Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Restaurant Review: The Ritz Restaurant, Mayfair, London

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!
Having considered going for the full bollocks tasting at £95, we decided to rein in our ambitions and ate from the set lunch menu, which comes in at £49. There were three choices per course. There is also an extensive à la carte with starters at £18-35 and mains at £40-49, which makes both the tasting and set menus look like a relative bargain...

Melba toast
Melba bloody toast- my old nemesis, returned! In a previous life I worked at a Scottish Country House Hotel where I toiled away making endless amounts of this stuff. By all accounts I owe this drudgerous experience to an Australian Opera singer who went by the name of Dame Nellie Melba, for whom Escoffier created this "dish" in 1897. She was ill and this was all she could eat. I'd have gotten better sharpish if this was all I could eat too. Escoffier must have been boffing her or something, as her name was also bestowed upon that famed peach dessert. Enough history, back to our actual meal, and a further choice of superb warmed bread was offered. Walnut and something or other for me. Wonderful French butter too. I tried to pass the salt dish (two types- flaked and fine) to Kasia and, comically,  nearly wasn't able to. Like just about everything else on the table, solid silver innit.

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
My starter of goose liver (wonder why it's not listed on the menu as foie gras...) was pleasingly geometric in its construction and tasted pretty great too. Great rich, buttery flavour in the terrine, with just a smidge of livery funk. Foie gras goes pretty great with just about anything sweet, so mango and gingerbread were well at home on this plate, and gave it a nice tropical twist. Shall we be picky? Ok then, let's: the terrine could have been a touch more malleable, and I ended up eating the gingerbread bit with my fingers, scared that attempting to attack it with knife and fork would send the overly substantial cuboid flying in the general direction of a soon-to-be-irate rich person who would have me thrown out or something.

Pea Royale, summer vegetables and flowers
Kasia's starter was, just like her (she'll be reading this you see), stupendously pretty. A disc of vibrant pea mousse which fairly hummed of summer was adorned by what looked like a fairy's back garden of pre-pubescent shoots and flowers. Some really nice truffle puree gave the whole thing depth. I thought the green dots were a nice touch.

Saddle of lamb Belle Epoque
My main course was accurately named: the period of time during which I ate it was, for me at least, a very beautiful era indeed. I had ordered it as it sounded like exactly the kind of thing, full of sheer classical technique and premium ingredients, that you're not going to see offered on many other menus. If you're interested to see how it's made, have a look at Mr Williams himself prepare it in this vid. It was seasoned to within an inch of its life (ie, perfectly) and basically tasted like the most amazing roast dinner ever. The sautéed mushrooms and onions were wonderfully cooked, and the puréed potatoes that sat under the lamb were pure velvet, made with as much cream and butter as actual potato judging by their richness. The gravy was of the type that produces involuntary noises of happiness in the eater. Altogether one of the richest, most decadent plates of food you could wish for. Brilliant.

Black leg chicken, celeriac, girolle and Supreme Sauce
By comparison Kasia's chicken was rather more sedate, but still very enjoyable. The celeriac purée had uncanny depth of flavour, although it would have been nice to see a bit more of it. The chicken itself had thumping good flavour for breast and the sauce was very pleasant.

Blackberry soufflé, crumble and yoghurt sorbet
Pick of the puds was this textbook soufflé that Kasia plumped for. The texture throughout was eerily light, and the flavour of blackberry was just strong enough. The ramekin had been greased with beurre noisette which is an excellent idea and the yoghurt sorbet tasted refreshingly clean.

Cheery mousseline, kirsch and almond
My cherry thingy looked the business but didn't quite deliver on flavour. Bit more boozy thwack would have sorted it out. I could see my face in that pink orb thing, which was an unpleasant shock.

Petit fours
Petit fours were, predictably for a kitchen churning out as many first rate afternoon teas as this one, superb. The jellies of (I think) mandarin displayed a perfect balance of sweetness and citrus zing, while the white chocolate macarons were every bit as good as the Pierre Hermé ones you can get in Selfridges. Great salted caramel chocolates too.

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



  1. Oh lovely - we enjoyed afternoon tea at the Ritz a few years ago and it was the best £50 I've ever spent on a meal - it has a real sense of occasion.

    1. It does a bit, doesn't it? I enjoyed people watching and trying to pick out the "one-offers" like us, from those for whom this is just another lunch among many.

  2. I always enjoy reading your reviews, it's like I've been there myself and your writing it so unpretentious! I'll have to add The Ritz to my foodie bucket list. Rosie

  3. Sweet fancy Moses, that pea royale looks something other than else. It's a handsome room eh, sounds like a fun one-offer.

    1. It was else! It was other! It was so other I had to be careful not to be bigoted against it.


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