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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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I am a regular at The Ritz, so see previous reviews for the background and notes on the extensive though ambitiously priced wine list. The dining room is as grand as they come, all thick carpet, gold leaf, marble and mirrors. This meal started with a familiar trip of canapes. Mousse of Ragstone cheese was flavoured with basil and wood-roasted pepper, the texture silky smooth. The richness of duck liver parfait was nicely contrasted by yoghurt and the acidity of sour cherry. A cylindrical sugar tuile was filled with Coronation chicken, the tuile’s crunchy texture a good balance for the gently spiced chicken (18/20 canapes). 

A new dish was a take on Norfolk crab. The crab meat was mixed with mayonnaise and lemon, and served with a version of the Spanish cold soup ajo blanco, in this case an espuma of almonds, peeled green grapes and white garlic. Finally, there was a separate dish of crab meat with compressed Granny Smith apple, finished with an apple, fennel and grape jelly. This was very enjoyable, the crab meat sweet and free of shell, the ajo blanco espuma as well as the apples and grapes providing balance to the richness of the crab (17/20).

This was followed by ballotine of duck liver with cherry and pistachio. The foie gras was from Landes in the south of France and was marinated in port, Sauternes and Armagnac for 24 hours before being rolled up with a port and spice reduction and wrapped in a spiced port jelly. This came with a preserved cherry gel, pistachio and yoghurt, and was accompanied with a pistachio Bakewell tart, the pistachios sourced from Bronte in Sicily. This was a beautifully made dish, the texture of the ballotine superb, deeply flavoured with the distinctive taste of liver but balanced by the acidity from the cherry. The high-quality pistachios add a further contrasting element (19/20).  This was accompanied by a slice of brioche; the brioche loaf on a trolley was a nice theatrical touch, though the brioche itself was perhaps a touch drier than ideal.

The signature langoustines a la nage came next. The large Scottish langoustines were presented alive at the table before whisked off to the kitchen to be poached in butter and served on a base of cauliflower puree along with baby Cornish vegetables as well as fennel and broad bean flowers from Merseyside. The creamy sauce is a lovely foil for the lightly cooked langoustines, which had lovely natural sweetness, the richness of the nage offset by the baby vegetables, including an impressive baby turnip. The seasoning was quite bold; I actually quite like seasoning that I can taste, though perhaps some would think it a little over-salted. However this dish is a real star, the very fresh langoustines cooked perfectly, the dish balance being lovely (19/20).  

Next was chawanmushi, the Japanese savoury egg custard, here flavoured with truffle and Parmesan. Truffle cuisson jelly is made by cooking the Périgord black truffles to extract their flavour. The egg custard is then made with milk, cream, kombu and Parmesan. This is then whisked with 36-month aged parmesan foam, truffle sauce, finished with grated truffle and accompanied by Gruyere and truffle gougeres. This is a dazzling dish, the texture superbly light and the depth of flavour of the Parmesan and truffle remarkable (20/20).

The final savoury course was pressed Anjou pigeon. The silver press is usually associated with duck but here I pressed into service to crush the carcass of pigeon. The breast of pigeon was carved at the table and the carcass compressed to extract the juices of the bird, which were used to thicken a peppercorn sauce that was flambeed at the table. To offset this richness were pommes souffle (which today were not quite as crisp as I have had here previously) and exceptional new season white asparagus, which were lightly cooked and had remarkable flavour. I have had a lot of white asparagus when eating in Germany, but none better than this. The bite of the pepper was also a nice way to offset the richness of the meat and sauce (18/20).

A pre-dessert was blood orange, which was in season right now, used in a soft-set yoghurt and vanilla mousse along with segments of the blood orange, as well as blood orange foam and blood orange sorbet. This was just as a pre-dessert should be, light and refreshing, the oranges having very good flavour (17/20).

The main dessert was Yorkshire rhubarb with custard and caramelised almonds. Rhubarb jelly was presented along with almond Joconde sponge (a light almond sponge cake) with vanilla custard mousse. The rhubarb itself was poached in its own juices with a little ginger, and came with almond biscuit, vanilla ganache and a sorbet of rhubarb and gin.  This was a pretty and ultra-seasonal dessert showing lots of technical skill (18/20). Finally, alongside the coffee were some high-class petit fours. There was a salted caramel macaroon, a dark chocolate, almond and hazelnut praline, a raspberry and custard tartlet and a salted caramel ganache.

Service was superb. My companion, who is a keen cook, asked a couple of fairly obscure questions of the waiting staff e.g. “what is this herb with the crab”, which was answered immediately as “Sea fennel” without needing to refer back to the kitchen. The same thing with “which liquor was the rhubarb poached in?” – “Grenadine”. In both cases the waiters asked the questions were not the one who presented the dish, but just had this kind of level of detail in their minds, which is rarely the case even in multi-starred restaurant front of house teams. This surprise tasting menu came to £150 a head, and the total bill to £254 per person. If you opted for a more basic menu and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person might be around £130. The quality of cooking here continues to be very high indeed, with not one multi-starred London restaurant surpassing it at present in my view.

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Further reviews: 04th Nov 2022 | 30th Sep 2022 | 20th Jul 2022 | 24th Jun 2022 | 15th Apr 2022 | 14th Dec 2021 | 06th 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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  • Stephen Brawn

    Mr Guggenheim I agree with your comment on waiting times. My last lunch visit experienced a drop off in staff numbers towards the end of service, which I remember more than the food.

  • Merlin Guggenheim

    Dear Mr. Hayler You may recall that my experience at le Clarence in Paris was much better than yours. I finally made it to the Ritz, and here my experience was a little less satisfactory than I had hoped given your constantly excellent reviews. I ordered the same epicurean journey you presumably have during your last review. Strangely, from the canapes, we got the Mousse of Ragstone cheese and the duck liver parfait, but the sugar tuile filled with Coronation chicken was missing. Similarly, the Norfolk crab dish did not feature the separate dish of crab meat with compressed Granny Smith apple. The crab dish was very cold, as if yust removed from the fridge, which took away some of the taste. Then, the menu continued as you had described with a duck liver dish, which was superb (with the brioche beeing a touch too dry as well). The langoustines were excellently replaced by a mushroom-filled sole with a bit of lobster tail, the chawanmushi was replaced by a wonderful sweatbread with truffle jus and parmesan sauce, all in all a superb dish full of umami. The Anjou pigeon and its presentation was spectacular. The pre-desert was as described, the desert was a all too choclaty-peanutty-fudgey affair, much too sweet and sticky (for my taste), the craftsmanship was excellent. So what am I complaninig about. Menus change according to availability of products. Why things were ommitted from courses that you had as well I don't know. Service was efficient from 7 to 9 pm and then agonizingly slow from 9 to 11 pm, the waiting times between the few remaining courses much too long. We did forego coffee because more than 4 hours is one hour more than I think justified for the meal, in particular because there was a noticeable drop in tempo. Moreover, service was kind an professional, but a touch too professional than I had hoped. I had the tasting menu at the clove club (different style of cooking, but worth I visit, I believe) the day before, and the staff was much more involved than at the Ritz. An exception was Francesco, the sommelier, whose service was splendid, personal and informative.