Trying to figure out which Michelin star restaurant to go is the type of problem I wish I face everyday. This year, there are 50 starred restaurants in London so picking just one was really not easy. Deciding to go for the best (debatable but that’s neither here or now), i.e. 3 stars, narrows the list considerably since there are only 2 restaurants with such high honour in London: Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester and Gordon Ramsay. Still not an easy choice but I was more inclined towards the latter cuz I’ve watched the man in action in Hell’s Kitchen and while I frown upon his cursing and swearing, he always seem to know what he’s doing in the kitchen. And helming so many Michelin starred restaurants has got to mean he’s doing something right. Right? Right.
Securing a reservation is tricky. With my mind made up, I made a reservation at his flagship restaurant on Royal Hospital Road and within 24hours, I received a reply:
In case you can’t read the fine print, here’s an excerpt:
“Dear Kaelyn Ong Qiu Yi,
Firstly let me thank you for your interest in Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
Date: Friday 7th May 2010
For 3 guests at 12pm
We are delighted to provisionally reserve the table you have requested. Where guests wish to make a reservation, it is the restaurant’s policy to secure the booking with their credit card details. In the event that the booking is not honoured in whole or in part by you, or is cancelled by you with less than 48 hours notice it will be at the discretion of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay to charge £100 per person to your credit card.
We would be grateful if you could indicate your acceptance by printing, completing and returning this form in order to confirm your booking.
Unfortunately, we will have to release the table if we have not received the completed form within 48 hours. You may find it convenient to fax us on 020 7592 1213 or return your form to us by post to Reservations, 1 Catherine Place, London, SW1E 6DX.
Cancellations must be made in writing and sent by fax to the above number.
Verbal cancellations cannot be accepted.
We would respectfully request that your party is ready to sit at your table at the time of your reservation.
Please note that reservations for Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, 68 Royal Hospital Road are taken by telephone on 020 7352 4441 exactly 3 months prior to the requested booking date. Reservations for this restaurant cannot be accepted by fax or email.”
A bit of a hassle, isn’t it? The booking system, I mean. This is even more arduous than making a hotel reservation! Andy Hayler wrote this on his site: “They operate a completely surreal booking system, with attitude to spare: “Try calling back in about three week’s time between 09:00 and 09:05 a.m”, for a table in exactly a month’s time is a typical experience. If you get past this without screaming and don’t just give up entirely then the dining experience itself is lovely.”
Of course, I didn’t give up =)
It took us about 15mins—longer if you stroll but we were walking very fast cuz it was so freaking cold—to walk to the restaurant from Sloane Square station in Chelsea. Located in a quiet neighbourhood area, the exterior is so unassuming and understated that had I not been looking out for it, I would surely walk past it! And I was surprised that the dining area is so small—I counted 12 tables—which highlights its exclusiveness, I guess. Seeing how elegantly everyone was dressed (men in suits and ladies in dresses), I’m pretty sure we were the only party who arrived on foot instead of cabbing down (are you kidding me, cabs in London are notoriously expensive!).
“So who’s hosting lunch today?”, we were asked after being seated. Luckily, I already did my homework beforehand and didn’t say “huh” like a dorky country pumpkin. Here’s what’s going on: If you are the host, you will be given a menu slightly different from the rest. Yours will have all the prices shown while your guests can just blissfully whatever their hearts desire without scarily high price-pressure. How nice!
At the risk of sounding mean, I have to say that I thought it was rather silly of the waiter to announce “there will be some surprises!”—when by “surprises”, he just meant a simple amuse bouche that every diner gets. Well, I suppose it’s just to build up the anticipation… And seems like it’s a standard operating procedure for all waiters cuz other reviews online also mentioned these “surprises”, haha.
We were offered a variety of bread—the black olive made a good impression—with the cutest hive of butter (salted and unsalted available) and then the aforementioned “surprises” were placed before us with a flourish.
I really like that our waiter took the initative to ask us whether we have any food allergies and what we like or not like to eat, instead of waiting for the diner to speak up (otherwise, too bad) while ordering. So, back to the amuse bouche. I had a poached quail’s egg perched daintily on an island of potatoes surrounded by pea (or leek, I can’t remember) soup. It was underwhelmingly nice and nowhere near as exciting as the deep-fried frog’s leg (above) that’s the default amuse bouche for the day.
We heaped praises after praises on the tortellini of crab and tiger prawn with lemongrass and chervil consommé, a variant on Gordon Ramsay’s classic—his signature ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon. This is everything I want a tortellini to be—al dente pasta, robust flavours and packed with generous filling! Hands down, the best dish of the day.
A new favourite of mine from my travel in Europe, salt cod brandade—mashed salt cod with potatoes, olive oil, garlic and cream—is rarely (if ever) found on our local restaurants’ menus but common enough in France and Italy. The texture got me hooked—not overly smooth or too creamy, and slightly coarse cuz of the fish flakes.
Here, it’s wrapped with Noir de Bigorre ham (which I can do without) and topped with a poached quail’s egg. Which this was great for spreading on the accompanying crostini, I feel that the ones I had in Italy later were even better!
My fillet of daurade royale with navet (turnip in French), carrots, radish, baby gem lettuce and artichokes barigoule is probably admittedly the most boring dish. Nothing spectacular, just fresh white fish cooked satisfactorily in a light creamy sauce and a tad underseasoned.
The roasted fillet of pork with smoked ventrèche, Morteau sausage, black pudding, caramelised apple and choucroute (sauerkraut) is a classic combination, what with the presence of pork, apple and cabbage. Black pudding is a typical and traditional British dish: a type of sausage made by cooking pig’s blood with a filler until it is thick enough to congeal when cooled. Does that sound gross or is it just me? But apparently it’s so delicious that mom and sis lapped it all up.
Desserts came soon after! I was expecting the banana parfait to be served in a tall glass but interestingly, it’s in the form of a block of frozen banana ice cream coated with a dark chocolate shell.
Very light yet apparent scent of banana, and lovely when combined with the tangy passion fruit and salted caramel ice cream!
There’s plenty of opportunities for interaction with our waiter. Like when he came over to shave bits of Colston Bassett stilton over the pear tatin with walnut ice cream…
And to spread spoonfuls of French chantilly cream with vanilla onto the rum baba.
If I didn’t just have a really fabulous, out-of-this-world apple tart from Poilâne for breakfast that morning (more on that later), I’m sure this pear tatin would have scored for its golden and flaky puff pastry. If only. That said, it’s still good (just not as perfect as Poilâne) with a good balance of sweetness from the pear and saltiness from the stiltion.
Thought I don’t have much experience with rum baba, this has got to be the best one I’ve ever had. It’s so huge and soft and light, like a very tender sweet bread. Go easy on the rum cuz it’s really strong and can easily result in an overkill.
As if we were not stuffed enough by now, our waiter brought us an alien display of silver dusted chocolate truffles. I forgot how full I was in an instant after popping one into my mouth! Delish.
Next came a smoking top of strawberry ice cream balls encased in smooth white chocolate, dramatically brought to us in a cloud of dry ice. Top-notch presentation!
A birthday surprise from the kitchen, this very small scoop of raspberry sorbet wrapped up lunch on a sweet note =)
So, “exceptional cuisine and worth the journey” (that’s what a 3 star Michelin restaurant stands for)? I think so. Although it doesn’t exactly steal my heart and invade my mind, I applaud the beautiful execution by the chef and service team.
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
68 Royal Hospital Road
London SW3 4HP
Tel: 020 7352 4441
Fax: 020 7592 1213
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