at The London NYC is responsible for maze, the 2 Michelin Star restaurant and all of the room service and corporate event catering for the hotel. The space is enormous: one long rectangular room with high ceilings that is loosely broken up into three areas (one for fine dining, one for maze, and one for catering). It is really an impressive kitchen, and I have to say that it was gleaming and completely spotless. It was interesting to note that most of what we overheard from the fine dining section was in French. I didn’t feel it was appropriate to take a photo, so you will just have to imagine it!
We also got to see the chef’s table, which is located on one of the short ends of the rectangular space. It is a u-shaped banquette seating arrangement that looks out over the vast kitchen. We were told that you can hire it for lunch or for dinner and that there is only one price no matter how many people are at your table (it seats up to 8). Josh Emmet, the Chef de Cuisine at both M@TLNYC and GR@TLNYC, will prepare a special menu for your table. For lunch, this privilege will cost you $1,000 for five courses, and dinner is $1,900 for eight courses, with both including canapés and a glass of champagne for each diner. So if you have 8 people, it’s not completely unreasonable as I imagine it would be a pretty unique and fun experience.
Opening night review
I have to hand it to the RE, they certainly can be relied upon to provide a good meal in pleasant surroundings. This is true for other outposts such as Plane Food at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, which is possibly the best thing about flying from T5 – I had an amazing sole dish there a few flights ago. And M@TLNYC was another good show.
While there were a few ordinary dishes that made us begin to worry (salad and tortellini), on the whole the food was simple, satisfying and well executed. My brother did have an insightful comment, in that nearly all the small plates and main courses we had contained a component that was very sweet, which in some cases seemed to dominate the dish. While this didn’t bother me and my rather sweet palate, he didn’t find it as appetizing (especially the dashi/short rib combo), but did note that the desserts were not at all too sweet. So, a word of caution for those that are not fans of sweeter non-dessert courses.
The ambience and surroundings were pleasant and the table was comfortable. The service was fine, although there were a few long waits during the course of the evening. But we made it to the next show on time without any problems.
Wine List: 7/10 (good variety, but the average price was too high in my view)
Wine Selected: 2/10 (sorry Stony Hill)
For more about my rating scale, click here.
*Note: I have only dined at M@TLNYC once.*