"Stunning environment, quality service, incredible food and unbelievable attention to detail"Review Rating: Reviewed by KimT
I’m not into celebrity chefs, I don’t care much for Mr Ramsay and I wouldn’t consider myself a serious foodie (although I took one of my former chef/food critic friends), so it almost pains me that – after almost 100 restaurant reviews for All in London - I must award my very first 10 to this restaurant.
When I said that I was going, two of my close foodie friends – both of whose opinions I trust - had declared it the best restaurant in London. I’d heard that another food critic contact had said that the set lunch menu was excellent value for money. So my expectations were set at high. It easily exceeded them.
I was mildly irritated that it took such an effort to get a booking within a reasonable time and that I had to accept a mid-week lunchtime slot rather than an evening one. Strong demand. And I found the numerous reminders and prompts – both by email and phone – somewhat amusing – for a lunch booking! I imagine that it adds to the sense of occasion, as many people there appeared to be celebrating.
Location, Location, Location
The exterior is subtle – so subtle that I walked past it twice. Mind you, I was struck by the beautiful Chelsea red bricks, the National Army Museum on one side, the Chelsea Physic Garden on the other and the Royal Hospital (the Flower Show had just finished) in the immediate vicinity – all of which might be excellent things to combine with a visit to this restaurant.
Anyway, after an innocuous door which you open yourself and a cramped unassuming vestibule you walk down a white corridor with tiny mirrored recesses containing elegant displays of white flowers. It could double as an entrance to heaven.
There’s an intimate reception area (you can’t help but notice the traditional dark wood low level spirits cabinet) with some comfortable looking sofas where a hostess immediately greeted us with a genuinely warm smile.
As soon as I said my name – and without checking a list or computer - she indicated a waiter who whisked us to our table. It’s these little touches (like the stunning white rose display in the ladies loos) that make the experience so marvellous. Did I feel special? Yes. Did I feel overawed? No. Was I stopped in my tracks at the décor? Yes.
The room is light and airy. Lots of white. Exotic white orchids leaning artistically in those thin mirrored recesses. Pristine white tablecloths. Sensibly sized round tables set at a comfortable distance from each other.
Silver plate holders with a delicate bubble pattern around the edge. An exquisite knotted metal sculpture holding the napkin. A tiny feathery white flower. Every detail shouted quality and attention. The hours they must invest in making it all so lovely!
The closest I came before to this heady mixture of white purity and warm intimacy was a small Venetian restaurant in Victoria (Santini). I would love to see how this restaurant looks in the evening – it must be magical. The ultimate romantic treat if you are that way inclined.
There was a gentle but not subdued murmur of light conversation. I was delighted that it was not full of stout business men in suits. There was an ordinary looking family (grown up children) enjoying what we later discovered – on production on a perfect little cupcake bearing a candle – was a birthday celebration.
There were a few couples who might be on holiday in London. Another couple appeared to be on some sort of celebration too – judging by their manner and the champagne. There was a group of what might be trust fund people and their older advisers – casually but expensively dressed. There was even a lone young Asian guy in that West Coast chino style (with a paperback to read while he ate!).
To begin with, I found the large number of staff constantly beavering around the dining area a little distracting. And I must say that I couldn’t help noticing that the only two black faces were in plate carrying roles.
However, immediately after being seated a female waitress asked us whether we wanted aperitifs – but as we were both working we opted for a glass of wine (I left my companion to study the tome of a wine list) to go with our meal and settled on some Badoit meantime.
A softly Scottish accented waiter welcomed us (I was delighted that he asked who was hosting the table – I resent it when restaurants assume it’s the man) and provided us with the menu – explaining the difference between the set lunch menu (£45 for three courses), the a la carte lunch menu (£95 for three courses) and the seven course Prestige menu (£125).
I decided to take the set lunch and my colleague the a la carte. The maître d’ (heavy French accent) popped over to add his welcome, to ask whether we wanted salted or unsalted butter (in a little beehive shaped design) and to comment on the wonderful aroma of the tiny puffs of gruyere deliciousness that had appeared in a small dish surrounded by a lotus flower folded napkin. I don’t eat wheat and had to trust my companion’s opinion (“excellent”).
At no point was there any of that aloofness or coolness associated with top restaurants – I felt that all the staff were genuinely keen to ensure that we were treated with warmth and keen to answer any questions about the food (I quizzed one on how the rabbit would be cooked as I dislike it pink). They even sought our views after each course and seemed to be interested rather than going through a process.
We were presented with a small glass containing a green amuse bouche. It was pea foam with a hint of mint and little tastes of mild onion, tomato and wafer thin slices of radish. With a nod to the recent flower show there were even one or two petals (Pansies? Violas?) decorating the top. This was one of the three highlights of an overall excellent meal for me.
My glass of Voignier 2009 (£12) was heathery but not too floral. My companion’s Portuguese Post Scriptum red (£13) appeared to be well appreciated – and he sampled two varieties of the offered bread. Twice.
My starter was a salad of Szechuan pork, tiger prawn, chargrilled, pickled and marinated vegetables, Asian herbs and daikon dressing. It was presented on a large square plate as a sea of perfect little parcels – delicately rolled slivers of impossibly thin vegetables, tiny folded squares of pork, plump truncated prawns. It was an OMG moment as I tried to work out which combinations of meat, fish, vegetables, piquant pickles and herb leaves to put on my fork for each mouthful – countless combinations and all a delight of taste and texture. This was the second highlight of my meal.
Naturally I requested a taste of my companion’s sautéed foie gras with roasted veal sweetbreads, Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar and almond velouté. It was a generous thick portion of soft, melt in the mouth foie gras and would have been enough without the sweetbreads. He commented that it was accurately cooked and that the sweetness of the velouté, a nod to Sauternes, (spooned separately onto his plate with great flourish) was an excellent complement.
The best thing about my roasted rabbit loin with Bayonne ham, confit tomato, marjoram, broad beans, grelots and chargrilled charlotte potatoes was the way it looked. It must have taken hours to achieve these coin-sized pieces of rabbit with perfect tomato and ham layers on the outside. I couldn’t quite believe that someone had taken the trouble to slice the broad beans amongst the peas underneath the rabbit. It was beautifully cooked and the marjoram was noticeable but not overpowering.
But my companion’s oven-roasted pigeon from Bresse with grilled polenta, smoked ventrèche, braised shallots and date sauce was a superior dish. I’m not that keen on pigeon (except when served well cooked in a French farm house kitchen in a rich sauce) – it was rather too pink and chewy for me (and he had requested it medium so goodness knows what it would have been like otherwise). But he enjoyed it while I admired details like the perfect griddle marks on the grilled polenta, and the cube dimensions of the pork belly.
The pigeon legs were presented in a separate side dish (my companion told me that they would have been cooked separately) with a date. I had one of these (and the date) and it was marvellous – reminiscent of those long ago meals in France. We laughed that there were more petal leaves on the dish.
Then we were presented with a tall glass with a cocktail of mango, passion fruit, jasmine and yoghurt foam, which we drank through glass straws. Another taste sensation. I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by all the flavours and ordered another glass of wine – resisting my companion’s urging to try a different wine.
My dessert of roasted pineapple with coriander financiers, coconut sorbet and vanilla cream was like a modern art exhibit – zigzagging across my plate and with the pineapple having a delayed heat that made me wonder whether it had chilli in it. My companion ate the financiers (the wheat) which he declared good.
But his dessert won. This was truly a work of art – blues and layers of purple and cream topped with a knot of gold leaf - blackcurrant fennel and yoghurt génoise with violet sorbet. That violet sorbet – which was surprisingly creamy – was the third highlight of the meal for me. I almost didn’t want him to eat it because it looked so lovely. He commented on the fennel and on – wait for it – yet more flower petals.
Real theatre with Petits Fours and coffee
Theatrically, a silver bowl with dry ice smoke billowing over the edges was placed on the table. With the lid removed the treasures inside – balls of white chocolate containing a pink confection – were revealed. I cursed myself for not liking white chocolate so my companion tucked in.
The petits fours were presented on a rectangular dish with turned up edges and an intricate gold Arabesque design. Two clear rose flavoured jellies and two dark chocolate squares – in which tiny metal shovels were embedded. Delicious.
But I marvelled at the sugar bowl (bearing the Ramsay signature), a modern black cylinder where the top layers swivelled out to reveal different types of sugar (brown and white cubes, brown and white granules and even crystals) – and I put some into one of the most perfect double espressos I have experienced outside of Italy.
The total bill – including 12.50% service – came to £209.81. Yes, this is expensive but it could have been considerably less if we had both opted for the set menu.
My companion’s opinion was that it was very accomplished cooking with some great ideas in taste that mark it out as adventurous, but within that the very classical canon of ultra-high class cooking. He said it was the V & A of cooking - wonderful, richly embroidered, carved and painted things that are great to experience once in a while, but would cloy if you visited too often. Therefore it is a destination for food thrill seekers and a tick on the gastro-tour list - “It’s a bit like opera – even if you love it to addiction, you wouldn’t want to go every night”.
I have to say that the stunning environment, overall quality of the service, unbelievable attention to detail and the incredible food made it well worth it for such an exceptional and memorable experience. And I’ll have to agree with my friends – from my perspective it IS the best restaurant in London.
KimT reviewed Gordon Ramsay on Thu 31 May 2012