The Marmite of the food industry, he's hated or loved, and I fit in the former camp. After terrible experiences at Maze, Boxwood Cafe and Claridges, I dug my hooves deep into the ground and refused to visit his flagship restaurant on Royal Hospital Road. But time's gone by, my to do list has narrowed and I may be leaving the UK. It's now or never, so I booked myself and a friend to visit the acclaimed chef's original three star venue in Chelsea.
Now, to think of Gordon Ramsay is to think about his public rows with his in-laws, his temper, his bankruptcy, his centrally produces "ready-made" meals, his numerous TV appearances (is he ever at this restaurants?) and, to end with a positive note, his marathon running. No wonder many have a negative impression.
So what about our experience? With very low expectations, I was hoping to be proven wrong, to be blown away by excellent British cuisine (I must be the only mediterranean fan out there) and perfect service. That was not the case.
First impressions are important, the restaurant is in a great location and looks clean and welcoming from the outside. On the inside, it's small and cramped. The tables are almost touching each other and certainly on the small end of the scale. Table churn was high and that was very apparent; they need to make money.
The service was also overwhelming. We must have been waited on by at least 20 staff members; the lack of continuity was disconcerting, the ability to develop relationships limited and there was nothing subtle about it. They were always noticeable because of the overwhelming volume of hands and the proximity of tables to tables, tables to walls, tables to pillars and tables to cheese/wine/food/dessert trolleys.
The food was a different matter. Now, it wasn't the best I have had but it certainly was good. Perfectly executed and beautifully presented… French food. So, we are back to NYC. Where the epitome of haute cuisine lies in France. Forget Heston Blumenthal, forget Daniel Clifford and forget Fergus Henderson. In fact, forget The Square, The Ledbury, The Glasshouse and every venue Nigel Platts-Martin is behind. Forget pigs trotters, scallops, chestnuts, potted shrimp, pheasant, venison, eel and the numerous pastries, toffees and creams that are synonymous to British culture. It's all about French food.
"On offer tonight, we have a selection of breads including baguette…" began waiter number four. "Other than the Poilane, which of the breads that you produce do you recommend?" I interrupted. "We don't produce any of our breads, sir."
I won't expand anymore and don't get me wrong because it was a good experience, it just was not great. And that's what you'd expect from a great British chef. My most memorable moment was our amuse bouches, where we were presented with a delicious mini scotch egg made of half a quail's egg. And the night started off filled with promise…
Gordon Ramsay (3 out of 5): 68 Royal Hospital Road, London, SW3 4HP, +44 (0)20 7352 4441