My 7 Links

I was asked by esteemed fellow blogger @gourmetraveller to participate in a project called ‘My 7 Links’, which is organized by Tripbase. I haven’t really done a ‘meme’ post before, but thought this particular one would be a nice way to review my last two years of food and wine, re-focusing attention on some highs, some lows, and the unexpected. So, without further adieu, my seven links.

Most Popular Post:
The Fat Duck – A Blumen’ Great Day in Bray  

JELLY OF QUAIL, CREAM OF CRAWFISH: Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss & Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel) … at The Fat Duck in Bray, UK

I guess it comes as no surprise that my most popular post is a review of one of the UK’s high temples of gastronomy: Heston Blumenthal’s three-star Michelin restaurant, The Fat Duck, which was also awarded ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ by the Restaurant Magazine / San Pellegrino ’50 Best’ awards in 2005, and has been in the top five since 2004. Given that a large portion of my readership still hails from the UK and that Heston Blumenthal has become a very popular figure on TV and in the country’s print media, it makes sense. Happily, it was also one of the better meals I’ve had the pleasure of eating since I started this blog. I also like the chef’s approach towards food and his concept of ‘the meal’, and think he’s one of the more consistent and genuine characters in the higher echelons of chefdom. I therefore have no qualms about the success of this post. 

Most Controversial Post:
Le Gavroche – Unfortunately A Very Mixed Bag

The Signature Cheese Soufflé ... at Le Gavroche, London (photo:

It is unfortunate that my most controversial post came from a restaurant that I so much wanted to like. You see, Michel Roux, Jr. was a new hero of mine at the time, and I desperately wanted to love his food and his restaurant, which I saw as an extension of him. Unfortunately, we did not have a pleasant experience at all – it was certainly not befitting of its dual Michelin-starred status. This was one of my first posts, back in the days when I didn’t take photos, so sorry for the lack of visuals, but this was probably the angriest review I have written (which just goes to show I’m a big softy). The anger wasn’t due to the fact that Mrs. LF annoyingly had a big crush on him (and still does), but rather the bordering-on-rude service we experienced. It put me off ever returning this traditional yet quirky subterranean dining room. The signature cheese soufflé and innovative wine pairings were the only things that mitigated what was generally a very disappointing experience.

Post Whose Success Surprised Me:
The Loft Project with Samuel Miller from noma 

Samuel Miller Plating our First Course … at The Loft Project in East London

I really didn’t expect my post about a supper club in the East End of London to get the attention it did. But I guess The Loft Project is a pretty unique concept, as they do get some of the most interesting young culinary talents from around the world to cook for a few nights for 12 or so lucky guests. It’s not cheap, but for what you end up getting (sometimes 8+ courses with a wine paring included), it can often end up being phenomenal value. Anyway, the meal that Yorkshire man Samuel Miller – who is second only to Rene Redzepi himself in noma’s kitchen – stands out as one of the best dining experiences I’ve had anywhere. It was a wonderful evening in every sense, and for all my senses. The technical reason why I think it got so many views is because there was a television show on one night about noma, and Sam featured prominently in it, so I got a lot of people coming to the post after googling his name alongside the word ‘noma’. As of now, it is my 7th most popular post.

Post That Didn’t Get the Attention it Deserved:
Morgan M. – You Can Go Your Own Way

Oven-roasted Suffolk Red Leg Partridge, Sweet Potato Purée, Poêlée of Grapes and Savoy Cabbage, Liver Croûton, Bread Sauce … at Morgan M. in North London

Maybe it was the signature cheesy title, but I was surprised that my review of Morgan M. – which is one of only two reviews listed on Urbanspoon in nearly two years – did not garner more attention. Although the service was a little uneven, the food was certainly beautiful to look at and tasted very good to boot. I had really wanted to highlight this little gem of a place, which takes advantage of cheaper rent in North London but produces traditional French food with ample flair that competes with many of the more popular (and much more expensive) French restaurants in central London. The natural light during our lunch also allowed for some great pictures, making this one of the prettier posts I have done, IMHO. I was pleased to learn the other day that chef Meunier is, after many years, opening a second restaurant near London’s Smithfield Market.

Note: there was another post, which was somewhat controversial and also barely got any views, to which I would also like to direct your attention. It is an interview with the editor of Tong wine magazine, a publication that brings much-needed diversity to the global conversations taking place about wine. Read it here: Filip Verheyden is TONG – About Wine.

Most Beautiful Post:
The Sportsman – Captivating, Compelling, Complete

Cauliflower Tart … at The Sportsman on the Kent Coast

The food at The Sportsman, a one-Michelin star restaurant that could easily be mistaken for an unremarkable pub on an unremarkable stretch of England’s Kent coastline, is in many ways deceiving. It is presented simply and humbly, and you might not give it too much thought. However, the fact that a good deal of what you are eating comes from within a few mile radius of the restaurant, and that there is considerable technical skill and bounds of flavour packed into each bite, can take you by surprise if you’re not expecting it. One of the two brothers who own the pub is the (mostly self-taught) head chef and the other oversees the front of house. The interior has been honestly restored and locals still do come in for a pint at the bar, even if the bulk of the reservations now come from patrons living further afield. The tasting menu, which is available during the week, is well worth a visit, but requires special booking ahead of time. Although the dishes are certainly not as artistic as many other restaurants I have reviewed, I felt that overall, the images from this post were the most beautiful when taken together as a whole. The light was fantastic on the day, and for the most part, these images received almost no retouching. I hope you enjoy reading and looking at it. 

Post I’m Most Proud of:
noma – Northern Light 

break on through to the other side ... noma in Copenhagen

Not only was I proud of myself for simply finding a way to eat at what has now been ranked as the ‘best restaurant in the world’ for two years running, I was also pleased with the review I wrote. It was very long (hey, what else is new?), but it managed to synthesize my numerous thoughts and emotions about the restaurant and our meal. The food itself is also breathtaking to look at, and while my photos don’t really do it justice, this also made it a visually appealing post to me. Hopefully you feel the same. 

Most Helpful Post:
Lanka – The Perfect Little Place in Primrose Hill

Rum Baba ... at Lanka in London

I don’t know how truly helpful my posts are to readers – after all, I mostly just eat and don’t cook – though I did feel like I was providing a good service to the residents within walking distance of London’s Primrose Hill when I consumed copious calories over a number of visits to a cute little pâtisserie and café run by Japanese chef Masayuki Hara. These multiple visits confirmed that the pastries were generally very technically well made, plus some of them benefited from an injection of Japanese flavor (i.e. green tea features prominently in a few of the treats). They have also gradually expanded the range of food, which is simple but very tasty, and have a good selection of high-quality teas and coffee (they use Monmouth beans, or at least did on my last visit). If you are in the neighborhood, I’ve found it is normally worth the extra calories that a visit entails. The hot chocolate is also good.

I would now like to direct your attention to five great food-related blogs that I follow regularly, all of whom have agreed to do their on ‘My 7 Links’ post in due course. Look out for their reflections on their old chestnuts. The are listed alphabetically…like, duh.

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – The Royal Treatment

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
68 Royal Hospital Road
London SW3 4HP
Online Reservations (lunch only)
Dinner Reservations: +44 (0)20 7352 4441

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)

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – Royal Hospital Road provided us with a highly enjoyable and satisfying evening. The food was mostly classic in nature and nearly all of the numerous dishes we ordered were executed with a fine precision, with a few bits of fun thrown in for good measure. The service is simply extraordinary, and we were treated like regulars even though it was our first visit. The young Head Chef, Clare Smyth, is clearly talented, and it will be interesting to see how she develops over the coming years. It’s easy to see why people like eating here: its formula is tried & tested, but it works.

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.

A Beautiful Table Setting & Hive of Honey

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.

The Royal Menu

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 :).

The Royal Box (of Périgord Truffles)

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.

The Royal Assortment of Breads (including Sourdough, Rosemary, Poilâne, Potato)

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.

Amuse Bouche 1: Basil Encrusted Potato Crisps

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.

Amuse Bouche 2: Cornets of Crab & Avocado

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.

Amuse Bouche 3: Pumpkin Soup with Raviolo of Duck Confit, Truffle, Mushroom & Purée of Celery

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.

Starter 1: Ravioli of Lobster, Langoustine & Salmon Poached in a Light Bisque with a Lemongrass & Chervil Velouté

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.

Starter 2: Linguine with Shaved Périgord Truffles

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.

Starter 3: Pan-fried Sea Scallops from the Isle of Skye with Leek & Pancetta Ballottine, Sage Gnocchi & Caper Beurre Noisette

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.

2004 Lafon Meursault, Burgundy

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).

Extra ‘Middle Course’ for the Table: Pressed Foie Gras with Peppered Madeira Jelly, Smoked Duck, Rhubarb & Walnut Crumble

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.

1999 Chateau Coutet, Sauternes

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.

Main Course 1: Roasted Fillet of Line Caught Turbot with Langoustines, Linguine & Wild Mushrooms

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.

Main Course 2: Roasted Loin of Monkfish with Chorizo Cous Cous, Baby Squid, Artichoke & Spiced Tomato Jus

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.

Main Course 3: Aged Casterbridge Beef Fillet with Fondant Potato, Ox Cheeks, Bone Marrow, Braised Root Vegetables & Red Wine Jus

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.

Main Course 4: Roasted Loin of Highland Venison with Smoked Chestnut Purée, Pumpkin, Braised Celery & Périgord Truffle

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.

2001 Chateau Pavie, St Emilion

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).

Palate Cleanser: Smoothie of Pineapple, Champagne, Rum & Coconut

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.

Pre-Dessert: Crème Brûlée with Prune, Armagnac & Vanilla

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! 🙂

The First Trio: Granny Smith Parfait, Bitter Chocolate Cylinder, Tarte Tartin

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 Fourth: Marinated Pineapple Ravioli with Mango & Raspberries

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.

The Fifth: Walnut Soufflé with Pear Sorbet & Chocolate Sauce

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.

Petit Fours 1: Bitter Chocolate Truffles

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.

Petit Fours 2: White Chocolate & Strawberry Ice Cream Spheres with Dry Ice ‘Smoke’

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.

Petit Fours 3: Turkish Delight

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). 🙂

Posh Sweeteners

I don’t take sugar in my coffee, but I did have to take a picture of the fancy receptacle for the sweeteners.

The Final (Take-home) 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.

The Damage

As usual, along with shopping bags come bills. Luckily, my dad was taking care of this one! 🙂

The Young Head Chef, Clare Smyth

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.

Some Line-up

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.


Ambience: 7/10

Service: 10/10

Food: 8/10

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.*

Gordon Ramsay on Urbanspoon

Le Gavroche – Unfortunately a Very Mixed Bag

Le Gavroche
43 Upper Brook Street
London W1K 7QR
Online Reservations

Menu Exceptionnel (8-course tasting menu) at £95/person and wine pairing at £55/person

Poor service, a few excellent dishes & many average, superb wine pairing –  overall a very mixed bag for a 2 Michelin starred restaurant

Poor service, a few excellent dishes & many average, superb wine pairing – overall a very mixed bag for a 2 Michelin starred restaurant

The Build Up

I had wanted to dine at Le Gavroche for a long time.  After all, it is historically one of the most haloed institutions of high cuisine in London, and probably the UK.  Before it was set up in 1967 by the now legendary Roux brothers (Michel and Albert), it was apparently impossible to find foie gras or poulet de bresse in the UK.  They brought grand French dining to the shores of the UK.  The restaurant has held 2 Michelin stars since 1993, and before that it had 3 Michelin stars beginning from 1982.  The kitchen counts such graduates as Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing.  After being properly introduced to Michel Roux Jr., the current Chef Patron, through the BBC’s program Masterchef: The Professionals, I really liked him and respected his precise palette, seeming mastery of the classics, and technical knowledge in the kitchen.  So, in summary, you could say I was more than eagerly awaiting our opportunity to dine at this much celebrated landmark of Franco-Anglo gastronomy.

The Front of House, the Last of Priorities?

We were a tad bit ahead of schedule for our rather early 6.30pm reservation (the only time I could secure on a Saturday night).  Upon entering the rather subdued exterior – it sort of looks like the entrance to a posh block of apartments, except for the little Relais & Châteaux brass plaque you might notice on your left as you walk in – we were very pleasantly and efficiently greeted by the smiling the Maître d’, Emmanuel Landré.  After finding our name in their book, we were led through the little lounge/bar on the ground floor (we were not offered an aperitif, which I had been informed was the norm), and then down the stairs to the main dining room.

After being seated, we had a chance to look around and soak up the atmosphere without being accused of staring at anyone (a particular strength of the missus, but hey, she is French) as there were only a few tables seated at this point.  I won’t spend too much time on the decor, but suffice to say it is a very traditional dining space that is well laid out.  Many of the tables for 2 have the seats positioned at 5 and 7 o’clock (if you imagine the round tables to be a clock) which makes for good intimacy and privacy.  Once the room began to fill up, there was some background noise, but it was barely noticeable and was very easy to hear each other in normal voices.  There are also nice little odd touches abounding, such as a metal sculpture of a different animal on each table, decorative plates with a colourful illustration containing Michel’s face, and the restaurant’s own silverware which has ‘Le Gavroche’ (the little boy from Les Misérables) carved into the bottom of the knife and fork.  So far so good, then.

After my wife visited the facilities, some canapés were placed in front of us.  We didn’t quite understand what they were, as it was explained very quickly and softly to us.  One of them was a little rectangular brown biscuit that we believe was topped with a squeeze of thick green Roquefort paste with some type of orange roe on top of it.  It was excellent with a perfect balance of richness from the cheese being offset by the tart and tangy roe.  The other canapé was a fried disc with a center cavity that oozed some type of gooey pork ragout.  The filling didn’t have that much flavour or nuance but the outer crust had been fried properly and was light and crisp.

After finishing the canapés we meandered through the menu (and I through the very impressive wine list), trying to decide what to have.  I had always wanted to try the 8-course tasting menu here (they call it the ‘Menu Exceptionnel’) as I figured this is one of the places it’s probably worth having the tasting menu: you get to try 8 different courses that the chef has selected without having to share any of it with the rest of the table!  You see, in my family, we have the policy of tasting each other’s dishes (all of them) and this can sometimes be frustrating when something is so good you want to have it all to yourself.  I could tell my wife was not leaning toward the tasting menu, but in the end I think she decided to appease me and we went for it, even though it had some dishes which we definitely wouldn’t have ordered off of the standard appetizer/main course menu.  I also went for the full wine pairing (how could I resist?), while my counterpart decided to take the evening by the glass.  As a side note, I did like the novelty of the woman’s menu not having prices on it, and for the sake of fair disclosure, the tasting menu was £95 each, and the wine pairing was a further £55/person.

Well this, my friends, is where things unfortunately took a definite turn for the worse.  While we were studying the menus, the head waiter – or at least the guy who appeared to be in charge of the floor – came to our table and rather abruptly asked us what we would like to order.  No “good evening, how are you, my name is so-and-so and I will be your waiter”, not even a “hello”.  In most restaurants, this would be unpleasant but would pass quickly from one’s mind, but this came from the head waiter of a 2-star Michelin restaurant that is built upon a reputation of service excellence.  We told him that we were still trying to decide and he quickly disappeared.  He returned and then took our orders without any interaction whatsoever.  We found the whole experience a bit cold and mechanical, and hoped that the food would make up for what had been a rather frosty reception.

Prior to the first course coming out, the sommelier came to serve the first accompanying wine and to help Mrs. LF select a glass of white.  She was very young and pleasant, but was also quite timid and seemed to lack a little bit in confidence, which sometimes made it difficult to understand what she was saying.  Although the woman was perfectly nice and seemed knowledgeably, in this type of establishment you really expect and want someone who is more assertive and can help guide you to select something that he or she knows will be good with the food and is confident you will enjoy.  Anyway, she poured my 2005 Pouilly Fuissé “Aux Chailloux” from Domaine Jean Pierre Sève, which smelled amazing – lots of oak and rich complexity going on in the nose.  And that placated me for the time being.

Before going onto the food, and there was a lot of it :), I would like to round off my comments on the service for the night, which was extremely disappointing and put a real damper on the entire evening.

It all has to do with the same head waiter mentioned above.  Throughout the meal, he said nothing to us aside from mumble what we were about to eat for the courses he served us (strangely, different waiters served different courses), which was a completely pointless exercise as we had the full menu and wine pairing staring us right in the face as it had been propped up like a standing open book on the opposite side of the table!  When we asked him a little later on what had been in that deep fried canapé (we were really curious), all he could offer was one word: “pork”, and we had to make him repeat himself as we couldn’t even understand this one word.  How can the head waiter at such a restaurant say “pork”, full stop?  It was a liquid filling, so he could have said what type of pork it was, where it came from, what else the filling consisted of, etc.  But no.  He had better things to do, I guess.  As the evening unravelled, we found that he was wholly unable to communicate with us (due to his habit of eating his words), was cold, utterly lacking any passion, un-interactive (a new word?), and seemed completely disinterested in what he was doing (he looked down at his watch more than once throughout the evening).  In the end, we decided either he had become so fed up with his current role that he just didn’t give two hoots anymore, or that he just doesn’t know how to or want to communicate with his customers.  It was strange to note that with the rest of the staff, he seemed to be quite smiley and was cracking a number of inside jokes with them behind the scenes.

But the worst part of the whole evening had to be the cheese course.  We got very excited by the cheese cart, which had been rolled out to a table next to ours near the end of our meal.  It looked truly divine and was the largest assortment I have seen at a restaurant in London for sure.  When it was our turn, Prince Charming rolled the table closer to us.  He stood there, said nothing and just waited for us to make our selection (luckily each cheese had a white label sticking out of it).  We didn’t know how many we could choose, and I certainly didn’t know what more than half of them were.  He made us feel as if we were stupid and made no offer to help us choose or explain what any of the cheeses were.  He just kept standing there.  He also made us feel impatient, as if we were wasting his time by not knowing which ones to choose (as if he were thinking, “oh, I can’t deal with these uneducated diners”) – it all came across as condescending and rude.

‘Food Exceptionnel’?

Well, now that’s out of my system, I expect you may actually be interested in hearing something about the food…

But before that (haha! – you thought you had finally gotten there, but no…), I would like to make a general comment on the wine that accompanied the ‘Menu Exceptionnel’.  The pairing was truly phenomenal.  The quality of each individual wine was excellent in its own right, and the combinations vacillated from being traditional to more forward-thinking, which challenged and educated the palette and greatly enhanced to overall experience.  There was not a wrong step taken in this area.  So, whoever is responsible for this should take real pride because each one was a perfect complement to its respective dish and added a much appreciated dimension to the meal.

For those of you that are still with me, some comments on the food:

  • Course 1: Rare Seared Salmon with Paprika, Asparagus and Truffle Dressing.  I am not the greatest fan of salmon in the world.  I think this stems from the fact that where I grew up we had some of the best salmon in the world and I probably ate too much of it while I was young and eventually got sick of it.  The seared salmon itself was very nice, but for me didn’t offer anything extra, just a nice peace of salmon that had been seared well.  The asparagus was fresh and sweet and the truffle dressing certainly complemented the asparagus but I’m not sure how well it accentuated or brought out the flavour of the salmon.  Over all a decent dish but nothing wowed me.  6/10.  The accompanying Pouilly Fuissé which I mentioned above was stellar and I thoroughly enjoyed it with the salmon – the perfect partner.  9/10.
  • Course 2: Cheese Soufflé Cooked on Double Cream.  This was the showstopper of the evening. Perfection on a plate.  The delicate lightness of the soufflé was perfectly balanced by the rich double-cream sauce and the addition of a layer of slightly browned cheddar cheese on top added a tangy punch to the dish which made it stand out.  Without hesitation, 10/10.  They served a vintage champagne with the soufflé which I found to be an interesting choice.  It was a 1998 Champagne Martel Cuvée Victoire “Fût de Chêne”, and it was one of the nicest champagnes I have had.  It had the amazing aroma of toffee on the nose, and its depth and complexity of flavour (it was not a typically light and highly fizzy champagne) worked wonders with the richness of the cheese and cream.  10/10.
  • Course 3: Scallop Baked in the Shell, Flavoured with Ginger.  This dish unfortunately didn’t stack up.  The scallops were very bland, and appeared not to have been seasoned.  The sauce was certainly not very gingery, and even if it was supposed to be a subtle ginger flavor, it didn’t achieve that.  Strangely enough, the best part of the dish came from the shell.  Not the shell itself (!), but the shell had been sealed by placing a thin layer of pastry (pate feuilletée) around the crack of the shell, and this was baked beautifully and tasted just like a good pastry.  We gorged ourselves on that. 5/10.  The matching wine was a 2005 Vondeling Babiana Noctiflora (that’s a mouthful, eh?) from Paarl, South Africa.  It was a mix of Chenin Blanc (the dominant grape), Viognier and Chardonnay, and was definitely more Chenin than anything else.  It was a nice accompaniment to the scallops as it worked with the fishy flavor and cut through the cream.  Successful but nothing amazing.  7/10.
  • Course 4: Seared Sea Bass on a Soft Polenta, Roasted Red Pepper Coulis, Olive and Garlic Croutons.  This was a well prepared and nicely presented plate of food.  The sea bass was cooked perfectly and was well seasoned, and the ‘croutons’ were actually two thin rectangular crispy sticks of bread with sort of a tapenade of olives with some garlic – they were great.  The main thing that let the dish down was the fact that the polenta was just too salty (especially when it combined with the olive-covered croutons), and therefore the dish left a very salty taste in the mouth.  6/10.  The wine for this course was the 2007 Domaine Gavoty Rosé “Cuvée Clarendon” (Provence).  It was a fresh and tart rosé which went well with this dish, which had a strong Provencale influence to it.  8/10.
  • Course 5: Hot Duck Foie Gras and Crispy Duck Pancake Flavored with Cinnamon.  This was a very Chinese-inspired dish, which seemed at odds with the whole ethos of classical French cuisine.  The foie gras was good and was seared properly, but the accompanying duck ‘pancake’ was really more of Cantonese style duck recipe with a deep friend pancake housing the shredded duck.  I didn’t mind it too much, although it was overly salty (two courses in a row!), and didn’t particularly well complement the soft foie gras.  My wife felt that it really didn’t work and that the restaurant was compromising its classical heritage for the sake of simply doing something new.  All things considered, I would give it 6/10.  Luckily, the accompanying Domaine de la Tour Vielle, Banyuls Reserva was a truly excellent wine.  Tons of sweet raisin, a very clear and precise sweetness with a little acidity to push back on it.  The texture of the wine in the mouth was like cold  water drunk directly from a spring.  It really went well with the sweetness and saltiness of the duck and the richness of the foie gras.  10/10.
  • Course 6: Roasted Rack of Lamb, Courgette Flower Fritter and Tarragon Scented Jus.  This course didn’t do much for me.  The lamb was cooked well, just pink in the middle, but pretty blandly seasoned.  The accompanying green broad beans were flavourful, as was the jus, and the fritter was just as it should have been.  But with the blandness of the lamb and the lack of any other dominant flavours, it just lacked a wow factor.  6/10.  With the lamb came a 2000 Château du Paradis, Grand Cru (St. Emilion).  I do not yet have enough understanding or appreciation of fine Bordeaux’s at this stage in my wine life, and unfortunately I didn’t really like this line too much, and didn’t feel it added much to the lamb.  It seemed still too young to drink, very tight and withdrawn.  Maybe this is because I have more experience with new world wines, which tend to be more open and immediately satisfying, but to me it felt like the wine was saying, “you don’t deserve to understand me yet!”  So I will take the wine’s advice and not offer a numerical rating :).
  • Course 7: Selection of French and British Farmhouse Cheeses. You can refer to the earlier part of this review for more about the way the cheese course was served (very badly!), but the cheese on offer was amazing in terms of its variety.  The ones we choose were good, some French and some British.   The accompanying wine was a 2005 Château Cabezac “Belvèze” (Minervois) from the Languedoc region, which had a lot of blackberry on the nose, and was very full, round and fat in the mouth.  7/10.
  • Course 8: Shortbread Biscuits with Strawberries, Banana and Rum Ice Cream.  The dessert was satisfying, but nothing to write home about.  The strawberries were sweet and the best part of it was the banana and rum ice cream, which tasted just like you would hope.  It was accompanied by a 2004 Vin de Constance (Constantia, South Africa), which is probably the most famous of South African sweet wines.  I have had other vintages that I did not think lived up to the hype that this wine has, but the 2004 definitely hit the mark.  It was a perfectly balanced golden sweet wine with a real kick of acidity to keep the tropical sweetness in check; it went down a treat with the biscuit and strawberries.  10/10.

Le Verdict

Unfortunately, Le Gavroche did not live up to the high expectations I had for the restaurant.  The service for a restaurant of this calibre was simply unacceptable and should be rectified swiftly.  That left the food a lot of work to do, and it generally failed to wow us with the exception of a few specific elements (as noted above, the Soufflé Suissesse was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while).  The wine pairing, however, was a triumph and tremendously enhanced the enjoyment of the evening.  Overall, I do not think that the dinner offered value for money.  I have had better tasting menus for much less than £95/person at other fine restaurants both within the UK and abroad, and it seems that Le Gavroche’s customers are paying a steep premium for the restaurant’s reputation.  I sincerely hope that our experience was an isolated one – maybe the kitchen had an off-night – and that they can make Le Gavroche into what it surely must have been in the past: a place where everything is just right.  But there is a lot of work to based on what we experienced.


Ambience: 6/10

Service: 3/10

Food: 6/10

Wine List: 8/10

Wine Selected: 9/10

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have only dined at Le Gavroche once*

Le Gavroche on Urbanspoon