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Ritz

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 notes below are from a meal in December 2010.

Bread is made from scratch here. This was genuinely well made e.g. an olive bread with airy texture and excellent crust, a walnut and raisin bread with similarly lovely texture. Brioche of onion and bacon was soft and fully flavoured, while the baguette was perhaps the only relatively ordinary bread; an Armenian crisp bread made with Parmesan was also enjoyable. The breads averaged at least 16/20 standard, with the best ones better than this – it is rare in the UK for me to really enjoy the bread in restaurants, but these were very good indeed.

Salad of native lobster with fennel and lemon featured tender lobster and carefully prepared fennel, while the lemon and also a small grapefruit garnish provided acidic balance to the richness of the lobster. This was a well balanced, well executed dish (16/20). Next was crab wrapped in a roll of spiced apple. The crab was fresh and the apple a good foil to the shellfish, though the advertised ginger flavour was missing in action, and I was not sure what the pickled radish really added (15/20). The menu continued with classy foie gras ballotine with port wine reduction, pain d’epice and pistachio, with a little caramel sauce. The main element was very well made, the foie gras smooth in texture and having lovely full flavour; maybe an acidic element would not have gone amiss, but this was a most enjoyable, albeit rich dish (16/20).

I now had scallops with beetroot, smoked eel and watercress leaves with confit potatoes, with a watercress sauce. The scallops were high quality and cooked just right, the eel providing a further rich element, so the earthiness of the excellent confit potatoes and sourness of the beetroot gave a welcome balance to the dish. The watercress sauce was fairly restrained, which was no bad thing given it could easily have distracted from the sweetness of the lovely scallops. I wondered whether one less element in this dish would improve the overall effect, but everything was technically well made (16/20).  At this stage my wife had a very capable black truffle risotto, which had rice with lovely rich texture and plenty of truffle flavour (16/20).

My main course was veal with morels and bacon, with veal jus, garnished with baby leeks. This is not the only dish in the meal which was quite rich and I think would have usefully benefitted from an acidic element, but the veal itself was very carefully cooked and had good flavour, while the morels and jus were lovely, fine examples of classical cooking (16/20). My wife had a generous piece of tender monkfish on a base of gnocchi and lobster (16/20). By this stage I was getting pretty full, so skipped cheese, which is supplied by the excellent Paxton & Whitfield in nearby Jermyn Street. 

Crepes Suzette is a classic dish (invented at the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo) of light pancakes with orange zest, sugar and liqueur, in this case Grand Marnier, flamed at the table. This dish has perhaps become a cliché, but if it is well made, as it is here, it is genuinely lovely. Here the crepes were light and the orange flavour well balanced, the Grand Marnier in no way dominating the dish (17/20). Dessert proper was a chestnut soufflé – I liked the texture of the soufflé, and the vanilla ice cream with it was classy, but I felt that the chestnut flavour did not really come through (still just about 16/20).  Coffee was of high quality, with some generally pleasant petit fours such as a Tonka bean chocolate, salted caramel mousse and raspberry tart; only a lemon Madeleine lowered the standard, the Madeleine too hard in texture and needing more lemon flavour.

Service was top drawer tonight. Of course you would expect a place like this to be well staffed, and it was, but it was still impressive to see just how slick a well-drilled team of waiters can be. They were uniformly professional, friendly and attentive, providing service that would be hard to improve upon. The bill was £108 a head without service, which seemed to me fair given the high quality ingredients and cooking on display. The key here is to go easy on the wines, whose mark-ups would make anyone wince. Yet the set menus themselves are not particularly expensive. 

Overall, this meal was a quite a revelation to me. It was many years since I had been to the Ritz, and although I had heard that in the last couple of years the cooking had moved up a gear, to be honest I was sceptical when I sat down. Yet tonight dish after fine dish appeared, with barely an error to speak of; I have had much worse meals than this with Michelin stars attached. To be sure, it is not cheap, but if you are careful with the wine it is not extortionate either, and you are getting classy cooking and exemplary service in a lovely dining room.

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Further reviews: 16th Jul 2019 | 18th Apr 2019 | 12th Mar 2019 | 26th Sep 2018 | 01st Aug 2018 | 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

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