Just a few hours on from leaving the restaurant, the food memories are already fading into the background. The food was undoubtedly beautifully cooked but in so many ways it was also just so ordinary, with no single standout dish and no wow factor at all. Jay Rayner for example criticises Ramsay continuing to have Tarte Tatin on the menu given the fact it was invented by a pair of sisters back in 1898; Rayner surely has a point. Everything that we ate today is now being done better by other London based restaurants. The Square, Pied a Terre and Hibiscus all served us better and more exciting meals in 2010. Ramsay just seems stuck in the wilderness of irrelevance.
The institution too seemed awkward. The kitchen is perhaps stymied by the inability to move forward on the menu because any and every single change will almost certainly need Big G’s personal approval so they turn out the same old dishes. The silver coated chocolate balls served on prongs that come at the end of the meal were being delivered just as they were on our first visit there three years ago. No doubt they consider it a trademark but how dull, it’s not so special.
The front of house meanwhile seem to be trying too hard to deliver an experience without achieving any kind of read on the table. On ordering, the ravioli of lobster uniquely identifies my starter choice but the waiter feels compelled to reel off the full menu description: ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon poached in a light bisque with a lemongrass and chervil veloute. The waiter was word perfect from the top of his head; was it necessary though? Every order we made was repeated in this fashion. Clearly they’re instructed to do this but to what purpose?
He was friendly though and there are a lot worse attitudes he could have taken, but the interactions seemed excruciatingly forced like a novice lover trying to fill the empty silences on a first date. His forced friendliness created rather than dispelled tension.
There were other odd moments too. After the main course before the dessert we were served what amounted to a glass of mango-passion fruit juice to clear our palate and prepare us for dessert as they again felt obliged to explain. This really was no more than a glass of fruit juice but fair enough, it is what it is. However, on one of our glasses being returned little touched, the maitre d’ enquired if it was ‘too exotic?’ It’s mango and passion fruit, Innocent do a smoothie just like it that can be bought in Waitrose, it’s not exotic for goodness sake. It reminded us of the 1970s and early 80s when orange juice would be served as a starter. Times moved on and orange juice no longer warranted a place on menus. RGR received its third Michelin star in 2001 but the restaurant hardly seems relevant right now in any way.
Turning to the food, for the starters, it was the lobster ravioli as described above, and butter poached Scottish lobster tail and chestnut lasagne, perigord truffles and roasted ceps. The lobster ravioli was nice enough and the lemongrass and chervil veloute had both a soft velvet sweetness with some lemon bite, but at The Square, both the langoustine tail on gnocchi and the lasagne of Dorset crab with shellfish cappuccino were so much more exciting than either of the starters here.
For the mains, we ordered the loin of highland with venison with truffle braised celery, with roast Williams pear and smoked pork belly as well as aged Dedham Vale beef fillet with fondant potato, ox cheeks, bone marrow, braised root vegetables and red wine jus. There was nothing wrong with these dishes but with 3 stars they should be special and they weren’t.
The venison plate offered some great moments with both the smoked pork belly and the celery but these were cameo acts while the main parts of the dish again failed to lift themselves above ordinary.
When Claridge’s lost its star earlier this year, there were plenty of raised eyebrows. If RGR drops a star next year, which in our view it should, Gordon’s individual star will be seen as falling too and with it no doubt the book sales and TV fees. Already RGR rates only 43rd in the rank of the UK’s Top 100 Restaurants and it has crashed out of the San Pellegrino world list completely. The official response to that particular fall from grace was ‘Gordon takes all these sort of surveys with a pinch of salt. As always, Gordon regards his thousands of customers as his most valued critics. They are his judge and jury.’ He should note therefore that these customers left underwhelmed with no desire to return.
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