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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I have written numerous reviews of The Ritz, so please see my previous reviews for the history of the restaurant and comments on its menus and wine list. As usual, today I opted for a chef surprise tasting menu. The trio of canapes were all well-established ones. Ragstone cheese mousse with wood roasted pepper and basil had a pleasing, subtle flavour. Duck liver parfait with sour cherry and yoghurt had good texture and enough acidity from the cherry to balance the richness of the liver. Coronation chicken in a sugar tuile cylinder provides a complicated explosion of gentle spices on the tongue when you crunch through the tuile coating (18/20). This was followed by a dish of Norfolk crab mixed with mayonnaise and lemon, along with lobster foam, pate de brick pastry tuile and a garnish of chive and oscietra caviar (sourced from Kings Caviar in London). The crab had good natural sweetness, complemented by the lobster and the brininess of the caviar, with just enough lemon for balance (17/20). 

Ballotine of duck liver from Landes in the south west of France had been marinated in port, Armagnac and Sauternes for 24 hours before being rolled with a port and spice reduction and wrapped up in a spiced port jelly. This came with pistachio yoghurt and a preserved cherry gel. Alongside was a pistachio version of a Bakewell tart using pistachios from Bronte in Catania in Sicily on the slopes of Mount Etna. Finally, there was a slice of home-made toasted brioche. This is a dish I have eaten many times before and it is hard to criticise. The foie gras was from a high-grade supplier and had silky smooth texture, while the acidity of the cherry gives a touch of acidity, the top-quality pistachios bringing a pleasing flavour contrast (18/20).

Fillet of Cornish turbot from a very large 7.5 kg fish was cooked on the bone and displayed at the table before being carved and served. Cooking on the bone is the optimal way to make the best of the fish, and large turbots like this have inherently excellent flavour. The fish was seasoned with a light curry salt and seared until golden, then braised in butter, lemon, rosemary and bay leaf. It was served with a herb emulsion, sliced and peeled grapes, and a smoked butter beurre blanc finished with fresh diced wakame, dulse seaweed chopped chives, lobster oil and finger lime. The turbot was particularly good today, the fish beautifully cooked and the finger lime balancing the richness of the beurre blanc. The very gently hint of spice from the curry salt was also a nice touch. This was top notch fish cookery (19/20).

Next was veal sweetbread with truffle and madeira, the Dutch veal roasted in butter with garlic, rosemary and thyme, and glazed in a truffle and Madeira sauce. A separate aged Parmesan sauce completed the dish. The sweetbread itself was superb, extremely light in texture and going beautifully with the pair of sauces, each of which were fabulous in their own right but combined beautifully. I have eaten quite a lot of sweetbread dishes in some fine restaurants over the years, but I cannot recall one more perfectly delivered than this. As one (Michelin starred) chef at our table said: “This is food of the Gods” (20/20).

Main course was wild venison from a New Forest farm managed by Mike Robinson, who is part owner of The Ledbury and Harwood Arms. The fallow deer was roasted in Douglas fir and juniper berries and served with pear poached in Poire Williams, along with smoked beetroot puree and a rich sauce grand veneur finished with green peppercorns. The sauce (aka huntsman’s sauce) is a classic accompaniment for large game, using game trimmings with a sauce poivrade, itself an elaborate classical sauce made with peppercorns, meat bouillon, wine, vinegar, mushrooms and a mirepoix of vegetables. This is the kind of sauce that requires a considerable amount of work, and the resources that few kitchens these days have, but The Ritz has in abundance. The venison had lovely deep flavour and was precisely cooked, the sauce was lovely, with the pear balancing the richness and the beetroot adding an earthy flavour dimension (18/20). 

Pre-dessert was lemon in several forms, with lemon mousse, lemon curd, lemon foam and a lemon sorbet with a tuile for a textural contrast. This was exactly the kind of refreshing dish needed after the richness of the venison, and the sharpness of the lemon had just enough sugar to be balanced (17/20). The main dessert was one of apple, vanilla and Calvados. English apples were compressed calvados and vanilla and served in a vanilla sable shell, with vanilla sponge, brown sugar mousse, apple puree and vanilla ganache, sprinkled with dried vanilla and chocolate decorations, Alongside was an apple compote with brown sugar custard, oat crumble, almond tuile, vanilla ganache and Calvados gel with Calvados ice cream. This was an elaborate and very enjoyable dessert, the apple and Calvados a classic combination, the brown sugar providing balance and the series of textures combining really well (easily 18/20). As petit fours there was a salted caramel macaroon, a dark chocolate, almond and hazelnut praline, a miniature raspberry and custard tart and a salted caramel ganache, all of which were very well made. 

Service was as friendly and smoothly running as ever, and I was being treated by a good friend so on this occasion I am not sure what the bill was (but see my previous reviews for examples). There are numerous menus at The Ritz, and if you ate from a cheaper three course one and were careful with wine then your bill might come to around £125. This actually represents very good value given the quality of ingredients used here and the high levels of technical skill in the kitchen. As I have said repeatedly, there is no better fine dining experience in London than the Ritz, and Michelin’s parsimony by granting a solitary star here is unforgiveable.


Further reviews: 28th Mar 2024 | 02nd Feb 2024 | 11th Dec 2023 | 01st Nov 2023 | 24th Sep 2023 | 26th Jun 2023 | 10th May 2023 | 08th Mar 2023 | 09th Dec 2022 | 04th Nov 2022 | 30th Sep 2022 | 20th Jul 2022 | 24th Jun 2022 | 15th Apr 2022 | 08th Feb 2022 | 14th Dec 2021 | 22nd Oct 2021 | 14th Oct 2021 | 25th Jun 2021 | 25th May 2021 | 15th Oct 2020 | 28th Aug 2020 | 31st Jul 2020 | 29th Feb 2020 | 19th Nov 2019 | 25th Oct 2019 | 30th Sep 2019 | 30th Aug 2019 | 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 | 01st Dec 2010

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  • Steven Parsons

    Thoroughly enjoyed your review. I appreciated the scres for each dish as well as the exacting descriptions. I have not eaten at The Ritz - however!