We all know who Gordon Ramsay is, or at least we think we do, it's much more likely we are familiar with a character generated for television than the real Gordon. One thing is that with a vast corporate group and TV career, it's not exactly clear how much influence he has even at his eponymous restaurant. There are definitely some Ramsay classics on offer, and I guess he must be aware of suppliers, inspiration behind the menus and the design of the rooms, but what is clear is his skill in choosing the right people to run an important flagship venue. Indeed this is the keystone of his empire, as the esteem of having 3 Michelin Stars under his belt is an essential part of his audience generating power. The restaurant in Royal Hospital Road has undergone some changes recently, the front of house has been refurbished and more importantly a shift has been made in highlighting the considerable talents of the head chef, Clare Smyth, who has overseen a change of menus, including a vegetarian menu, something I had not noticed on the website before the recent changes.
We arrive on a wet Tuesday morning to a warm welcome, and were immediately seated. The room is luxuriously decorated in a neutral but pleasing colours, and surprisingly small, I believe just over a dozen tables are available. The lighting was better than the photo's indicate, the spot lights not the best for a mobile phone camera. We order a glass of rather fine Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne, and are brought the menus, with the staff being well aware of my wife requiring the vegetarian menus. A choice of a la carte, set lunch or tasting menus are available, with the vegetarian menu offered in parts as a la carte, or in its entirety as a tasting menu. The maitre d', the charming Jean-Claude Breton introduced himself and explained the menus, and after we had made our choices the sommelier arrived to recommend a matching glass of wine with our courses. Jean-Claude runs an excellent team, the service throughout lunch was top notch, every move carefully choreographed down to a tee.
Bread was fantastic, a choice of bacon and onion brioche, a white sourdough, a wheatgerm and a white glazed roll of sorts. I chose the brioche and sourdough, my wife the sourdough and the roll. The sourdough was truly excellent, as good as the one at Hedone, and the brioche matching it by being as close to perfect as one can imagine, having a huge depth of onion and bacon flavour, and was unbelievably light.
The amuse bouche was a glass dish with ricotta, pea and mint mousse, in these were set some tiny vegetables and flower petals to resemble a garden, and was as delicious as it was pretty. The mousse held excellent flavour, and restaurant obviously sources the best vegetables it can, with the tiny radish tasting lovely. We were recommended a glass of Condrieu ‘Les Vallins’, domaine Blanc Christophe for our starters.
My first course was Poached Scottish lobster tail with lardo di colonnata, vegetables à la grecque
and coral vinaigrette. The lobster was of good size, cooked perfectly, soft and flavourful. Each mouthful was raised by a sliver of rich lardo, the crunch of the lilliputian carrots, radishes and artichokes, each beautifully prepared and lightly pickled, and the fragrant tarragon rich coral vinaigrette. My wife's starter was a Assiette of spring vegetables braised en cocotte with Périgord truffle. Again some supreme vegetables were in evidence, tiny carrots, purple new potatoes, beans, spring onions, radishes and turnips in a pretty presentation, with the truffle sauce being added at the table. These were absolutely exquisite vegetables, buttery and full of flavour, with the truffle sauce adding an earthy element.
My main was a stunning suckling pig dish, a selection of cuts from nose to toe, slices of moist loin on a bed of potatoes and spring onions, a fabulous sausage, a brilliantly cooked square of crisp and sticky pork belly, a vibrant green cabbage leaf stuffed with jowl, rich and savoury and a hunk of gammon hock complete with tiny pineapple ring. To balance this some gorgeous pieces of apple, raw and cooked, a velvety apple puree and awesome jus. This was one of the finest pork dishes I have ever had and one of the best main courses I can remember. My wife's main was a really well executed ravioli, containing a poached egg and smoked potato, on a bed of broad beans, with a generous serving of parmesan sauce being applied at the table. This too ranked as one of her best dishes in a long time, with the sticky yolk, umami rich parmesan and smokiness of the rich, buttery mash being a perfect match. For my main I had a glass of Kéfrankos from Sopron in Hungary, and my wife another glass of the Condrieu.
Having walked past a fully loaded cheese trolley with a host of excellent choices, I couldn't resist sharing a plate. The standouts were a Scottish Cashel Blue and a Pouligny-Saint-Pierre. What must be mentioned were some stunning accompaniments, some amazing grapes with a fragrant rose flavour, a great fruit and nut bread, some cheese crispbreads, and fantastic little oat cakes.
Pre-dessert was a glass of passion fruit soup topped with a yoghurt foam, this was drunk through a large glass straw and was a perfect palate cleanser, clean, sharp and refreshing.
Unusually, we chose desserts at the start of lunch. We didn't have to, but they wanted notice if we were to have the Tarte Tatin and souffle. However, having seen pictures elsewhere, I thought we should share the Assiette de l'Aubergine, as I thought this was a plate with 3 miniature desserts. What we actually got was a fantastic surprise, you know when you have a menu and all the desserts sound great and you can't decide what to have? Well Gordon realised this, and solved this problem with a genius solution, by just giving you one of everything.
At first a large plate was placed on table holding the lemonade parfait, bitter chocolate cylinder and blackcurrant, fennel and yoghurt genoise, this was followed by a miniature tarte tatin. Two small creme brulee's were then placed in front of us, these were excellent, with a base of agen prunes, some quality vanilla in the creme and a thin slice of crystalised lime on top. As soon as finished these and we were contemplating how to start on the remainder, some space was cleared and a coconut souffle was added! We started on the souffle, this was absolutely top class, with rising high, technically perfect with an excellent coconut flavour, it came with a terrific lime and mandarin sorbet to cut through the sweetness. The tarte tatin has been a regular on the menu since the restaurant opened, and had an excellent blend of butter, caramel and apple. We tried the lemonade parfait next, it was delicious, and definitely captured lemonade flavours rather than just lemon, with it's ring of spun honey a technical marvel and would have been a perfect choice if we only had to have one. The blackcurrant, yoghurt and fennel genoise was soft and light, and more subtle the violet sugar underneath adding another dimension. Finally we split the chocolate cylinder, which featured bitter chocolate, a light mousse and a particularly nice ginger flavoured mousse and caramel. Every single dish in the assiette was superb, and as a whole one of the most generous desserts I've ever had, we were laughing and joking at the sheer number of plates on the table. I might suggest skipping the cheese course if you have ordered this! I recommend this to anyone who likes their puddings to go out of their way to try, you won't get any better anywhere.
Coffee arrived with mignardise, one a staple of the restaurant, a theatrical dish streaming smoke from dry ice containing some lovely white chocolate truffles with strawberry ice cream centres, mint chocolate ganache's impaled on tiny silver trowels to keep fingers clean, a nifty invention I've not seen before and some light, almost translucent rose turkish delights.
The bill came to £360, at the upper end of what you will pay in London, although well justified as our lunch exceeded my expectations. Although I knew it would be excellent 3 star food and service, and I knew that Clare Smyth is one of the finest chefs around, I didn't realise just how good everything would be. I guess lack of buzz on food forums and blogs and it's absence from the lists of the current popular modernist restaurants, with their fancy techniques and foraging had influenced me a little. I am glad to have been proven otherwise. Every element of the meal featured the finest you could have, right down to accompaniments with the cheese course. With a sophisticated and thoughtful vegetarian menu, some brilliant starters and main courses and the pudding to end all puddings, the meal and service was a perfect example of what the very best that fine dining has to offer.
Bacon and onion brioche, white sourdough.
Amuse bouche of ricotta, pea and mint mousse.
Poached Scottish lobster tail with lardo di colonnata, vegetables à la grecque and coral vinaigrette
Assiette of spring vegetables braised en cocotte with Périgord truffle
Suckling pig, crispy belly, roasted loin, spiced shoulder sausage, chou farci with crushed potatoes and spring onions
Smoked potato and poached hen’s egg ravioli with parmesan emulsion and broad beans
Agen prune crème brûlée
Lemonade parfait with honey, bergamot and sheep’s milk yoghurt sorbet. Bitter chocolate cylinder with coffee granité and ginger mousse
Caramelised tarte Tatin of apples with Tahitian vanilla ice cream (for two)
Blackcurrant, fennel and yoghurt génoise
Coconut soufflé with mandarine and lime sorbet
White chocolate and strawberry ice cream truffles.
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay