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 dining room, dating back to 1906, is surely the grandest in London. It has a very high ceiling, thick carpeting, plenty of marble and mirrors, and chandeliers joined by gilt bronze garlands. The Ritz offers a wide range of menus, with a three-course set lunch at £80 up to a five-course menu at £165 and a seven-course tasting menu at £185 at the top end of the scale, as well as a la carte options. There were full vegetarian and vegan alternatives. I have written previously about the extensive wine list.

The menu today began with some canapes. There was a silky mousse of Ragstone cheese with wood-roast pepper and basil, served alongside duck liver parfait with sour cherry and yoghurt. I have written about both these before and they were as good ever. A new dish was a croustade of Dorset crab, the white crab meat seasoned with espelette pepper, salt, pepper and mayonnaise. The crab rested on a layer of oyster bavarois, and there was a garnish of julienne of radish, lemon zest from Menton in the Mediterranean, chive curls, dill fronds and finger lime. The citrus acidity nicely offset the naturally sweet crab, and the radish provided an earthy contrast, the pastry case being very delicate. There was also a tartlet of beef in a crisp pate de brik pastry case, the beef covered by a layer of oscietra caviar. In the centre of the tartlet was piped crème fraiche that had been seasoned and whipped, along with an oyster leaf to which is added the seasoned beef tartare. The natural salinity of the caviar provided some seasoning to the beef, and the combination of textures worked very well. The final canape was Isle of Mull scallop, served raw and covered with a thin jelly made from rice wine, topped with fresh fennel pollen and shizo flowers. The scallop slices were served with a dressing of soy, olive oil, sugar salt and assorted citrus including lemon, lime and orange. This was a pretty and fresh tasting dish that nicely showed off the high-quality scallop (19/20 canapes).

Ballotine of duck liver involved liver from Landes in the south west of France that had been carefully de-veined and marinated in salt, sugar, pepper, port, Armagnac and sweet Sauternes wine. Alongside the ballotine was brioche as well as a pistachio Bakewell tart topped with pistachio yoghurt and sour cherry gel. This is a dish that is hard to criticise, the ballotine having silky texture and deep flavour, the sharpness of the sour cherry just enough to provide some balance to the richness (19/20).

Perhaps the signature dish of the restaurant is langoustine tail a la nage with bronze fennel. The Scottish langoustines were poached in butter and served with cauliflower puree, bronze fennel from Merseyside and baby Cornish vegetables. The langoustines today were exceptionally large and were beautifully cooked, having gorgeous sweet flavour. They were very well balanced by the delicate vegetables and the gentle anise note of the bronze fennel (19/20).

Cornish turbot from a large fish was served with a braised morel stuffed with scallop mousse, langoustine claws, tarragon and chervil. The dish was completed with a Jerusalem artichoke puree and a lobster sauce. The shellfish sauce was very good and the stuffed morel worked well, though for me the fish was cooked just a little longer than ideal. It had good flavour and was certainly very enjoyable, but for me this is one aspect that could easily be improved with a lighter touch (16/20).

A French take on the Japanese chawanmushi savoury custard was an egg custard made with milk, cream, kombu and Parmesan. This is whisked with 36-month aged Parmesan foam, truffle juice and fresh truffle. The dish was completed by a truffle caisson jelly made by cooking truffles to extract their flavour essence. The truffles themselves were from Catalonia and had good aroma. For me this is one of the very best dishes produced by the kitchen, having superb depth of flavour and smooth, silky texture. It is hard to imagine how this could be made better, and is a thing of beauty in terms of its flavour composition (20/20).

Anjou pigeon from the south east of France was served a la presse, the carcass of the bird compressed and its juices used to thicken a red wine sauce flavoured with green peppercorns that was flambeed at the table. The pigeon breast was served with new season white asparagus from France, the latter being superbly cooked and having terrific flavour. Often white asparagus can be either a bit stringy or woody, but this specimen was superb. The pigeon itself was lightly cooked and had excellent flavour, and the sauce was rich and lovely, the peppercorn bit just cutting through the richness (19/20).

A pre-dessert was Yorkshire rhubarb on a base of vanilla custard, topped with caramelised almonds and topped with rhubarb sorbet and ginger ale. Rhubarb and ginger is a classic flavour combination, and the overall effect was refreshing (17/20). The main dessert was hazelnut, milk chocolate and caramel. The base was a chocolate sponge, topped with a disk of feuilletine, a ring of caramel and chocolate mousse, with salted hazelnut and hazelnut praline. This was a pretty dish (18/20). If you had tea or coffee then this came with a trio of petit fours: dark chocolate, almond and hazelnut praline, coffee tart and a vanilla macaroon. 

Service was lovely as usual, the staff attentive and very professional. I was actually being treated to this meal by a friend as a birthday treat, but the bill would have come to £560 a head including some very fine wine. The food component of the bill was £185, and you could certainly eat for much less than we did if you opted for one of the less ambitious menus on offer. The Ritz provides a superb overall experience of high-class French cooking, showing fine classical technique but with modern touches. These days £185 for a magnificent tasting menu does not seem bad value in central London, where many less capable restaurants now charge more. For me The Ritz is the pinnacle of fine dining in the capital.


Further reviews: 28th Mar 2024 | 02nd Feb 2024 | 11th Dec 2023 | 01st Nov 2023 | 24th Sep 2023 | 26th Jun 2023 | 10th May 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 | 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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  • Scott Murray

    Andy Hayler’s high regard for The Ritz Restaurant is totally justified and it is good to see Michelin’s Great Britain Guide finally following suit. For me, it is one of the finest grand-hotel restaurants in the world, with all that implies. It is not a discreet local French restaurant, but a magnificent piece of theatre, where its remarkably fine food towers over that found in many grand hotels (including the 3-star Louis XV Alain Ducasse in Monaco). The Veal Sweetbread, Parmesan and Truffle was extremely good (the truffle flavour a little low-key, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing) and the Fallow Deer, Smoked Beetroot, Walnut and Juniper sublime. The cheese trolley is small but everything I had (6 large pieces!) was as good as it gets. I have long loved The Ritz Restaurant and always will while it is so confidently overseen by Executive Chef John Williams and a young star in Head Chef Spencer Metzger.