Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – The Royal Treatment

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
68 Royal Hospital Road
London SW3 4HP
Website
Map
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.

Dessert:
*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.

Espresso

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.

Rating

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

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Navigating an Absolute Maze of InterContinental Welch Coco Sauce

Don’t worry, the title will make sense by the end of the post.

I recently received an email asking me if I wanted to preview a copy of a new book that would be making its way onto the market soon. The book is called Coco, which doesn’t particularly help in identifying what type of book it might be. Once I found out it had something to do with food, restaurants and famous chefs, I of course said yes. And it turned out that Coco and her promoters had much more in store for me than just a review copy of the book…but first a few facts and opinions about this unusual book.

A unique, engaging, fun & beautiful book about food, restaurants and their passionate creators

7 Facts about Coco

  1. It is huge: 439 pages in total
  2. It is important: 10 famous chefs have picked the 10 chefs they think are the most interesting up and coming chefs
  3. It is international: the 10 top chefs hail from many countries and continents, as do their chosen upstarts
  4. It is diverse: besides selecting a smattering of Michelin starred chefs, the top chefs have also selected a wide range of culinary characters, ranging from a woman running a mini ice cream van in London, to an innovative coffee beverage creator in Taiwan, to a sandwich maker in Portland, Oregon (USA)
  5. It is colourful: 10 colors to be exact, as each top chefs’ picks are identified by one particular strand of color
  6. It has ribbons: one ribbon bookmark for each of the 10 top chefs’ colors
  7. It defies simple categorization: it is about chefs (mini-biographies for each), it is about restaurants (impressions of the chefs’ restaurants/outlets are given), it is a cookbook (it contains a few signature dishes from each chef), and it is packed with food photography

7 Opinions about Coco

  1. It is beautiful: the photography and the layout are fantastic, being consistently engaging, interesting and gorgeous
  2. It is the perfect coffee table book: it looks the part and, due to its sort of random nature (the chosen chefs are in alphabetical order), you never know what you will find when you open up the book and flip through the pages
  3. It is innovative: I am not aware of any book out there that has tried to achieve harmony through this type of fusion before
  4. It is controversial: obviously not everyone will agree with all of the selections, and some people will feel that important people have been overlooked, left out, or favoured (due to their association with the top chef who picked them)
  5. It is a cool travel guide: now, whenever I know I will be travelling internationally, I will consult Coco and see what chefs are in the city/country I am going to, and try to book a table if their establishment(s) seem interesting to me
  6. It is a bit annoying: if you want to go back and find a particular dish/chef/restaurant, you can’t really do it quickly and usually have to check the index for the page number(s) you’re after
  7. It is a triumph: simply by virtue of the fact that it now sits on my coffee table and I think I’ve picked it up every night to read about another chef, recipe or restaurant

Now, the PR company handling the launch of the book (more on them later) also happens to represent a fair number of the UK-based chefs and restaurants represented in Coco, and it just so happened that they wanted some food bloggers to partake in a gastro-tour around London to go to some of these restaurants, eat some of their signature dishes and possibly meet some of the chefs. Was I down for that? As we used to say in high school: “Well, duh…!”

After a week or so of heavy anticipation, the evening finally arrived, and first on the stop was a mysterious meeting-up location: The House of St Barnabas in Soho. All I knew was that (I thought) it had something to do with a charity, and wasn’t quite sure about why we were meeting there. It all became clear though once the well-healed bouncers finally let us through the doors. It turns out that this beautifully revamped building has been turned into a ‘pop-up private members club’ by the folks at Quintessentially and that we were to have canapés in a nice little room upstairs.

Canapés by Lyndy Redding of Absolute Taste

As we were all getting acquainted with each other (which can be odd for food bloggers as quite often we communicate regularly with each other via social media without first meeting face to face), we were offered champagne and some of the most beautifully presented canapés I’ve seen.

Lyndy Redding’s canapés, as presented in Coco

Many of the nibbles we had are presented in Coco and they were all pretty more-ish. My favorite was probably the tuna tataki with radish, apple and mustard served on chopsticks. I also liked the salt & pepper crusted beef skewers with horseradish cream (though, to my taste, it was a tad too heavy on the seasoning). Both of these were presented in an innovative and appetizing fashion (see page from the book above), and I loved the fact that many of the canapés were served on trays which were elaborately framed antique-looking mirrors that faced upwards.

I had the chance to speak with Lyndy for a good 10 minutes (in-keeping with Coco’s measurement units, I guess) and found her to be a very personable and down-to-earth woman who was clearly passionate about what she did. We had a nice chat about her experiences working with Gordon Ramsay over the years which I found to be both enjoyable and enlightening.

Starters by Jason Atherton of Maze

The entrance to Maze and their clever little cutlery holders (by the way, they have those at Maze in NYC too)

Having been to the New York version of the original London Maze, and having had a pretty decent meal there, I was really looking forward to a taste of Jason Atherton’s cooking. I had booked a table at Maze a while ago, but subsequently cancelled due to negative feedback I got from fellow food bloggers and other friends who had recently dined there. I was hoping that they might all be wrong as, in theory, I thought I would like Atherton’s style of cooking which is centered around small plates that employ often unusual flavor combinations in his own version of fusion cuisine.

The fine dining room at Maze (to the left when you walk in – to the right is Maze Grill) was dimly lit and seemed to have a little bit of a buzz going. There were signature Gordon Ramsay Holding design elements throughout and I generally thought it seemed liked a nice space, although a bit corporate and lacking in individuality. The staff were professional but not all that engaging.

Cornish Red Mullet, Rabbit Bolognese, Cuttlefish Tagliatelle, Squid Paint & Asparagus

The little bowl of food we were served certainly looked interesting, and the assembly of flavors and textures had us all commenting – some positive, some negative, some neutral. For my part, I thought the red mullet had been cooked very well (a nice texture if maybe a tad dry) and that it tasted very good. The bolognese was certainly rich and flavorsome. But I guess the real question was whether they belonged together on the same plate. Eating them together wasn’t at all unpleasant (nothing stuck out sorely), but I don’t think it was quite harmonious either as neither element lifted the other. If anything, the bolognese overpowered the delicate flavors of the fish. And I didn’t really see the point of the two cuttlefish rings on top as they kind of got lost in the mix. Finally, all the textures were quite soft; it could have used something to provide a bit of bite. So, while it was interesting and sort of tasty, it certainly wasn’t perfection on a plate for me.

Unfortunately, Chef Atherton didn’t seem to be around, so after finishing up the starter we were on our way back to the mini-bus for the next stop.

Maze on Urbanspoon

Main Course by Theo Randall at the InterContinental Hotel London

The entrance and the bar at Theo Randall

Next up was a brief trip to Italy, within the confines of a big corporate London hotel. I had never been to either the InterContinental Hotel London or Theo Randall’s restaurant there, and was looking forward to it. After all, he was head chef at one of my favorite London restaurants – River Cafe – for aeons and I like his Italian cooking.

The menu and the man himself teaching us about different fishing techniques

This time, Theo himself came out to our table and gave us the background to the dish we were about to eat. He had an infectious enthusiasm and a bubbly passion that quickly won everyone over. After learning about the different techniques of catching and storing fish in Scotland, the quite sizable dish was served.

The Italian breads on offer – the focaccia was particularly nice

Monkfish with Prosciutto, Artichokes, Capers, Parsley 7 Charlotte Potatoes

Phwoah, now that looked like a hearty plate of food. I’m not sure my photo really does it justice in terms of how it looked, though it was quite a rustic presentation, which is fine for me with Italian food. The monkfish itself was amazing, and should have theoretically paired well with the Parma ham but I found that the saltiness took over a bit too much. However, for me the star of the plate were the artichokes, and I don’t even normally like artichokes. They had been peeled down and soaked in some sort of delicious marinade for hours and were simply divine – without a doubt the best I’ve ever tasted.

The service at the restaurant was very attentive and good, and although the room definitely had the hi-I’m-part-of-a-hotel feel about it, they had managed to add some warmth through the quality of the staff. Theo was also a gracious host throughout and even indulged us by letting us take photos with him as we were leaving and answering the odd question. He genuinely seemed like a really nice guy.

But on with the odyssey, and next up, desserts that we had to find some room for, and quickly.

Theo Randall on Urbanspoon

Desserts by Tristan Welch at Launceston Place

The entrance to Launceston Place, home to Tristan’s Welchness

I was the most excited to visit Launceston Place, mostly because Mrs. LF and I had one of our best London meals in recent memory at the very same place a few weeks earlier. Head Chef Tristan Welch had not been there on that occasion, and I wanted to tell him personally how much we had enjoyed his (kitchen’s) food.

Tristan presented the desserts himself along with his magnificent pastry chef and smooth-talking (American) sommelier – on the right side is the sublime palate cleanser of raspberry jelly and lemon sorbet with black pepper tuile

I like the way that they’ve redesigned this building, which has been a restaurant of various incarnations over the years. The D&D crew have made it into a sophisticated, modern restaurant, with the bold choice of off-black walls, almost broody paintings and nice little individual design touches here and there.

It turned out that Tristan was there to greet us and serve the medley of desserts himself. He was joined by his pastry chef and the sommelier. We were all quite simply bowled over when the multiple desserts began arriving on trays of thin black slate. Each temptation was described in full detail by Tristan and the pastry chef, and the sommelier did more than justice to the lovely accompanying dessert white (a 2004 Jurançon, ‘Syphonie de Novembre’, Domaine Cauhape) by explaining what grapes it was composed of and his own abbreviated tasting notes. While I guess I would have liked to hear what he thought after I had tried it (so as not to be biased), it was a lovely description and he was quite clearly passionate about his Jurançon. Is it just me, or do these Jurançon sweet wines seem to have sprouted up on most fine restaurants’ dessert wine lists over the last couple of years?  Were they always there and I just never noticed? Well, whatever…on to the desserts!

Assiette of Desserts

– Rice pudding soufflé, raspberry ripple ice cream –
– Lavender cream, violets, raspberry –
– Apple parfait, toffee, walnut –
– Dark chocolate, iced milk, crumble –
– Set custard cream, caramel and praline, malt ice cream –
– Banana sticky toffee pudding, Guinness ice cream (by Steve Grove, Winner of MasterChef The Professionals 2009) –

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed all of these wonderful creations. I had ordered and liked the set custard cream on my last visit, and found it just as nice this time around. However, it was overshadowed by a few of the other concoctions. The most fun of the bunch was also the most sweet, the apple parfait, which had cleverly been constructed into the shape of an apple, replete with a real apple stem sticking out on top. It was all sweet apple, caramely toffee and it reminded me of the toffee apples we used to get at Halloween. The walnut bits on the outside tried to balance the overriding sweetness, but didn’t quite do the trick. Nonetheless, it was a great dessert, I just couldn’t manage more than a few bites due to its potency. I also loved the dense and indulgent mound of dark chocolate and Steve Grove’s sticky toffee pudding creation (the Guinness ice cream was interesting in a good way).

Close-ups: rice pudding soufflé, dark chocolate, violets

But the triumph of the evening was the Tarte Tatin with homemade clotted cream. It was honestly one of the best ones I’ve ever had. I mean, just look at @mathildescuisine photo of it!!!

Tarte Tatin from Launceston Place (photo courtesy of Mathilde’s Cuisine)

Launceston Place on Urbanspoon

So that was my little tale of a whirlwind tour of some of London’s top restaurants, their food and their chefs…all thanks to Coco. I hope you enjoyed it – we all certainly did!  Thanks to Sauce Communications for organizing everything and ensuring it all ran smoothly.

The motley crew

Oh, and if you still don’t get the title, just follow the trail of the bolded words throughout the article! 🙂