Yet when you get inside, it all seems quite charming and of course, in Ritz-world, quite normal. And if you thought you had to dress up, the staff in full waistcoats and tails are in a league of their own and it can easily feel like you've strayed onto the set of the BBC's latest costume drama. The suit and tie then becomes the only way to blend in, and while it is undoubtedly old fashioned, there's also an undeniable dignity to the people and the place.
The result is that the Ritz is at an extreme of the spectrum of London dining and that alone will intensely annoy some zealots for whom doctrine now dictates that shabby-chic, tattooed staff and the requirement for the food to be served in a bun are essentials.
One irony of the current situation however seems to be that the Ritz Restaurant does not have a Michelin star, yet on the strength of my visit today, I believe it probably deserves one. While I have absolutely no proof for this, it seems like Michelin is trying to lose its historic 'elitist' tag and therefore to recognise the Ritz would send out the wrong signal while promoting gastro-pubs is suitably more 'on-message' in today's economic environment.
My next sentence will surprise no one: the Ritz is expensive. In fact, it's very expensive, but if you have a dining room styled in the fashion of Louis XVI, would you expect less? There are however ranges in which you can carve out something closer to value options. There's a 2 course menu for £35, 3 courses for £45, and a 5 course tasting menu for £65. For sure it's not Brasserie Zedel but it is substantially cheaper than Novikov, and to be fair, doesn't cost that much (if anything) more than St James's neighbour Wiltons. The full tasting menu of 'Ritz Specialities' is £99 while choosing form the a la carte sees starters priced at c£20 and mains at c£40. Figuring that I am unlikely to be returning any time soon, the tasting menu of Ritz Specialities seemed the thing to have.
What also impressed me early on is that when asked the usual 'sparkling or still', having chosen and being a lone diner, they asked if I would like just a half bottle. No other restaurant where I have dined alone has ever provided me this option before.
The meal begins with a trio of amuses including venison tartare.
Here, a couple of hundred grammes of fillet steak is too unbalancing and nice as it was, I struggled not just with the quantity of eating but also with the repetition now introduced. The crisped up bone marrow was especially nice and the beef was excellent quality but given what I have already said, I was happy to see my plate disappear back to the kitchen.
The chocolate ganache with sea salt finishes the menu with class and style with lots of variety of tastes and textures in a small but perfectly formed package that returns an appropriate sizing back to the menu. It's a winner.
It's not your everyday restaurant and if you want to have a typical meal including both food and wine, it must be amongst London's most expensive places to visit so I am not rushing back any time soon. But the overall experience is special enough to warrant a return visit for a special occasion and when I think about it, London does not have that many occasion restaurants; the Ritz is surely that.