The Ritz Restaurant
London W1J 9BR
BY NEAL MARTIN | JUNE 24, 2022
crab with espuma of almond, peeled green grapes with crab meat in apple, fennel
“Véronique” with peeled green grape jelly
sweetbread with Parmesan and truffle sauce
Pigeon à la Presse with white asparagus
strawberry and white chocolate with lattice tuille
peanut praline, caramelised hazelnut, chocolate crumble with milk ice cream
Bollinger Special Cuvée
|2013 Mouton-Rothschild Aile
|2013 Domaine David Duband
Morey-Saint-Denis Les Broc
|2015 La Spinetta Barbaresco
Vursu Vigneto Starderi
|2016 Domain de Souch Jurançon
Cuvée Marie Kattalin
the hottest restaurant ticket in town?
those. Everyone is talking about The Ritz. Really. It might surprise you to
know that it only received its first Michelin star in 2017. Executive chef John
William MBE is credited with putting the glitz back at The Ritz, and that prompted
gourmands to revise their hitherto dismissive views that The Ritz was about
everything except the quality on the plate. In July 2021, Roux Scholarship
winner and kitchen wunderkind Spencer Metzger was promoted to head chef. Metzger
recently triumphed in popular TV competition “Great British Menu”, a useful way
for epicures to spot future superstars. He virtually wiped the floor against
the country’s most skilled chefs and this spurred me to nab the last free table
weeks in advance to see whether this institution is undergoing revolution.
not pretend that The Ritz is inexpensive, far from it. Nor would I describe it
as ludicrously expensive. Compared to its peers, including the aforementioned
restaurants, dinner can work out cheaper at £150 per head for the five-course “Epicurean
Journey” (add twenty quid for seven-courses or go à la carte.) This
surprise menu leaves you in the hands of whatever chef is serving save for any
dietary requirements. I opted for the five-course plus the “Fine Wine” pairing
menu. I usually avoid these since I prefer drinking a bottle from start to
finish and I want to hear the reassuring pop of a cork, not the surgical
injection of a Coravin needle. But I wanted to see what £145.00 buys, whilst
keeping the total spend under £300.00, a large amount that has become the norm
if you seek seriously dining in London in these post-COVID times.
donned my dinner jacket and tie. The Ritz has stringently applied this dress
code since time immemorial and any attempt to remove either jacket or tie will
result in a gentle tap on the shoulder and a polite but non-negotiable request
to “forget it”. Then again, why not smarten up for the occasion? Those turning
up without either can borrow one that is so ill-fitting and/or unfashionable,
you won’t forget next time.
The Ritz interior.
interior decor is ostentatious, glamorous or chintz, probably an amalgam of all
three. Would you want it any other way? It’s The Ritz. It’s raison d’être
is showing off, taste be damned. As such, it remains a tourist destination,
families enjoying afternoon tea to celebrate that special occasion, wealthy
couples residing at the hotel. The restaurant itself is ostensibly the Palais
of Versailles transferred to Knightsbridge with all the accoutrements: antique
mirrors and chandeliers, marble columns, Greek statues and burnished gold. You
can’t help falling for its grandeur. I appreciate its spaciousness, tables
widely-spaced under its magnificent frescoed ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows
overlooking Green Park that create a sense of airiness. By the entrance, a pianist
tinkles away on a grand piano that elicits an occasional smatter of applause. Here
at The Ritz, you are isolated from the normal world and the riffraff. The Ritz
has always been about escapism.
need to talk about the food. The “Epicurean Journey” recreates the halcyon days
of influential French chef Auguste Escoffier, arguably the first celebrity
chef, who ran the kitchen at the turn of the century. Maybe in my naïveté I
expected classic French dishes given a modern twist, to wit, recipes invented
by Escoffier thrust into the modern age by Metzger’s imagination.
nothing of the sort.
or dinner at The Ritz remains a time machine, whisking diners back to an era
when Escoffier ruled and French cuisine was the be all and end all. The Ritz
delivers this with all the bells and whistles: immaculately-attired waiters
with accents as thick as a 16-hour reduced sauce, verbose and flamboyant
explanations of each dish as if scripted by Escoffier himself, cloches
simultaneously removed in sweeping gestures with obligatory “Et voilà”.
know…I love all that.
the showmanship, the unapologetic anachronism, the pomp that surrounds the
mundane act of eating. The ceremonial zenith comes when a silver antique press is
parked next to our table. Within moments, four waiters are turning the screw to
squeeze out every atom of juice from our duck in exaggerated fashion whilst
another mans a portable stove, frantically stirring a copper pan to concentrate
the sauce as if your life depends on it.
quality of the cooking is uniformly top class. There is clearly brilliant
execution in the kitchen where meticulously-sourced ingredients elevate every
plate. Just don’t expect gastronomic horizons to be breached or adventurous
combinations that redefine cooking. The Ritz imposes its own appellation rules
that have dictated what customers must eat over decades. Why fix something that
Norfolk crab with espuma of almond, peeled green grapes with crab meat in apple, fennel and grape.
first course is served in two parts: Norfolk crab with an espuma of almonds plus
a small peeled apple tartlet of crab meat, fennel and grape jelly. The crab was
nuanced in flavour and works sublimely with the peeled grapes that lifts the
neutrality of the crab meat, the almond imparting texture and requisite
Dover sole “Véronique” with peeled green grape jelly.
sole “Véronique” is even better. Escoffier invented this recipe in 1898, poaching
the sole and adding white seedless grapes to a wine and cream sauce. He
christened it “Véronique” after an André Messager’s play that was enjoying a
run at the Coronet theatre, continuing Escoffier’s penchant for naming dishes
after women, most famously, peach Melba. The sole was stuffed with morel and
girolles and flanked by gel boules of peeled green grapes. This was fabulous,
the fish beautifully cooked and marrying perfectly with the fungi, those green
grapes lending the acidity to counter the richness of the sauce. It was
paradoxically rich, yet light, nimble on its toes thanks to the piquancy of the
Veal sweetbread with Parmesan and truffle sauce.
third course consists of a veal sweetbread, Parmesan sauce spooned at the table
on one side of the plate, black truffle sauce on the other. The sweetbread is
small in size but packed with so much richness, sauces likewise, that any more
would be too much. The sweetbread has that melt-in-the-mouth quality and works
better with the Parmesan than the truffle.
Anjou Pigeon à la Presse with white asparagus.
was the aforementioned theatre, Anjou pigeon à la Presse. (Readers may remember
a similar course at Otto’s,
and to my knowledge, these are the only two restaurants that re-enact this
almost arcane ritual.) After all the drama, the duck is absolutely delicious,
perfectly cooked and tender, the sauce, reduced using cognac and Graham’s Ruby Port,
containing my annual recommended calories intake in a single mouthful. The
sauce ends up with a mirror-like glaze. Like the sweetbread, this dish is
relatively small in size compared to other restaurants and yet it needs not to be
any larger. It came with a single seasonal white asparagus that was perfectly
cooked, though it was not quite in the league of those bought the previous
Saturday market in Beaune.
On the left: Wild strawberry and white chocolate with lattice tuille; On the right: Salted peanut praline, caramelised hazelnut, chocolate crumble with milk ice cream.
pre-dessert of wild strawberry and white chocolate was another outstanding
dish, beautifully presented with a lattice tuile on top. It is perhaps the
simplest dish of the evening but perfectly executed, those wild strawberries soft
and flavoursome. I preferred this to the main dessert: salted peanut praline
with hazelnut mousseline, salted caramel and chocolate crumb served with a milk
ice cream. It was rich, extravagant and though I love the potent nuttiness, it
threatens to overwhelm the praline itself. It was a bravura finish to dinner
though I prefer the subtlety of the wild strawberries.
finished with petits-fours that included a wonderful macaroon and raspberry and
custard tartlet, though I found the chocolate Garnacha a little acrid for my
regard to the wines, as already mentioned, I handed quality control over to the
sommelier and none are known in advance. Unlike most sommeliers these days, he
was not some 19-year-old hipster from Shoreditch with a fancy beard, a mosaic
of tattoos, a WSET Advanced Certificate, an active social media profile and a
loathing of sulphur. Smartly dressed in coat-tails, he announces each wine as
if I am tasting wine for the very first time. Never one to mention my vocation,
I nod and occasionally feign enlightenment, for example, when informed that
Morey-Saint-Denis contains a grape variety called Pinot Noir. He’s just doing
his job and doing it well. And I must commend his choices because, as I
informed him afterwards, they are not names I automatically go for and yet they
paired well with each dish. Choices leaned towards full-bodied, richer wines to
cope with the richer dishes.
commence with the fail-safe choice of sparkler, the NV Bollinger Special
Cuvée. The nose is well defined with forward, bready and slightly nutty.
The palate has an irresistible fatness that those who like razor-sharp
champagne might turn their nose up at, yet I enjoy its almost sensual texture
and the lack of pretension.
an intriguing choice: 2013 Aile d’Argent, the dry Sauvignon/Sémillon
blend from Mouton-Rothschild. This works really well, the aromatics
having taken on a slightly oxidative slant, a little smokiness perhaps, and hints
of orange rind. The palate is well balanced and fresh, impressive in terms of
weight with that subtle bitter note defining the finish. I would not leave
bottles too much longer to be honest, so feel free to crack one open in the
reds to follow. The 2013 Morey-Saint-Denis Les Broc from Domaine
David Duband comes from a producer that I have not visited for a while. I
used to find Duband’s wines a little oaky for my liking. Yet, this 2013 (a
useful red Burgundy vintage) is drinking nicely. There remains a patina of new
oak on the nose, but it is neatly subsumed into the raspberry and blackcurrant
fruit, and a hint of Earl Grey. The palate delivers the structure one expects
from this appellation. There is grip here, perhaps even just a modicum of
austerity on the finish, but overall, I find this balanced and certainly drinking
perfectly at the moment.
partner the Anjou Pigeon you are going to need a red that is built for the task.
The 2015 Barbaresco Vursu Vigneto Starderi from La Spinetta does
just the job. Kirsch, raspberry coulis and touches of pine burst from the nose,
maybe lacking a bit of grace, but does a sterling job in coping with the
intensity of the pigeon. The palate is predictably rich, yet retains a sense of
balance, maybe missing a bit of typicité, and with a bold finish that does not
feel excessive. That bottle age might have tempered its nascent exuberance. This
Barbaresco is drinking very well with several years of pleasure to give.
finish with a sweet wine. Instead of Sauternes or Germany, we venture to the southwest
corner of France for the 2016 Jurançon Cuvée Marie Kattalin from Domaine
de Souch. Wonderful! Wild peach and tinned apricot on the nose, this is
well-defined and pure. The palate is medium-bodied, with less viscosity and
certainly less oak than you might find in Sauternes, thus rendering this
Jurançon nimble, light on its feet with admirable tension on the finish.
time, diners have drifted away, and we are one of only four left. There was a
bit of a mix-up with my bill, which shouldn’t really happen in an establishment
of this calibre. (It’s amazing how many restaurants trip-up at this crucial
stage - that’s the second time I received someone else’s bill in six months.)
I thoroughly enjoyed The Ritz. Looking back, I was naive to think that the menu
would be radically overhauled even with a talented chef like Metzger on the
payroll. Part of me wonders whether they are missing a trick? Could they give
him a bit more creative license without compromising the essence of what The
Ritz represents? I think so. I guess it’s up to their Qatari bosses to decide. Cooking
within limitations, surely it’s only a matter of time before Metzger moves on
and becomes the new Heston Blumenthal or Brett Graham?
are seeking old school glamour. If you want to dine in a place with historic
legacy. If you are not on a diet. If you want to escape the humdrum and seek a
slice of razzamatazz. If you can tie a Windsor knot, then I recommend The Ritz.
This is an institution that could easily rest on its laurels and fill its
tables by name alone. Certainly, there are other places with more innovative
dishes and pizzazz. Yet when you gaze up at that amazing ceiling as that piano
tinkles away, when you think that somebody sitting here a century ago might
have been enjoying exactly the same dish…well, there’s nothing like it.
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