Deciding where to eat for a bit of a blow-out treat when down in that London is a very pleasant, if not easily resolved problem. On prior trips down we've enjoyed meals at The Square, Alyn Williams and (best of the lot) The Ledbury. Although it needn't have to, high-end cooking does tend to come with a side order of plushness which, as a temporary counterpoint to the decidedly quotidian thrum of the daily grind, is very nice, thanks. Knowing a bit more about food than the dark arts of interior design or architecture (which isn't hard, as I know nothing about either), where we eat is about food first, with the comfy seats and thick carpets being a happy coincidence. With The Ritz it was, for once, the other way round. What would it even be like to eat lunch in that room? I had read enough glowing reviews of the classical cooking overseen by South Shields native John Williams MBE to think that it would be be worth finding out. So we did!
Entering the Hotel from Arlington Street you have to walk the breadth of the place in order to get to the restaurant, which faces out in the direction of Green Park. Kasia and I found ourselves proceeding at an unusually stately pace, probably because there's just so much stuff to catch the eye. There's an awful lot of gold leaf, marble and Union Jack in there. I imagine this explains why you tend not to see the Queen ever dashing around; she's got too many baubles to distract her. As we passed it, the main lounge was heavy with scone-munchers and tea-slurpers. None of that for us: Escoffier himself was ill at ease with the idea of afternoon tea and I think I'm with him. A good and thorough lunch though? Yes please, much better.
We got sat at a pretty decent table which afforded a view right down the room. And what a bloody room! For those among us not accustomed to eating under frescoes, surrounded by endless gold leaf and stinking great marble columns, it takes a minute or two to get your bearings, during which time I advise you to play it cool by not gawping all over the place. I think I just about styled it out. Amusingly, Kasia and I were not alone for lunch, being parked right next to a ruddy vast gold statue. Our new friends were agreeable enough.
|Oh hi there!|
Just like this cute little tray on which the amuses arrived. That cylinder in the middle is coronation chicken wrapped in a sugar tuile and it was bloody amazing. The perfectly made macaron was flavoured with startlingly bright-tasting lemon and filled with a rich salmon mousse. The goat cheese biscuit thing on the left was the least impressive, but it was in exalted company, so no disgrace there.
|Terrine of goose liver, mango, gingerbread and tonka bean|
|Pea Royale, summer vegetables and flowers|
|Saddle of lamb Belle Epoque|
|Black leg chicken, celeriac, girolle and Supreme Sauce|
|Blackberry soufflé, crumble and yoghurt sorbet|
|Cheery mousseline, kirsch and almond|
And that was that. A little over two hours and £170 after having sat down, we were spat back out into the normal world of noise, tourists and sweaty-pitted tube rides. Some concluding thoughts:
This restaurant is by no means a museum or a tourist trap. The quality of the ingredients here and the skill of the team who are charged with cooking them are of the first order. There were things that could've been better, but when it was good (the lamb, the soufflé), by Christ it was good. Wine sure wasn't cheap. The modest end of the list kicks off at £50 per bottle, or £15 per glass. I did have a very enjoyable Riesling with the foie, and a superb Aussie sweet Gewurztraminer with dessert. I might have liked a glass of something red with the lamb which takes me onto the only duff bit of the experience.
Although there were reims of them, and they looked jolly fetching in the ties and tails, catching a waiter wasn't always easy. Further, there was a strict Fordist division of labour between the drinks guys and the food guys. I'd been sat with a wine list for a bit when I flagged down a passing waiter. He wouldn't take my order and pass it on, but instead asked the sommelier over, which seemed a bit daft and meant I was left with it for a bit longer. Everyone appeared to be working their collective arse off; I wonder if they were a man or two down for whatever reason.
All said and done I'm really glad we went. It was interesting to see this kind of classical Grand French Cuisine, albeit with some modernist touches here and there, being done. Very little tweezering of micro herbs going on here, with the focus being more on tried and true techniques, some of which haven't changed that much since the time of the famous French bloke who opened these kitchens in the first place, and others having gently evolved over time. It was nice to have to get a bit dressed for lunch as well (jackets and ties are insisted upon for the chaps).
If nothing else then I'm sure that this is, and will remain for the rest of my days, the poshest meal I ever eat cooked by someone from South Shields!
The Ritz, 150 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9BR
020 7493 8181