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The Ritz restaurant, London

Rating: 90.
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Bistronomy restaurants, bistros and brasseries and their seeming simplicity or even austerity are clearly in sync with the new economic reality we are experiencing and consequently they are hugely popular. The economic uncertainties which we are presented with however, also make us hearken back to long-established traditions and comforts of old, also in the field of gastronomy. "Tradition ist Bewahrung des Feuers und nicht Anbetung der Asche", Gustav Mahler once said (Tradition is keeping the fire alive, not admiring the ashes). It is in this vein that old school fine dining is starting to make a comeback. When we do want to splash out on a meal, I guess we do want the linen, the crystal glasses and the silverware.

The Ritz restaurant ('The Ritz') offers this holy trinity as a matter of course and has never stopped doing so. This is altogether fitting, as there is hardly a restaurant in the UK that has a richer history and tradition than The Ritz. The dazzlingly grand, lavishly decorated dining room has been frequented by the good and the great, the famous and the infamous, the bad and the ugly since its opening in 1906. One of the most recent and most illustrious guests at the Ritz was Baroness Thatcher. The former prime-minister spent the final months of her life at the hotel and was a regular guest at table No 1 in the restaurant. The Ritz is also one of the first restaurants to bring back tableside service, an almost forgotten art that seemed confined to carving the roast beef at Sunday lunch. Since April 2013, The Ritz has offered a 'Les Arts de la Table' menu that features classic dishes finished tableside.

John Williams has been executive chef at The Ritz since 2004. During has long career he has also worked at other grand hotels in London such as The Savoy, The Berkeley and Claridge's. As executive chef he is in charge of all dining and banqueting at The Ritz and he oversees a brigade of some 54 chefs. In 2008 John Williams was awarded an MBE for his services in hospitality.

The Ritz is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. There's an a la carte menu, a 3-course lunch menu for £47, a 6-course 'Menu Suprise' for £85 and the brand-new 'Les Arts de la Table' menu that currently features: Roast saddle of lamb with hot pot potatoes, Bresse chicken Demi-Deuil en vessie and Sea bass en croute with sauce Mireille. These dishes are prepared for 2 to 3 persons and cost £ 40 per person, except for the Seas bass, which is is for 2 persons and £42 per person. I had lunch at The Ritz with my husband on 2 May 2013 and we both ordered dishes from the a la carte menu and the 'Les Arts de la Table' menu.

To start there were three lovely canapes: cheese gougères, prawn cracker with a lobster-hollandaise foam and salmon mousse on a yoghurt parfait cracker.

Mackerel Melba was my starter. Marinated and grilled mackerel with a perfectly crisp and thin buttery bread crust. The delicious and moist mackerel was accompanied by orange jelly,  fresh pink and white grapefruit, coriander cress, dill crème fraîche and basil. The citrus fruits balanced the rich flavours of the mackerel beautifully. A harmonious dish with great textures.

A distinctly seasonal dish of crisp English asparagus, buttery morels and a soft-boiled gull's egg was next. The asparagus came with a wonderfully nutty Vin Jaune sauce that really brought everything together.

Main course had to be the Bresse chicken. Thin slices of black Perigord truffle are put under the chicken skin, which accounts for the bird being "half in mourning" (Demi-Deuil). The chicken is then placed in a pig's bladder (the vessie) and steamed in the bouillon that has also been put in. When the chicken is cooked, it is presented to the diners in its bladder. The bladder is then cut open with scissors, unveiling a glorious truffled chicken which is carved tableside and served with a terrific truffle puree, thinly sliced Perigord truffle, a creamy truffle and madeira sauce, carrots, spring onion and gem lettuce. Grand theatre, grand chicken.



I was in the mood for some more theatre, so there was no better dessert to order than the Crêpes Suzette. Beautiful thin crêpes served with fresh vanilla ice cream, candied orange and a lovely boozy and lightly caramelised orange sauce prepared tableside. As you can see in the photographs there was some serious flambéing action going on.

Where the French have their cheese before dessert to finish the red wine, the British tradition of course is to finish the meal with cheese and port. The Ritz offers a great selection of British cheeses that were the perfect ending of this delightful meal. The port was Taylor's Vintage 1985.

It may seem strange to call The Ritz a "no frills" restaurant, but in a way it is. It is what it is and it does what it does. It does it well, too. The classic a la carte dishes display precise execution and have the occasional modern twist and the skill required for the dishes on the 'Les Arts de la Table' menu is seriously impressive, both kitchen and front of house.
Austerity is not The Ritz's thing and there seem to be many who embrace its offerings. The dining room was packed and do not think they were mainly Russian oligarchs, Chinese tourists or Americans who had remembered to bring a tie and to take off their trainers. The majority of diners were British and many had chosen this restaurant for a special occasion and seemed to being enjoying themselves splendidly. The quality of the food and the service do come at a price but you get a lot of Ritz for your buck.

Square Meal

Posted 20-05-2013


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