Chef Ramsey has a successful TV show, a consulting business to turn around failing restaurants and a reputation as a hard charging, brash, outspoken and even perhaps ojectionable presence in the world of “great” restaurants. Based on our experience this evening, all of it, except the adjective “objectionable”, is deserved. We’re here in the UK on a “group” tour – not always the best way to visit any restaurant, let alone one with a reputation. For a good restaurant, coping with more than 8 is a significant challenge. Most haven’t the resources to assign a second server to the table, and asking a waiter to handle a table twice as large as usual with no additional resources puts a strain on everyone. (Think about the last dinner party you hosted – you probably swore you’d never do it again. Now think about the additional pressure you would have felt if your business reputation, future ability to attract clients, and earn a living was at stake.) The tour booked two tables, one for 5, and the tough one, one for 10. We sat with the larger group and everything worked out very well indeed.
This may, or may not, have been a typical “high end” tour group meal, but for anyone planning an evening out with, or without, another couple it offers a baseline experience. Our reservation was promptly and cheerfully honored. The table for ten was not stuck off in serving Siberia, some members of our party had a clear view of the open kitchen. Not only were we presented with the regular menu, our waitress recited the specials, once at each end of the table. Wine was included in our “deal” – and the white and red proffered flowed freely. The red, of which I partook, was a wonderful Bilal-Haut (probably, though I can’t be absolutely certain, a 2012) from southern France. It had significant body, smooth tannins and a taste of ripe plums on the finish. It was a thoughtful and appropriate pairing for any of the grilled red meats on the menu. I cannot speak to the choice of white wine, though I did notice smiles when it was sipped by others n the group – so I assume it was of similar quality.
I started with the Salt and Szechuan Squid. Lightly battered, perfectly cooked, the salt and szechuan pepper dusting was sharp and quite literally, mouthwatering. Milady enjoyed the chopped salad of kale, carrot and orange with a lemon dressing. It was festooned with slivered almonds and left her palate ready for her main course. Being in England, she ordered Dover sole grilled with lemon caper butter enhanced with mashed anchovies. Her perfectly filleted piece arrived attractively arranged, and with the spinach on the side. Her reaction was pure enjoyment – and despite her tredipations about London and English cuisine, she enjoyed every bite.
Tonight’s special was exactly what I craved. A magnificent hunk of chateaubriand (offered in any size from 11oz to 17oz, cut to order) charcoal grilled (they noted their grill is a Jaspar) to perfection (however you might conceive of it), and two sides. I feasted on a 12oz, medium rare hunk of beef with individual onion rings and sauteed portobello mushrooms. Here’s what separates really good wait staffs from great ones, and great ones from the immortals: my filet arrived on a plank with a head of perfectly roasted garlic but the mushrooms, and the bleu cheese sauce, were absent. That can easily happen when a waiter is juggling so many dishes at once, but it really shouldn’t. A request for the missing mushrooms was honored almost instantaneously (leading me to believe there just wasn’t enough room initially for them on the tray and they got overlooked) but the sauce never arrived…
Milady ordered the strawberry cheesecake and was disappointed. It was bedded on crumbled shortbread biscuits (cookies on our side of the Atlantic) and was creamier rather than cheesier. The result was a sweeter and less flavorful presentation than her tastebuds were expecting. I ordered the dark chocolate and honeycomb mousse. Mine was everything I had hoped it would be – dark chocolate flavor raised from its natural bitterness by pieces of sweet honeycomb. Sigh. The cappucino which ended the meal could not have been more perfect. Frothy, balanced and HOT!
I will freely admit the prepaid nature of the meal may have added to my sense of contentment, but as I sit here sipping my Jura 16 single malt as a digestif, I’d prefer to think it was all the result of great food being served by a knowledgable and caring staff. Or, maybe it really was Gordon Ramsey’s doing after all. Bravo!