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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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In these pandemic times the Ritz dining room is a bastion of stability, with tables spread out even more generously than used to be the case. The handsome dining room with its high ceiling, decorated lavishly with gilt, marble and mirrors, now seats around sixty diners. Your temperature is taken on arrival at the hotel these days, but once you sit down the only reminder of the pandemic is the masked staff. There are numerous menu options here, with a three-course lunch at £55.50 through to a six-course tasting menu at £110 as well as a la carte. I went for a surprise menu, though with one dish that needs to be pre-ordered, as we shall see.

Three canapes started the meal. Coronation chicken in a crisp sugar tuile today had a slight adjustment to the recipe, with a touch of coriander seed. This is a lovely dish, the tuile delicate and the gently spiced chicken filling delicious. Ragstone cheese mousse with wood-roast pepper and basil puree on a Parmesan sable base was lovely as ever, as was duck liver parfait with cherry glaze on a ginger tuile (18/20 canapes).

The next dish was topped by a foam of Granny Smith apple, celery and lovage foam that had been prettily garnished with beach herbs and flowers grown in the rooftop garden of the Ritz. Tucked away underneath the foam was Norfolk crab mixed with mayonnaise, chervil, diced celery and apple with Espelette pepper from northern France, along with avocado puree and croutons. This was a lovely dish, the crab being of particularly high quality, the acidity of the apple and earthiness of the celery being an excellent balance to the natural sweetness of the crab (18/20). 

Ballotine of duck liver with damson and pistachio used high quality foie gras from Landes in the south west of France. This was marinated in port, Sauternes and Armagnac for 24 hours and then rolled out with a port and spice reduction, and finally wrapped in a spiced port jelly. This was served with damson gel, pistachio yoghurt and gingerbread tuile, as well as toasted brioche. The texture of the ballotine was silky and had deep, rich liver flavour, the acidity of the damson cutting through the richness. This was really superb (19/20). 

This was followed by savoury egg custard with truffle and 36-month aged Parmesan. The truffle caisson jelly is made with port, madeira and Australian black truffles, the egg custard infused with kombu and aged Parmesan rind. This was topped with Parmesan foam and accompanied by gougeres filled with Parmesan and truffle cream. As I have written before, this is a remarkable dish with great intensity of flavour from the Parmesan and truffles, and the soft texture of the custard is a delight (20/20).

Dover sole from Cornwall was stuffed with a mushroom duxelle and bound with a fish mousse and tarragon. To add to this was a puree of ceps, field and button mushrooms, along with a garnish of green grapes, sea fennel and tarragon. This all rested in a champagne sauce with razor clams, dulce seaweed, chervil, tarragon and chives. This dish was inspired by a couple of classical dishes: Sole bonne femme involves mushrooms and sole Veronique has grapes. The dish here has both these elements, together with sea herbs and the razor clams. The sauce was superb and the mushrooms worked very well with it. The fish itself could for me have been cooked just a little less, but the flavour of the fish itself was excellent (16/20).

The main course was pressed duck, a dish made famous at Tour d’Argent in Paris (and which must be pre-ordered a week ahead here). Here at The Ritz the dish is elevated to an even higher level than at Tour d’Argent through the use of a superior quality duck. They use Bresse duck from Mieral, a prestigious poultry supplier of that region that dates back to 1919 and was long used by Paul Bocuse, amongst others. The duck was cooked whole and then broken up at the table. The breast is served and the legs are taken away to reappear as a second serving. The rest of the carcass is then put in the duck press. This silver contraption is then gradually tightened so that the juices and blood of the duck are squeezed out. These are made into a sauce with peppercorns that is flambeed at the table, and then enriched with a little foie gras. This sauce is presented with the breast, and served alongside a plate of seasonal vegetables and pommes souffle. If you are used to eating duck in the UK then the flavour of this Bresse duck is a revelation – it is superior in every way. Here it was beautifully cooked and the peppercorns lifted the rich sauce, which was balanced by the green vegetables. The pommes souffle, incidentally, were exceptional today, as light and crisp as it is possible to imagine. If you were desperate to find something to criticise then perhaps the duck confit as the second service is a bit of an anti-climax after the main serving, but what could really follow that flawless, glorious duck breast and its sauce? This was simply fabulous (20/20).

Pre-dessert was a refreshing blackberry and lemon dish, a puff pastry wafer with blackberries poached in a light syrup and crème de Mure liquer, topped with a sugar tuile filled with lemon sorbet. This was lovely, pastry delicate, the fruit having good flavour and the acidity of the lemon providing just what was needed after the richness of the duck (18/20).

The final dessert was an elaborate Amadei chocolate mousse with hazelnuts and tonka beans. This involved a salted caramel base, a chocolate sable, chocolate mousse with almond praline and chocolate sponge centre, all covered in a dark chocolate spray that was dipped in a chocolate glaze. This came with chocolate cremeux, a chocolate tuile, caramelised almonds covered in chocolate, almonds dipped in caramel and vanilla ice cream. This was an elaborate and lovely dessert to finish a fine meal, the richness of the chocolate complemented by the various textures of the dish, and balanced by the ice cream (19/20). 

Service was superbly professional, and the bill came to £261 per person before service including wine. If you shared a modest bottle of wine and went for three courses and coffee then you could eat for much less of course, with £125 being a realistic average all in cost per person. This was a particularly good meal even by the Ritz’s high standards, with several really dazzling dishes. No kitchen in the UK is currently cooking better food than here, which makes its solitary Michelin star particularly ludicrous. The Ritz shows off classical French cooking skills at its very best, with around 45 chefs preparing the labour-intensive dishes. This is a lovely place to sit back and be pampered, and be transported, albeit briefly, to what seems like a faraway time and place that is altogether better than the plague-ridden reality in which we live at present.

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Further reviews: 25th May 2021 | 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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