Gordon Ramsay @ Claridges, Brook Street, London
Claridge’s and Gordon Ramsay; I’m not sure which has the greater reputation to uphold. Talking food, I’ll go with Ramsay, but concerning style, tradition and atmosphere I think Claridge’s has the most work to do. Fortunately, the Gordon Ramsay Restaurant at Claridge’s delivered on all fronts.
The 3-course set lunch menu is priced at £30 per person (you can add wine for £20) and there is a choice of 3 dishes for each course. It is a mix of classic and modern European. Being the cynic that I am, I doubted that the quality of food would be upheld at this kind of price, especially when lesser restaurants were demanding much higher prices for set lunches.
The interior is plush; low lighting casts soft shadows across pastel-pink walls and the oak armchairs are padded with matching pink cushions. Grand bouquets of flowers stand proudly about the edge of the room while each table is adorned with two roses in a silver jug. I found it all slightly oppressive, especially on a hot summer’s day, but you could not help but admire the splendour of it all.
The service was nothing but subtlety. You wouldn’t notice the other diners in the room unless you actively watched them; their food seemed to materialise in front of them, as did our own. Water glasses were refilled as soon as they began to empty and the waiting staff were friendly, attentive and made you feel like you were their only guest. At times, there were a few too many swanning about seemingly not doing much but the restaurant wasn’t busy and they could have been more obvious.
We were offered 3 varieties of bread – brown or white sourdough or a wholemeal roll, served alongside a delightful, though heavily salted, French butter. The bread was chewy, as sourdough should be, and, for the price we were paying, 2 rolls each seemed generous. A pre-starter also surprised us, coming in the form of a chilled garden pea and ham-hock soup with a dash of truffle oil. It was wonderfully refreshing and not too thin, with peas lurking in the bottom of the bowl.
To start, I ordered duck rilette with toasted bread and a watercress salad. Delicious. Rich and meaty, the rilette didn’t quite fall apart but was soft and well-formed. The watercress salad was a medley of onion and gherkins also, the whole dish full of flavour. The second starter was a haddock tart with fried egg. The pastry was light but crispy and the haddock sweetly tender. The fried egg was an interesting addition but completed the dish well.
Between courses we decided to try a glass of wine but the wine list appeared in the form of an ipad, displaying easy choices between glasses, bottles, red, white etc. A smart innovation but I couldn’t help but feel the technology was out of place. The waiter even told my partner, “now don’t be scared.”
Main courses followed quickly; pork loin with primavera vegetables and apple jus melted in your mouth while the peas, broad beans and courgettes still delivered a bite. The apple jus was disappointing flavour wise and I felt it only added moisture to an otherwise fantastic dish. The star was a 4-inch long piece of crunchy crackling. My partner’s main was Cumbrian lamb served with a tomato tarte tatin and Swiss chard. The lamb was pink and delicate; the tomato tatin really colourful and fresh.
By now, we were stuffed. Yet our mouths watered for dessert. A miniature slice of lemon tart was decorated with spots of chocolate sauce, a raspberry perched on top of the bright lemon icing. The pastry, again, was light, the base solidly cooked and with a great texture. Dark chocolate with a honeycomb sphere was served atop a bed of uncooked meringue foam – sweet like ice cream but light and frothy to eat. A waiter poured over the hot chocolate sauce so the dark chocolate ball melted effortlessly like burning paper, revealing the honeycomb centre, nestled between chocolate and vanilla ice cream. I didn’t like the way the sauce made everything melt into one chocolatey swirl; I’d have rather tasted the individual components as well as mixing them together, but I have to admit that the crunchiness of the honeycomb, the foam that dissolved on your tongue and the runny sauce worked wonders together.
As we had mentioned that it was my dining partner’s birthday it appeared that we were in for an extra treat. Happy Birthday was written across a plate in a bitter chocolate sauce, the dish itself spotted with miniature desserts: a coconut cupcake with cream cheese icing; a strip of surprisingly fruity strawberry jelly; two spots of meringue foam and a sticky vanilla macaroon. Delicious desserts and a winning personal touch. Also, free!
Finally, because we hadn’t eaten enough apparently, we were treated to homemade vanilla marshamallows and a chocolate truffle each. The marshamallows were dense and chewy, nothing like the sugary sweets from the supermarket. The chocolate truffles broke apart in your mouth, the generous liquer centres bursting from them. A wonderful finish.
I am not one for frequent fine dining. I often find it pretentious. I hate to be seen giving praise where people expect it to be given because of a name or reputation. But this, I am pleased, but also surprised, to say, was a beautiful example of cooking. The set lunch menu was terrific value – the A La Carte is priced at £70 for 3 courses – I’m not sure if I would pay that much, despite the tantalising dishes such as stuffed saddle of rabbit and ravioli of lobster, shellfish and salmon that weren’t available to us. There were minor issues but these were down to opinion and everyone has their quirks and preferences.
Value for money? Check. Great service? Check. Atmosphere? What an experience. Food? Go and try it. Now.