68 Royal Hospital Rd
London SW3 4HP
Nearest tube: Sloan Square (20 minute walk)
BY NEAL MARTIN | DECEMBER 22, 2023
pastrami beef tartare, whipped lardo with black garlic and bee pollen
duck tea infused with orange and Madeira
Skye scallops with maitake, pickled walnut and jus gras
langoustine, salmon ravioli with lemon and sauce Americaine
linguine with aged parmesan and white truffles
aged Cumbrian Brue Grey beef, Tokyo turnips, black garlic and smoked bone
Frangola, Moscato d’Asti and violet sorbet
apple tarte tatin with Tahitian vanilla ice cream
Keller Riesling Dalsheimer Hubacker Grosses Gewächs
|2014 Domaine de la
Romanée-Conti Grands-Echézeaux Grand Cru
lay my cards on the table. I’ve never been a fan of Gordon Ramsay. His splenetic
kitchen tirades and grapeshot of expletives thrust him out of the kitchen and
into the celebrity sphere, and before you could utter another four-letter word,
he was globally recognized. I can live with that. But perhaps his heinous crime
from my quarters was his restaurants’ blanket ban on BYO. I know, I know. If a restaurant’s
survival is driven by the margins of its wines, then who am I to jeopardize that
with my impudence? Therein lies my counterargument. Restaurants can not only
survive but prosper by a reasonable BYO policy. Secondly, how would a
chef feel if the tables were turned, and I paid a tiny margin or even loss for
my beloved fermented grape juice to accompany a main course costing hundreds of
pounds? I guess what it boils down to is defending my right to match fabulous
wine with commensurate fabulous food without having to win the lottery.
when a friend from the Far East invited me to Ramsay’s flagship Hospital Road
restaurant for the first time, the spiteful side of my character rubbed its
hands, ready to skewer his reputation and mock its three-starred status.
from the moment I entered its doors to the moment I exited, I bloomin’ well loved
it. Just about every facet was precisely what I wanted on a rainy Friday night
in Chelsea. The ambiance was understated and cozy. Service was attentive and
friendly without being overbearing. This first-timer was made to feel like a
regular. The Japanese sommelier knew his claret from his Beaujolais without
insisting on a wine that hadn’t been within 100km of sulfur. When asked if I
could take the Tarte Tatin home for the kids, someone out the back performed origami
with tin foil for no other reason than to make it look pretty and easy to
Spiced duck tea infused with orange and Madeira
ways, the food was not as complex or boundary-pushing in the vein of, say, Moor
Hall or that of Ramsay’s former protégé Clare Smyth, now at Core.
Reflecting upon the dishes, the theme was one of deceptive simplicity. I didn’t
feel as if I was putting my taste buds through a MENSA test. They just
registered that everything was very, very delicious, which derives from
impeccable sourcing and chef patron Matt Abé’s deft touch in the kitchen. No
need to show off. None of the razzle-dazzle. Unnecessary.
Isle of Skye scallops with maitake, pickled walnut and jus gras
The gougères were as airy as any enjoyed in Burgundy, and the pastrami beef tartare oozed freshness. My favorite amuse-bouche: the whipped lardo that came with black garlic and bee pollen. The spiced duck tea infused with orange and Madeira was a refresher in disguise, a palate cleanser. It was exquisitely balanced with a neutral opening but delivered a subtle tang on the finish.
Lobster, langoustine, salmon ravioli with lemon and sauce Americaine
The Isle of Skye scallops were cooked to perfection. These came with the elusive maitake mushrooms (I’ve searched everywhere, and they’re bloody impossible to find beyond Japan), pickled walnut and jus gras.
Chestnut linguine with aged parmesan and white truffles
The lobster, langoustine and salmon ravioli with lemon and sauce Americaine is one of Ramsay’s signature dishes. Yeah, it was just ravioli. But you wanted to just roll the flavors around your mouth for as long as you could before dribbling over the ironed white cotton tablecloth. Chestnut linguine with aged parmesan and white truffles? Shave away, waiter, shave ‘til your heart’s content. As I have said before, I’ve never quite understood the fascination of white truffles and sacrilegiously prefer the more rustic flavors of their black counterpart. But I’ve never claimed to be posh and won’t start now. Needless to say, I wanted to lick the bowl.
100-day aged Cumbrian Brue Grey beef, Tokyo turnips, black garlic and smoked bone marrow
Since I had eaten a lot of mainly vegetarian food over the previous few days, I treated myself to the 100-day-aged Cumbrian Brue Grey beef served with Tokyo turnips, black garlic and smoked bone marrow. I appreciated that the beef was not excessively large, which would have upset the overall balance of the dinner. In any case, if I want a large slab of cow, I’ll go to Angus Steak House (if they still exist). It was tender and succulent, the marrow lending a little spice and the black garlic a touch of smokiness.
Frangola, Moscato d’Asti and violet sorbet
The pre-dessert consisted of frangola, Moscato d’Asti and violet sorbet that came with such an intricate lattice on top that it felt a shame to smash it with my spoon. It was the warm-up to the caramelized apple Tarte Tatin with Tahitian vanilla ice cream. My friend and I quartered it, which was sufficient for both, the other half winging its way back to Guildford as an apology for dining out gloriously while the kidds chucked something in the microwave.
Caramelized apple tarte tatin with Tahitian vanilla ice cream
Since my host drinks a lot of white Burgundy, I asked if he fancied something different and whether he was familiar with the brilliance of German Riesling. “Not really,” he answered candidly, gesturing me to pick whatever I fancied. Not a difficult choice. The 2011 Riesling Dalsheimer Hubacker Grosses Gewächs from Weingut Keller demonstrated the immeasurable talent of Klaus-Peter Keller to such a degree that the following morning my friend sent a text enquiring where he could acquire bottles. As usual, I wisely asked the sommelier to decant the Riesling to watch it unfold in the glass. As suggested by its deep color, there is a hint of botrytis: dried honey, acacia flowers, saffron and crushed stone, all delivered with stunning delineation. The palate is underpinned by an absolutely killer line of acidity and a salinity that gets the saliva in a blather. Alchemically, this dry Riesling seems to expand in the glass, revealing more and more layers while retaining pin-point precision. Magnificent.
The 2014 Grands-Echézeaux Grand Cru from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti was a prelude to my revisiting that vintage in the Côte d’Or that autumn. It’s at a beautiful place right now. Vivid Morello cherries, wild strawberries and hints of pressed violet petals unfold on the nose. It is not the most intense I have encountered from this wine, yet the delineated nose is dazzling. The palate is tensile right from the start, prioritizing energy and verticality over horsepower, bright red fruit laced with oyster shell that almost reluctantly fans out on the finish. At nearly ten years of age, I see no reason not to crack one open now, but it will give pleasure over the next 15 years.
It was time to return home after a splendid meal and an overdue catch-up with my host. In retrospect, maybe Hospital Road was more low-key than expected. Maybe misled by its namesake’s showmanship, I had anticipated more razzle-dazzle, but that would be totally surplus to requirements. Is it expensive? For sure, but restaurants at this level are everywhere nowadays, and it’s easy to list pricier places elsewhere in London. As for the attitude to its founding chef, like most famous people I’ve met on my travels, they tend to be very different in the flesh than on TV. No doubt he’s a gentleman. I just wish that once in a while, his establishments would give momentary relief to beleaguered wine lovers being priced off restaurant lists…
Cue a volcanic tirade of expletives from Hospital Road.
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