Menus: Set Lunch £45, Dinner 3-Course £90, Dinner Seasonal 5-Courses £105, Dinner 7-Course (‘Prestige’) £120
(If you wish to view the full set of photos, they are available on my Flickr account)
Driving to hospital
So, first of all: a little apology.
I’ve been busy recently: busy working, busy eating, busy drinking (wine mostly), but not busy writing blog posts about what I’ve been eating (or about the wine I’ve been drinking).
In any case, my parents were in town a few months back, in the heart of what then seemed like London’s everlasting darkness, and I wanted to plan a special meal while they were here. Given that, at the time, there was only one 3-starred Michelin restaurant in central London and that we hadn’t made it there yet, I thought it was high time to pay Gordon Ramsay’s flagship outfit a visit. (Since then, Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester has been elevated to 3 stars as well).
While it has become easier to book lunch at Restaurant Gordon Rasmsay – Royal Hospital Road (RHR) in Chelsea, due to the fact that you can reserve a table directly on their website, it is far more difficult securing a dinner reservation, and thus I made mine approximately two months in advance. The difficulty likely stems from the fact that RHR is a very small venue, with only about 12-14 tables in total, and also due to the obvious factors of it holding 3 Michelin stars for years and being the pinnacle of Mr. Ramsay’s little (well, shrinking) restaurant empire.
A few other tidbits to note about the restaurant: it is one of the few remaining places requiring men to don jackets for dinner; it is only open Monday to Friday (so don’t think on planning a special occasion on a Saturday or Sunday there); and, of course, Gordon is not usually there himself (though he does make appearances). Since 2007, the kitchen has been run by Head Chef Clare Smyth, a very pleasant young lady in her early 30’s and one of the few women to run a 3-étoiles establishment.
Entering Ramsay’s world
As readers of this blog will probably know, I have been to a lot of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, both in the UK and the US – when Gordon Ramsay Holdings (GRH) still ran them – and I have generally been impressed with the quality of the food and service levels. Sure, there have been the odd fumbles and occasional disappointments, and they are not generally given to the most creative and inventive style of modern high-end cooking (though a few try to do this; I’m looking at you Maze), but overall I haven’t had all that much to complain about within GRH establishments.
Poor old Gordon has gotten it quite bad from the British press over the last year, and he’s certainly out to makeover his public image (having recently done the same for his face) and reinvent himself, both of which I suppose were inevitable given the nature of the British press and his own personality. I have to say that I do have a lot of respect and admiration for the man’s drive, ambition and achievements. Whatever you want to say about his restaurants, their finances or his diction, he certainly created a lot out of very humble beginnings and has both directly and indirectly helped to regenerate and re-energize the movement towards better food in Britain over the last decade or so. But enough about the big man himself, as he wasn’t in the kitchen during our meal.
Mrs. LF and I drove my parents to the restaurant and were graciously greeted and shown through the little hallway to a small bar which serves as a holding area for the restaurant. The entrance is funny because there are slits in the wall to your left, behind which lies the dining room. Some of these slits are mirrored on the side and some are compeltely empty, so you’re not actually sure if you’re looking into the dining room or not (you are). Anyway, after a little kafuffle over the position of our table (my father is even more particular then moi when it comes to table choice) – which the staff handled effortlessly – we had arrived and were ready to get this show on the road, or on the table as it may be.
Note: you can click on any of the images below for the full-resolution versions.
Speaking of the table, I have to say it was a beautiful little arrangement. There were fresh flowers on each table (and in the bathrooms), as well stunning modern lanterns with blue flames and luxurious tablecloths and cutlery. It is really a tiny room, but it doesn’t feel crowded and it isn’t loud. And it is one of the few restaurants in London that doesn’t have ANY background music, which is a godsend in and of itself.
We were shown the menus on offer, of which there is a 3-course à la carte, a 5-course seasonal, and 7-course tasting (‘Prestige’) menu at dinner time. But of course at these prices, and with its reputation, there are many other little treats awaiting you before, after and in-between your main dishes. Consensus dictated the 3-course menu and we all eventually agreed on what everyone else would order :).
As we were deciding all of this, the exceedingly lovely Maître d’, Jean-Claude, presented their quite impressively sized Périgord truffles within a wooden box that looked like it could have doubled as a jewellery display case.
We were brought a good selection of breads, of which I liked the sourdough the best. I was a little surprised to see Poilâne on offer, as I figured a restaurant of this caliber would bake all of its own bread, but it is always good (we get it fresh from Waitrose as our mainstay bread for breakfast), so it wasn’t the end of the world! The butter, which was presented in beautiful cone shapes that reminded me of bee hives was excellent (salted and unsalted were provided), as you’d hope it would be.
Then the food began arriving, and it kept on coming. The first teaser was an elaborately presented row of very thin fried potatoes. Encased within in each was a line of basil, which added a nice herbaceousness. I also detected a hint of cheese (most likely parmesan). I thought it ironic to start off such a luxurious meal with what were essentially crisps, but they were damn good ones.
The second amusement in Ramsay’s culinary park was a cornet of crab and avocado, again fancily presented on a silver vessel. It was a very fresh, zesty and slightly creamy yet light morsel which went down a treat.
A waiter explained that the last of the three amuse bouches was a seasonal one. A single raviolo was presented all by its lonesome inside a beautiful, shallow white bowl with wide-rimmed edge and then a bright orange pumpkin soup was poured carefully around it. The presentation was simple yet striking. The soup itself had a wonderful consistency (it was thick but not too much so) and also a real depth of pumpkin flavor. It married well with the raviolo, of which the delicious, slightly salty and crispy duck stood out nicely, with the vegetables playing their supporting roles well.
I would give the three opening dishes a score of 8.5 overall as they were cute, fun and had very good flavor and seasoning running throughout. They made an enjoyable start to the meal.
My mother and I opted to start off the meal with one of Gordon’s signature dishes. It has featured on the restaurant’s menu forever and I was really excited to see what one of the top dishes from such a famous chef would be like. It arrived sans sauce, and then the waiters poured the velouté onto the base of the shallow bowl (note: it was a different shallow bowl from the previous one housing the pumpkin soup, and was part of the Gordon Ramsay Royal Doulton collection from Wedgwood (I know, you were gagging for that little pearl).
Anyway, I have to say that I thought it looked rather odd, sort of like a brain vacuum-packed inside a thin covering of soft homemade pasta. When pierced, an abundance of seafood was revealed. It was all moist, flavorsome and fresh, and the sauce’s rich creaminess and lemongrass hint provided a nice coating (it wouldn’t have hurt to have a dash more sauce). But the idea of stuffing it all so tightly in inside the pasta seemed strange, as it appeared to be more naturally suited to the world outside the ravioli. The pasta itself was very good, but it was as if it was not really part of the dish and just got in the way more than anything. Overall, I thought it was a pleasant but pretty average dish for a restaurant of this level and I was let down by the fact that this was ostensibly one of the ‘best’ dishes that Gordon could create. I have no doubt it had been executed faithfully by the kitchen, but the overall effect for me was rather muted. 7/10.
Mrs. LF went for one of the simple specials, which was a linguine pasta dish served with a little bit of sauce and sprinkled (quite generously) with the Rolls Royce of French black truffles, those ginourmous globes from Périgord that had been presented in a royal box a bit earlier. It looked fantastic.
Mrs. LF described her dish as such: “The linguini were al dente and had been cooked perfectly. And I prefer linguine to tagliatelle for this type of dish, as I find the latter to be too flat and lack a bit of bite in texture. The buttery sauce was somehow light (not like the significantly heavier version we had at Michel Rostang in Paris a few years ago in the exact same dish) and each bite was fabulous; you just wanted to come back for more. The Périgord truffles were nutty and sooo good. But I remained quiet eating my dish, careful not to over-promote it too much as I wasn’t willing to share it with even one, let alone tree other, gourmets! :) 9/10.
My father had opted for a dish which sounded very appealing to me, the pan-fried sea scallops. It also arrived bare, and the waiter poured the little beurre noisette over it. It was a very attractively presented plate. The scallops were large, meaty, sweet and perfectly cooked, and I thought all of the flavors worked well together. There was no rocket science going on here (nor any vegetal rocket either), but each element was executed precisely and gelled effortlessly. No fireworks, but very solid cooking. 8/10.
My father had kindly allowed me to choose the first wine of the meal, with the only caveat being that it should be “within reason.” His “within reason” can be bent slightly when it comes to wine, so I was able to get away with ordering one of the top white Burgundies on offer, a Lafon 2004 Meursault. It was divine, and did everything a Meursault should do for me. It was rich, complex and opulent, with a vivid streak of citrus and lively minerality. It also just happened to go very nicely with the seafood starters, as I had hoped it would. I think the rather pronounced acidity came from the fact that it was still quite young, as I would guess it would age well for another 5-8 years. It wasn’t ludicrously overpriced for a 3-starred restaurant as the mark-up seemed to be just under 2x the retail price (other wines were marked up much more, however).
Me being me, I had coerced the family into opting for an additional ‘middle-course’. And I can proudly say that this was a good decision. The pressed foie gras dish was superb, and by far the best one of the meal at this stage, in my humble opinion. It was daintily presented and while there were no huge leaps of faith flavor-wise, I thought it had a nice little flair of creativity about it. The foie gras itself was exceptional – smooth, rich and deep – and it was complemented splendidly by the thin layer of Madeira icing, the sharp notes of rhubarb, the sweet crumble and the smokiness of the little parcels of wrapped duck. The accompanying toasted brioche was also excellent and overall it was a flawless dish which I was very happy to devour. If Gregg Wallace had been there, he might have remarked, “Foie gras doesn’t get any better than this.” 10/10.
As this had turned into quite an indulgent meal (hey, we were celebrating a number of different occasions, and it’s rare to have my parents in London), we decided to have a glass of Sauternes each to go with the foie gras. It was a terrific one, and if you look closely at the above photo, you can just about make out the rich weight of the wine in the glass and the oily remnants it left on the fine stemware (I believe it was Riedel). It had tons of ripe honey on the nose and was very round and broad in the mouth, with some orange and floral notes, and a good deal of length. We ordered this extra wine on the spur of the moment just before the foie gras was to arrive, and had I thought about it earlier and more clearly, it probably would have made sense (at least financially) to get a half-bottle of a top Sauterne (I always dream of Yquem…) for around the same price as the glasses had cost us, but I wasn’t too disappointed.
My main course of turbot was again simply but beautifully constructed, with the fish resting on a bed of linguine and surrounded by langoustines, a few greens and wild mushrooms, underneath which laid a splashing of sauce. The fish itself was cooked very well, allowing the delicacy of the turbot to shine through. Although not the most obvious accompaniment, the strands of pasta actually worked quite well with the fish and were perfectly cooked, as they had been in Mrs. LF’s starter. The langoustines were sweet and there was a nice rich fishiness running through the sauce. The wild mushrooms themselves were excellent and were one of my favorite things on the plate. The portion size was very generous and it was a straight-forward but excellent dish that had again been cooked to an exacting standard. 8/10.
Of her main course, Mrs. LF commented: “Sometimes it is difficult to remember what you ate, especially after a few months or so, but as soon as I saw the above pictures, all the flavours came rushing back into my mind. My monkfish dish was really excellent. All of the ingredients that had been gathered together managed to create a near-perfect balance, both in taste and texture. The chorizo cous cous with the spiced tomato jus energized the monkfish as well as my taste buds. I wish there had been a little more of the sauce, but I am sure that it was a case of asking the waiter for more, and it would have been provided to me. The Mediterranean touch brought warmth and an unpretentious quality to this lovely dish.” 9/10.
My father had been naughty and opted for the richest-sounding dish of all the main courses. It looked quite stunning on the plate, but may have been a bit ambitious if you weren’t too hungry by this stage. Luckily he wasn’t, and was also kind enough to give me a few tastes. The meat itself was sublime and had been cooked just the way I like it, very red in the middle but not totally raw in texture (i.e. it wasn’t beefshimi). It was definitely one of the tastiest pieces of cow I’d eaten in a while. I loved the play on the marrow too: the potato fondant had been made to look like a bone, and inside the top of its open shaft laid the marrow itself. It was a clever little touch that didn’t go unnoticed. The marrow itself was as rich and fatty as marrow can be (in a good way) and the potatoes were very good indeed. The carrots and spinach helped to break through some of that richness but it was still very much a “manly man’s”plate of food, though an excellent one at that. 9/10.
My mom went with the loin of Highland venison, and as I only had a taste and can’t remember it in too much detail (though I remember I liked it), I will refrain from commenting too much or giving it a numerical rating.
My father’s half of the wine selection landed us in Bordeaux; St Emilion to be exact, at Chateau Pavie, in the year 2001. Being from the right bank, the wine is dominated by Merlot (it’s about 70%). It had quite a tight nose, although there were dark berries and maybe some aniseed evident. In the mouth it had quite significant tannins, but they were fairly well integrated. I thought it was powerful for a Merlot-dominated wine, but also had a certain of elegance about it. The wine exhibited tremendous length and will be extremely good in 10+ years, although it was also pretty good for drinking now (just a bit restrained compared to what it will likely become in the future).
The palate-cleansing smoothie was frothy, light, fruity and had a nice undercurrent of sweet rum flavor. It was a served tres posh, in a fancy glass with a glass straw. I love smoothies and sweet fruity concoctions, so it did me just fine. 8/10.
A pre-dessert of crème brûlée was nestled on top of two round plates in a petite white porcelain pot. It was fantastic, with all three of the main flavors coming through nicely, and very crisp on top. 8/10.
*Assiette de l’Aubergine’ (for 2 people)*
~ Granny Smith Parfait with Blackberry Foam, Honeycomb, Blackberry & Cider Sorbet ~
~ Bitter Chocolate Cylinder with Coffee Grainté & Ginger Mousee ~
~ Carmelized Tarte Tartin of Apple ~
~ Marinated Pineapple Ravioli with Mango & Raspberries ~
~ Walnut Soufflé with Pear Sorbet & Chocolate Sauce ~
Both couples opted to go for RHR’s assiette of desserts, which gives you a little taste of all the main desserts on the à la carte menu. It’s good if you’re like me and usually want to try three or four of the desserts on the menu, if not all of them! :)
A stunning trio of desserts arrived first on an ovular plate that was decorated with chocolate and squiggles that reminded me of a musical score. The Granny Smith parfait looked most intriguing to me, and I loved its sweet and sour, crisp apple flavor with smooth and rich blackberry and cider sorbet (in which the blackberry was certainly the more pronounced flavor). The four honeycomb squares that flanked each side were also delectable with the fruity flavors, and provided the necessary crunch. I also thought the little circle of thinly shaved apple slices resting beneath was a nice touch. 8/10.
The petit tarte tartin was classic and very good, but not spectacular compared to others I’ve had in recent months both in France and in the UK. 7/10.
Strangely enough, neither Mrs. LF or I can remember much about the bitter chocolate cylinder, so I can’t comment on it – it certainly looked nice, though, didn’t it?
The pineapple dessert was extremely beautiful in its presentation. Simple, primary colors vividly caught the eye, and the flavors didn’t let it down. There was a pronounced, sweet pineapple flavor running throughout the centrepiece, which was enveloped in layers of the thinnest slices of pineapple. And, for once, the other fruits (raspberry, blackberry and blueberry) were actually sweet, though I have a feeling their natural level of sweetness may have been kicked up a notch in the kitchen through some kind of sugary trickery. In any case, it was light and very refreshing and everyone enjoyed it. 8/10.
Unfortunately, the soufflé was a disaster. It was very eggy and hadn’t set correctly, so the texture was completely wrong. But as it was the last in the long line of desserts, we didn’t bother sending it back as we really didn’t want another one (I am not the biggest fan of sweet soufflés in the first place as I always think they’re going to taste amazing, but find them a bit boring after the first few bites in most cases). They were very happy to remake them for us and apologized profusely, but we just didn’t want new versions. For me, this was also because I’m not sure how well the walnut worked as the primary flavor in the dessert. It tasted okay when taken with some of the pear sorbet (which was lovely) and chocolate sauce, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for soufflé flavor. This dessert therefore gets a score of 3/10 as it wasn’t accurately executed and didn’t taste particularly great. If we had been the Michelin men (or women), that could have been dangerous liaison.
Having seen a few posts blog posts about RHR in the past, I had been waiting for the silver alien balls (well, that’s what I call them in my head) to make their appearance. I always thought they looked funky and wondered what was inside of them. The funkiness of presentation didn’t disappoint, and they were just very simple and very good bitter chocolate truffles. I ate way too many of them. 8/10.
I thought that these silver truffles were going to be our petit fours, full stop…but the kitchen had a few more surprises up their collective sleeves. Next up were some unannounced chocolate and strawberry ice cream spheres, presented in a silver dish from which emanated a lot of dry ice ‘smoke’. I am not usually a fan of white chocolate, but it worked very well with the cool filling of strawberry ice cream. I again ate too many! 8/10.
The last of the petit fours were some extremely haute cuisine Turkish delights. Usually way too sweet and way too pink (or another very bright color), these were something else all together. The paired-down elegance of the Japanese-esque presentation was not let down by what went in the mouth. The texture was at once firm and soft, and the subtlest trickle of rosewater crept in after a second, and lingered in your mouth. They were exquisite. 10/10.
I had a perfectly good decaf espresso to finish the meal (oh, and a few more white chocolate and strawberry ice cream balls – they brought out another bowl). :)
I don’t take sugar in my coffee, but I did have to take a picture of the fancy receptacle for the sweeteners.
And this being the restaurant it was, they were not just going to let the ladies leave Chelsea empty-handed without a shopping bag to take home. So they got their own little treats, replete with a miniature Gordon Ramsay black glossy bag.
As usual, along with shopping bags come bills. Luckily, my dad was taking care of this one! :)
Jean-Claude was kind enough to offer a tour of the kitchen, where I was shown the various stations. I was surprised by how large the kitchen was in proportion to the dining room! It was obvious that Clare was scrutinising every plate that was being sent out to the dining room at the pass, and both tasting and adjusting the presentation. She was gracious enough to speak with me for a minute and I was struck by how humble, straight-forward and easy-going she was (but then again, I wasn’t the one preparing dishes that she would be inspecting).
It was a great ending to what was overall a very enjoyable meal.
Tried & tested
We came away from RHR satisfied and happy. With one or two exceptions (i.e. the signature seafood raviolo and the #souffléfail), the food was consistently cooked to a very high level, and there were some dishes which stood out as being particularly memorable (the foie gras and the beef, for example). I certainly enjoyed the food here more on the whole than I have at Le Gavroche and many other 1 and 2 Michelin star restaurants in London.
But having said that, it does smack a bit of formula. A lot of the dishes have been on the menu for a long time, and many of the offerings do seem to be frozen in time in this sense. This is especially true when their creator, the chef himself, is not often there in the kitchen cooking them himself. I can imagine that the very capable Head Chef must want to inject her own personality, flair and creativity into the menu, and I don’t think there’s that much chance of that as it stands, at least on the main two dinner menus. Jean-Claude did inform us that on the 5-course seasonal dinner menu and lunch menu, she has much more freedom to express herself and cook ‘her’ food, so I think it might be fun to try RHR out for lunch sometime – it’s also much more affordable at £45/head. I wouldn’t say there was zero creativity here, as some of the dishes did have a certain fun factor about them, and everything was certainly artfully presented, but there is a certain tried and tested formula at work in the food here. This is, of course, just fine and is probably suited to the type of clientele the restaurant attracts and retains.
But in my view, the best thing RHR has going for it is the front-of house service. Once you pass through the front door, have no doubt that you will be looked after as if you are the most important customers in the restaurant that day. We had never been there, and they didn’t know us from a hole in the wall, and my dad left saying that he had never had better service in a restaurant (and this is coming from a man who has eaten in the best restaurants all over the world for many, many years). It is the kind of place where they anticipate your needs, cater to your desires, and nothing is too much trouble or too little a detail. This was evident in the decisive and nonchalant way they dealt with our (well, my dad’s) sudden desire to change tables, and also at the end of the meal, when we realized my mother had left her bag under the original table at which we were seated. Jean-Claude would not disturb the other diners’ experience by intruding beneath their table, and simply waited a few minutes for them to depart as he kept us entertained, smiling and laughing at what a silly situation it was.
There are certainly an army of staff – I didn’t notice if there were too many, nor would I really be able to quantify this – but they all served their purposes well, with the exception of one young man who was slightly awkward now and again. And, for being such a ‘destination restaurant’, I did not find it overly stuffy or stiff; everything just worked naturally.
As I mentioned near the beginning, the room itself is quite small, but you don’t feel cramped. In fact, you feel as if you are cosseted from the outside world and are able to spend a number of hours relaxing, talking, unwinding and having some pretty fine food. My guess is that’s the recipe that Gordon created this space with, and I doubt it’s strayed too far from that original vision.
Wine: as you would expect in such a restaurant, the choice of wine is spectacular, with top producers and quite a bit of depth. It does tend to favor the old over the new world, but there are some good selections from all over the world. The mark-up policy seems quite varied, though, depending on the bottle(s) in question. If you want a look at the full list, it is available online.
For more about my rating scale, click here.
*Note: I have dined at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – Royal Hospital Road once, and it was for dinner.*