150 Piccadilly, London, England, W1J 9BR, United Kingdom

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Chef interview

John Williams MBE is the head chef of the Ritz Hotel in London.

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The Ritz is surely the grande dame of London dining, with its magnificent Belle Époque dining room, all mirrors, gilt and marble. John Williams has transformed the kitchen since he took over here as executive chef in 2004. Michelin belatedly granted the Ritz a star in 2017, though its food had been at that level for many years. The kitchen is vast and so has the resources to make the labour-intensive stocks and sauces of classical French cuisine. We opted for a surprise menu today at £95, though there is a full a la carte and assorted other menus available, from a lunch set menu at £57 for three courses up to a tasting menu at £105.

The wine list here is extensive but very expensive. Sample labels were Saint Clair Riesling 2015 at £51 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £14, Caymus Conundrum 2010 at £76 compared to its retail price of £19, and Sancerre Grand Cuvee Comte Lafond 2015 at £100 for a bottle that will set you back £38 in the shops. As you head up the list you could indulge in Didier Dagenau Silex 2015 at £240 compared to its retail price of £122, or Etienne Sauzet Bienvenues-Batard Montrachet 2004 at £560 for a wine whose current market value is £265. These are not the very highest mark-ups in London, but they are not appealing to any wine lover.

This meal began with an old favourite, crisp Coronation chicken cylinders of sugar tuile, a lovely interpretation of the classic recipe, with mild curry flavour, pleasing texture and a touch of sweetness. The accompanying canapes were two year aged Comte gougeres garnished with Australian black truffles. The choux pastry was excellent, neatly piped out, and the lovely cheese flavour barely needed the luxurious addition of the truffles (easily 18/20).

Tomato consommé featured heritage tomatoes that had been dehydrated and then rehydrated, resting in tomato water infused with lemon verbena and lovage, along with fennel flowers and verbena leaves. On the side was a little tuile of tomato tartare made with brick pastry, a Moroccan pastry that is somewhat similar to filo. This was impressive, the tomatoes having good flavour, but the star was the tuile, which had really delicate pastry and intense tomato flavour (18/20). 

A cylindrical slice of duck liver terrine came with cherry and kirsch gel and a port reduction, along with a little yoghurt. On the side was a little slice of almond cake as well as toasted brioche. The terrine was terrific, silky in texture with deep liver flavour, the cherry providing a touch of acidity, the almond cake an interesting accompaniment (easily 18/20). A vegetarian alternative was a plump courgette flower stuffed with couscous and surrounded by thin slices of courgette, pieces of courgette and topped with cherry tomatoes and olives with a tomato and basil dressing (18/20).

Langoustines are one of the star dishes at the Ritz. These Scottish langoustines were particularly large, and displayed live at the table before being cooked. They came with carrot and fennel and a clear nage broth, the shellfish having lovely inherent sweetness and being beautifully cooked. With ingredients like this you do not need too much distraction (19/20).

Line-caught sea bass from Cornwall came with coco bean purée, basil espuma, lemon purée and cannellini beans. The fish had excellent flavour and the beans had creamy texture, the basil nicely lifting the flavour of the sea bass (18/20).  A vegetarian alternative was pithivier of salt-baked celeriac surrounded by celeriac slices, baby mushrooms and roasted hazelnuts. The hazelnuts were of exceptional quality, crunchy and with lovely flavour, and the pastry was hard to fault.

The main course was poached Norfolk Black chicken that had been glazed in chive butter and served with carrots, celeriac purée and pan-seared duck liver, all in a supreme sauce of chicken and white wine and cream. The seared foie gras was lovely and the sauce nicely captured the flavour of the chicken stock, but the chicken itself was a touch dried out at the centre. While its flavour was better than most English chicken, it did not compare with the very finest French birds from Landes or Bresse(16/20).

Pre-dessert featured mirabelle plums poached in sugar with verbena ice cream and a sugar tuile. The plums were not too sharp and had plenty of flavour, going well with the verbena, the natural flavour of the plums nicely balancing the sweetness of the delicate sugar tuile (17/20). Chocolate soufflé was light and fluffy, evenly cooked and with deep chocolate flavour, the edge dusted with cocoa powder, topped with a disc of tempered chocolate and served with Chantilly cream on the side. This was classy (19/20). The main dessert was vanilla cheesecake with almonds, peach, raspberries and strawberries, finished with a little strawberry soup. This was certainly good, but perhaps I have been spoilt this summer with some really dazzling fruit in France, so this was most enjoyable but not remarkable (17/20).

Service was slick, and the bill came to £162 a head. If you ordered less food and could find a modest bottle of wine to share then a typical cost per person might be nearer £125. Overall this was another gorgeous meal, showing off classical cooking technique and based on high-class ingredients, such as the lovely live langoustines. The Ritz is a very fine restaurant, and its solitary Michelin star is seriously understating the level of culinary achievement here.


Further reviews: 04th May 2018 | 20th Apr 2018 | 13th Feb 2018 | 11th Dec 2017 | 02nd Feb 2017 | 15th Jun 2016 | 27th Jan 2016 | 26th Aug 2015 | 28th Feb 2015 | 21st Dec 2013 | 24th Aug 2013 | 30th Apr 2013 | 29th Dec 2011 | 01st Feb 2011 | 01st Dec 2010

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