The Ritz has the grandest dining room in London, all marble, gilt and a carpet so thick you almost sink into it. The hotel opened in 1906, with no less than the legendary Auguste Escoffier as its opening chef. The large kitchen brigade is headed today by executive chef John Williams, who trained at The Royal Garden Hotel, then at Claridges and The Berkeley before moving here in 2004. He has transformed the standard of cooking here, with Michelin belatedly awarding a star in the 2017 guide, long after The Ritz had been cooking at that level and beyond.
My latest meal here began with excellent gougeres made with three-year aged Comte cheese. The choux pastry was neatly piped and the Comte flavour came through very well, the gougeres still warm. I am not sure there is a better way to start a meal than with a gougere. As a further nibble was a cylinder of brik pastry filled with beef tartare topped with Savora mustard emulsion. This was lovely, the gentle heat of the mustard enlivening the tartare, the crisp pastry providing a textural contrast. There was also the signature Coronation chicken cylinder, which has been refined over time to remove the slight sweetness that this amuse-bouche once had. Now it tastes purely savoury and has excellent filling. The array of canapés was completed by Ragstone cheese mousse filled with wood-roasted black pepper compote and a basil espuma, topped with a basil leaf. These were top class nibbles (18/20).
Norfolk crab came with avocado puree, a layer of ginger and apple jelly, white crab meat seasoned with chives and creme fraiche, Granny Smith Apple foam and a quenelle of oscietra caviar along with a delicate crab tuile. This was a pretty dish where the apple nicely complemented the crab, though I wondered whether actually cutting back on the caviar might improve the dish further, allowing the crab to come more to the fore (17/20).
This was followed by duck liver ballotine with port, cherry gel, cherry purée and a natural yoghurt emulsion, with a garnish of cress and wild woodruff. On the side was toasted brioche and pistachio cake with pistachio yoghurt and spices topped with pistachio and cherry purée. The ballotine had silky texture and deep liver flavour, the acidity of the cherry nicely cutting through the richness (easily 18/20).
The star dish was native lobster that had been cooked over imported Japanese bincho charcoal. This was served with pea and verbena purée, beans, lemon verbena gel and a lobster sauce made using the lobster shells as well as chicken stock and cream. Lobster is a tricky ingredient to really excel with, but here it was beautifully cooked, and the vegetables with it were top notch. The sauce was glorious, rich and deeply flavoured (19/20).
The fish course was roasted wild sea bass from a large 5kg specimen, served with courgette and basil purée, baby courgettes cooked in olive oil, artichokes cooked in olive oil, basil leaf, fennel flowers and fronds. This all came with a sauce made from slow-cooked Menton lemon blended with sugar, carrots and orange. The fish itself was top notch, having great flavour and being precisely cooked. I also like the vegetables, but the sauce had a touch of sweetness that I am not sure was the best airing for the fish (still 17/20, but I would have nudged the score up another point with a different sauce).
The main course was veal, served with green asparagus from France, morel mushrooms, veal cheek cooked with cima di rapa (turnip tops), wild garlic, capers and a wild garlic emulsion. Sauces are a strong point at The Ritz, and this dish came with two. A rich Madeira sauce was complemented by a blanquette sauce of reduced veal stock and cream. The contrasting sauces went well with the delicate veal, and the vegetables meant that the dish was not excessively rich (17/20).
Pre dessert was yoghurt panna cotta with strawberry purée, diced gariguette strawberries, almond crumble, strawberry sorbet, vanilla sable, wild Spanish strawberry and a garnish of Atsina cress as well as a honey tuile. This was refreshing and had plenty of fruit flavour, the texture of the panna cotta suitably silky (18/20).
The main dessert was an almond tart with diced pear, poached pear that had been cooked with vanilla and star anise, a layer of almond frangipani, caramelised pear, almond biscuit, salted caramel ice cream and a tuile, all resting in crème Anglaise sauce. This was a gorgeous dessert, pretty to look at and with complementary layers of flavour and texture (19/20). The pastry section at The Ritz, led by Lewis Wilson, is without a doubt up there with the very best. Service was slick and the bill came to £87 per person. This was another excellent meal here, reinforcing its standing as one of top few restaurants in the capital. None of the multi-starred restaurants in London are out-performing The Ritz at the moment.
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