Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare — César’s Irreproachable Palace

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
200 Schermerhorn Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Website
Map
Phone: +1 718 243 0050 (reservations are taken by phone only, six weeks in advance)

  • Menus: There is only one menu available, a 20-plus-course tasting menu, which at the time of our meal was $225/person, excluding, tax, tip and drinks.

One of the best meals you’re likely to eat in the Tri-State area, served in relatively austere surroundings, with an atmosphere that changes depending on the particular make-up
of the diners on any given night. If you have an opportunity to go, don’t hesitate for an instant.

“That might just be the best meal I’ve ever had,” all of us were saying in our own way, the realization slowly creeping up on us, as we stepped back onto the nondescript downtown Brooklyn street after a staggering 3-hour performance.

I had tried to find the entrance to this holy grail of food fashionistas from inside the adjoining neighborhood supermarket … to no avail. My brother had, of course, realized that there was a separate entrance a few doors down. We were early, eager and — after peaking through the window of what is essentially an open kitchen with a D-shaped zinc bar for patrons to sit at on metallic stools — just a little nervous.

We still had about twenty minutes to kill. We stood outside; it was freezing. We tried the covered, heated area just outside the entrance; it was too warm. Eventually we put aside our fears (of disturbing the chefs’ prep-work) and decided to enter.

Peering inside across the mysterious void…

The one word that came to my mind during the first hour or so of sitting in this temple to pristine produce was ‘cold’ (despite the under-bar heating system pumping out way too much warm air). There was just something sterile about the place. It was, as Björk would say, “Oh so quiet.” There was little (if any) audible conversation between the chefs, or with their leader. And the chefs certainly didn’t say anything to us … much less acknowledge our existence.

Which was weird. After all, it had not been such an insignificant feat to get here. Dual-phone re-dialing weeks ahead (during a conference call!), prepayment for the entire food costs (not an insignificant sum for four people) a week in advance, the receipt of emails explicitly telling us what we may and may not do at the meal, and what we may and may not wear to this exclusive rendezvous.

I do have to say that the room is exquisite it its own way, though. It’s pretty much a perfect reflection of the ethos of the chef and his cuisine. No expense spared, seemingly simple, nothing a hair out-of-place. And you can’t help but dig the wine display cases.

But what of the food, you say? Well, as you probably know, there are no photos allowed, so I won’t be able to show it to you. And, given the sheer number of courses and ingredients, I won’t be able to explain each dish individually (you see, you are not allowed to take notes either … not that I ever do anyway).

The 20-plus-course affair began with a succession of what were probably the freshest, most beautifully prepared, and harmonious bites of seafood that I have ever had the pleasure of eating. The chef was kind enough to email me a picture of the ‘menu’ from his iPhone just as we left the restaurant, so you can see the main ingredients below, although it leaves much to the imagination (probably a good thing — no spoilers).

The ‘menu’ for our meal

If you know your dairy, you can see right on the ‘menu’ that the sourcing is impeccable as they carry Andante Dairy’s cheese, which is arguably some of the best in the country and rarely seen in New York (Ms. Scanlan’s operation is based in California). But I digress…

Each of the amuses was more or less a perfect composition — of art, of texture, of taste. Every time a new precious morsel arrived, it was immediately declared our new favorite, nearly every time. But it was still oh so quiet. We were each having our own little foodgasms inside our own little worlds, occasionally looking to our sides to confirm how mind-blowing whatever it was we just ate had been. It was mostly an internal dialogue, spoken in an atmosphere that seemed to call for reverence.

There is a very good explanation for why the seafood is really that good. You see, the adjoining Brooklyn Fare supermarket bankrolls the Chef’s Table. César explained after the meal that he essentially has an unlimited budget to get what he considers to be the best ingredients from anywhere in the world via the quickest shipping methods available. That is the most important thing to him: he must have the best ingredients. So the (mostly) raw seafood in our dishes was probably on par with what the diners in some of Japan’s top fish-centric restaurants were eating that very day (it seems that much of the seafood comes courtesy of Japan’s famous fish markets).

After mindfully consuming 10 or more of these minuscule masterclasses, I was kind of in shock. It was exactly what I had expected it to be, not far from perfection. But I still didn’t feel at home. None of us did. We felt exposed, disconnected from the people we had been staring at for the last hour.

I consulted the helpful sommelier*, and found out that the ‘proper’ meal had not even yet begun. This did excite me: it meant there was a lot more to come. The rest of the bar stools had recently filled up too. There was more interaction amongst the diners, and with the big man himself too. People were asking him questions, and by George, he was beginning to answer them, to a degree.

As if living out the Björk song in real life … “zing boom” … there was suddenly atmosphere, that most elusive of ingredients which help make a meal become truly memorable. As we ate — and ate — the mood lightened. Perhaps it was the wine, or perhaps this is the way it always is if you’re part of the Chef’s Table’s first seating, I don’t know. But we started flinging questions across the room to César and it seemed like he was beginning to enjoy the interaction a little bit more.

Based on all the reviews I had read, I assumed that the savory portion of the meal would be at least 95% seafood, so I didn’t even contemplate any other types of dishes ahead of time. Maybe I had missed something, but in retrospect, I am rather glad nobody had bothered to inform me how good the non-pescatarian food would be. These dishes alone were worth a couple of Michelin stars.

But the truly shocking thing was the desserts. I don’t think there is actually a pastry chef at the Chef’s Table, but if there is, he or she deserves to be recognized. These were some of the best I’ve ever had.

One of them, a spiced tonka bean sorbet with dark chocolate sauce, was delivered with what may be the most (unintentionally) hilarious pronouncement in my dining history. The waitress brought us each our dessert and recited what she and her colleague had just synchronously placed before us. “Tonka bean sorbet, chocolate sauce…” and then she turned her shoulders and walked away. Within a split second she realized she had forgotten to inform us of a crucial ingredient. She did a rapid about-face, looked us squarely in the eyes, and with a solemn whisper said, “…and gold.” Then she promptly went about her business as if she had said something as innocuous as “…and caramel.”

For whatever reason, that set us over the edge. We were talking about gold well into the night — “I only eat gold,” “Oh you’re so low-class, how crass, I don’t eat gold, I only drink it,” and so on (for some reason, all adopting ridiculous British accents as we made our increasingly ludicrous proclamations). We were drunk, in every sense of the word. Drunk with drink, drunk with food, just perfectly drunk in the best way that drunk can be.

So, what had begun as something unnervingly cold, kept improving, and eventually turned to gold.

Though what I wrote at the beginning was true — none of us could find much fault with any of the food we’d been served and, in the end, it had become a fun meal too — strangely enough, I haven’t thought back that often about my meal at the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. For some (as of yet) unknown reason, it just didn’t make as big an impression on me as some other restaurants have — say noma, for example. Part of this may be due to its location (which of course is not the restaurant’s fault). Because I live in the New York area, it is not a ‘destination’ restaurant I have to travel across oceans to visit, where English is not the first language. Such anticipation, and investment, can have a huge impact on your psyche.

Despite my own lack of a certain nostalgia for the meal, you would be hard-pressed to find better food in New York City, the Tri-State area, and possibly the entire country. Sure, you might find a truly spectacular dish or two, here or there, that could hold its own with César’s cuisine … but likely not in such a measured procession and with such consistently wrought perfection.

If you have the opportunity to eat at the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, do not hesitate for an instant.**

In closing, I think the Björk song I have been citing is a perfect expression of my time at the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare***:

it’s. oh. so quiet
it’a oh. so still
you’re all alone
and so peaceful until…

you fall in love
zing boom
the sky up above
zing boom
is caving in
wow bam
you’ve never been so nuts about a guy
you wanna laugh you wanna cry
you cross your heart and hope to die

’til it’s over and then
it’s nice and quiet

Rating

Ambience: 7/10 (on average … it got better of the course of the meal)

Service: 8/10

Food: 10/10

For more about my rating scale, click here.

* The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare was originally BYO-only. They recently got a full liquor license and now have a proper wine service. The wine list, from memory, is quite good, and there are some reasonable values from some of the lesser vaunted regions of France. We went through a lovely bottle of Champagne (Chiquet Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru d’Aÿ) for the amuse bouches, then an excellent white Burgundy (Jobard Meursault ‘En la Barre’), and a stunner of a Rhône red (Chave St. Joseph). It seemed more economical to drink three bottles rather than having them try to construct some type of pairing, which they didn’t seem to encourage.
** As you may have read, there are plans afoot to open a second Chef’s Table in Manhattan. Despite how counterintuitive that sounds (i.e. wouldn’t they then have to be called the Chefs’ Tables as not one chef can be in two places at the same time?), César informed us that the Brooklyn location is his “baby” and he still plans to be there the majority of the time, possibly five nights a week. I don’t much see the point of eating at the Chef’s Table when he is not “the Chef,” but it would be unfair to criticize something before it has even had the chance to open. Best of luck to them…
***My brother and I shared this meal with Mathilde and David, and their account of the meal can be found here.

*Note: I have only dined at the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare once; our party paid for the entire cost of the meal; we were not given any ‘extras’; and were not knowingly known by the house*

Launceston Place – A Great Meal Ambushed by Too Many Buts

Launceston Place
1a Launceston Place
London W8 5RL
Website
Map
Online Reservations

Dinner: £45 for 3 courses or £55 for tasting menu, Lunch: £19 for 3 courses

Tristan Welch’s restaurant serves up clever, innovative & subtle food that draws upon well-sourced British ingredients. On our visit, all the dishes except one were very good or better. But while the back of house seems to be in good order, the front of house act could use some serious polishing. If they can solve that, the equation should equal a star from the Michelin man in the near future.

Hoping for a Great British Menu

Launceston Place was on my hit-list for a good part of 2009 after I saw its Head Chef, Tristan Welch, appear on Great British Menu, the BBC television program that invites two great chefs from each region of Britain to prepare dishes that represent both their local area and ‘Britishness’ in general, with the winning dishes featuring at some gala event to be held at the end of the series, and cooked by the chefs who invented them. I liked what he was doing on the small screen (he won his heat too), and his gastronomic creations looked very enticing. So, one October evening, Mrs. LF and I set off to see if the Welchman would deliver.

Mr. Launceston’s Curvy Facade

Launceston Place looks slightly odd from outside. It is housed within a semicircular façade and is kitted out in a black tie paint scheme. It almost gives off the feeling of a very posh pub that caters to the wealthy people living in the nearby environs. In any case, we located the correct doorway (there are a few doors that lead nowhere) and were pleasantly surprised upon entering.

There is a very pretty little bar area as you enter the restaurant, where you can have an apéritif or wait for other members of your party to arrive. We decided to go straight to our table, however, which was off to the left side of the restaurant. They layout of the place is quite unique, with tables on either side of the central bar station, and also behind this area (which also seems to serve as a dishwashing and plating-up station), and adds a bit of interest. The decor is also fairly iconoclastic and I liked it – black walls throughout with brooding artwork, but with little splashes of color here and there. To me, it almost seemed like going into someone’s very nice home, where the dining room led into yet another little dining room. It’s worth mentioning that they also have a very nice private room on the lower level, where instead of actually being in the kitchen (i.e. a Chef’s Table), you are in a mock library that has a video display of the kitchen and two-way microphones (they call it the Chef’s Office), so you can chat with the chef(s) as they work (I am sure they must love that…!).

The building has served as a restaurant of some kind for a long time, and I think Tristan and the folks at D&D London (a spin-off from Terrence Conran’s restaurant group in which he still owns 51%, and which took over Image Restaurants, of which Launceston Place was a part, in June 2007) have done a fantastic job in updating the premises. For instance, our table for two made clever use of the space by having one seat on the end of the benching attached to the wall, and the other chair placed 90 degrees away (instead of facing each other) – enabling them to squeeze another table for 2 across the pathway.

But enough about design, architecture and acquisitions. Save for the last topic, that is not really my expertise.

Starry, starry night?

I thought the menu read brilliantly, and had a very hard time deciding what to order as there were so many things I wanted to try. While we were pondering the possibilities, some very nice devilled parsnip crisps were brought to the table, wrapped neatly with a little bit of Launceston Place branded black ribbon. In the end, we went for the 3-course menu, as previous experience with tasting menus on the first visit made us a bit wary (i.e. see here or here). But before our starters manifested: “the bouches were coming, the bouches were coming” (a reference for non-Americans can be found here).

Left: Amuse Bouche of Hot & Cold Leek Soup / Right: Bread & Butter

And I am glad they did, because the leek soup was really fresh and awakened our palates. The contrasting temperatures worked well, and it had a nice light, creamy and froth-like quality about it (7/10). The sourdough bread was also very nice – and if memory serves me right (?), it is made in-house (7/10).

Starter 1: West Coast Scallops Roasted with Aromatic Herbs from the Coast Line

My starter of scallops was beautifully presented on a wooden slab with the molluscs served in their shells. It was a very accomplished dish in the sense that the scallops were cooked perfectly and were also large, juicy and very flavorful. The subtle seasoning of ‘aromatic herbs’ harmonized well and let the scallops do the talking. It wasn’t a ‘wow’ dish but I don’t think that was the intention. 7/10.

Starter 2: Poached Goose Egg, Somerset Truffle Risotto

We both agreed that Mrs. LF’s starter was one of the better things we had eaten in a while. It was also cleverly conceived in terms of the flavors and stylish presentation. Hidden beneath a topping of black Somerset truffles (English truffles…I am learning something new every day) was an unctuous, rich and delicious risotto that was perfect in pretty much every way. I was surprised at how pungent the truffles were and the strong depth of flavor they possessed (I thought English truffles would have been much lighter than their Continental counterparts), and the addition of little toast soldiers was a cute nod to a British breakfast tradition of soft-boiled eggs (the French call it oeuf à la coque). 10/10.

Main Course 1: Wild Hare, Nutmeg Cream Potatoes & Spiced Pears

Nearly as good was my main course of wild hare. It was served two ways, but the presentation wasn’t quite as neat as the starters had been. I didn’t really care, though, as it tasted delicious. What I presume was the breast of the poor little wabbit was cooked well, being very tender and soft, and having a lovely mild taste. The little quartet of ribs was executed perfectly, left quite red and rare, and had a slightly stronger taste (more salty than sweet), thereby bringing some balance to the dish. The nutmeg mash and pears were slightly sweet, and I thought the flavors all played well off of each other. Much like the scallops, I found this to be a nice and mellow dish that, while it didn’t really have that ‘wow’ factor, was really satisfying: it did the ingredients justice and showed the inventive hand of the chef. 8/10.

Main Course 2: Tamworth Suckling Pig, Radishes & Honey Emulsion

The one complete anomaly in our otherwise lovely meal was the suckling pig. Although this dish has drawn rave reviews from other bloggers since we dined at Launceston Place (see here for example), Mrs. LF could barely eat any of hers. She told me that it tasted extremely ‘piggy’ and just wasn’t nice – she posited that this particular bit of meat might have been off. I was shocked, and thought she must be crazy, but when I tasted it I agreed that it underneath the main taste of the meat lurked a very distinct and unpleasant flavor that I could also only describe as ‘way too piggy’. After googling it, I discovered that Tamworth pigs are meant to have a ‘distinct’ flavor, but somehow I don’t think this is what it was meant to taste like. In hindsight, we should have sent the dish back, but she wasn’t that hungry anyway so we just left a lot of it on the plate. Strangely enough, the servers didn’t ask why we had left so much of it when they came to clear the table for dessert (but more on the service later…). I am hesitant to rate the dish, because it will bring down the score of what was otherwise a very nice meal, but it was what it was – inedible. 1/10.

Left: Pre-Dessert of Raspberry Coulis & Lemon Sorbet with Black Pepper Tuile / Right: Donnafugata Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria

Luckily, the lovely taste of the palate cleanser went some way to clearing our taste-buds’ memory of the terrifying Tamworth. The sharpness of the lemon sorbet and was magic with the coulis and the flavors were every bit as beautiful as the presentation. You could actually taste the black pepper in the thinner-than-a-fingernail translucent tuile, and this added nicely to the interest in the mouth.

On some sound advice from Gastro1, I splashed out on the second-most expensive dessert wine I’ve ever had at £17 for the glass (for more the most expensive one, Chateau d’Yquem, see here). It was the Italian Donnafugata Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria, and it apparently retails for about £30 for a half-bottle. As I told Gastro1 after the meal, “It had huge peach on the nose and on the mid-palate, with dry nectarine on the finish, with very good acidity. It was a syrupy and quite oily (it coated the glass nicely when swirled), intense nectar. I thought it was almost like drinking an alcoholic peach nectar…amazing it comes from grapes!” Wonderful stuff, but not for the faint-hearted.

Dessert 1: Set Custard Cream, Caramel & Praline, Malt Ice Cream

My dessert was marvellous. Again, it just all worked together. Presented on the now ubiquitous black slab, I liked the way it looked too. Come to think of it, in terms of presentation, I think that Chef Welsh and Brett Graham of The Ledbury share certain elements in their presentation styles. The set cream itself was mild and very moreish, the caramel and pralines worked a treat together, and my favorite element was actually the malt ice cream (I’m a sucker for anything ‘malted’). I liked the mixture of textures and temperatures and thought it was an interesting little concoction. 8/10.

Dessert 2: Strawberry Shortbread, Lemon Curd & Basil Sorbet

Mrs. LF’s dessert was also good (thank god), so she was somewhat placated. It was light and the biscuits were powdery, dissolving in the mouth as you ate them. I tasted it (I know, I’m greedy! :)) and also liked it – I do love lemon curd…. She correctly noted, however, that the basil sorbet wasn’t nearly as good or as the one served at Eastside Inn (see here, Course 6), which was a good deal better. 6/10.

Leading from the back

While the back of house seemed to have things in pretty good order, and the dining space looked the part, we weren’t very taken with the front of house. The service just wasn’t good. A few examples should give you the picture. We couldn’t find a place to park in the immediate area, so I popped out of the car and asked the woman at reception if she knew somewhere that we could park as non-residents. First, she looked at me as if I didn’t belong there, and secondly she didn’t have a clue and didn’t even try to help one iota – she just wasn’t interested.  Fine, maybe just it was just me. No. After we were seated, it took ages for anyone to look at us let alone give us a menu or some nibbles. After literally about 20 minutes, we did get the menus, and thereafter the service simply consisted of taking our orders and delivering the food (without any explanation or niceties). In a restaurant that I am sure is gunning for Michelin stars, we both found this very strange and off-putting.

It was only towards the very end of the meal, when we were halfway through our desserts, that the situation changed…thanks to a very affable young man who wasn’t our waiter but somehow took it upon himself to engage with us about the dessert wine, and then other things.

Food-wise, from our experience, the menu at Launceston Place was playful, clever and enticing, while drawing upon well-sourced and fairly traditional British ingredients. With the unfortunate exception of the Tamworth Suckling Pig (which did get the lowest score of anything I’ve ever rated on this site), the food was deftly executed, innovative and subtle. Had it not been for the little piggy that should have gone home and a lack of finesse in the service, I would have classed this as a good 1-star Michelin meal.

In fact, I would certainly go back for more. And I did, when I embarked upon a tour of some of London’s top restaurants with some other bloggers a few weeks later. You can read about that gastropade and some of Launceston Place’s other excellent desserts here.

Of course, the place has become even more popular since we dined there, with their then Junior Sous Chef Steve Groves winning the last season of the BBC’s Masterchef: The Professionals. So book well in advance as it may not be so easy to get a table anymore.

Rating

Ambience: 8/10

Service: 5/10

Food: 7/10

Wine: a nice selection of wines, although the mark-ups are pretty high from what I could gather on my perusal.

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined twice at Launceston Place, once for dinner (for this review, where I paid) and once as part of an event organized by their PR agency (where I did not pay).*

Launceston Place on Urbanspoon

maze at the London NYC – Another Good Show

maze at the London NYC
151 West 54th Street
(between 5th & 7th Aves.)
New York, NY 10019
Website
Map
Online Reservations

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

M@TLNYC is a good option for an informal meal in midtown Manhattan; the food is good and it has a nice ambience and buzz about it. With so many interesting dining options in Manhattan, I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat at maze, but if I lived in the city I would definitely go there, and if I worked or lived in the neighborhood, I might visit quite often.

M@TLNYC is a good option for an informal meal in midtown Manhattan; the food is good and it has a nice ambience and buzz about it. With so many interesting dining options in Manhattan, I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat at maze, but if I lived in the city I would definitely go there, and if I worked or lived in the neighborhood, I might visit quite often.

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

The London NYC from across the street

The London NYC from across the street

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.

maze @ The London NYC 3

The bar area

maze @ The London NYC - Dining Area

Some tables from the dining area

Our table

Our table

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 :).

Sautéed sea scallops with chorizo, orange and white onion compote

Small Plate: Sautéed sea scallops with chorizo, orange and white onion compote

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.

Salad of confit fennel and beetroot, fresh ricotta and candied walnuts

Small Plate: Salad of confit fennel and beetroot, fresh ricotta and candied walnuts

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.

Tortellini of beef short rib, escarole, trompette royale and dashi

Small Plate: Tortellini of beef short rib, escarole, trompette royale and dashi

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.

Roast breast of duck with caramelized plums, sweet corn and red chili sauce

Main: Roast breast of duck with caramelized plums, sweet corn and red chili sauce

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.

Roasted Berkshire pork chop and braised belly with pear and saffron chutney

Main: Roasted Berkshire pork chop and braised belly with pear and saffron chutney

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.

Valrhona chocolate fondant, green cardamom caramel sea salt and almond ice cream

Dessert: Valrhona chocolate fondant, green cardamom caramel sea salt and almond ice cream

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.

Lemon quark cheesecake with strawberry gelée and pistachio ice cream

Dessert: Lemon quark cheesecake with strawberry gelée and pistachio ice cream

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.

Petit Fours: Chocolate & Salty Caramel Truffles and Peanut Brittle

Petit Fours: Chocolate & Salty Caramel Truffles and Peanut Brittle

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.

Bathroom Alley (photo courtesy of gordonramsay.com)

Bathroom alley (photo courtesy of gordonramsay.com)

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!

Chef’s Table (photo courtesy of gordonramsay.com)

Chef’s table (photo courtesy of gordonramsay.com)

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.

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Food: 7/10

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.*

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