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 is a regular haunt of mine. The grand dining room, all marble and gilt and thick carpet, dates back to 1906 and the kitchen is now headed by John Williams and Spencer Metzger. There are quite a few menu choices but we had the surprise (“epicurean”) tasting menu as I usually do; this was priced at £170. A weekday three course menu was £70 and there were other options in between these two, such as a shorter tasting menu at £150 and also £70 vegan and vegetarian menus.

The wine list had 837 labels and ranged in price from £40 to £7,900, with a median price of £200 and an average markup to retail price of 3.1 times, which is actually not bad at all by the standard of restaurants in luxury hotels in London. There were wines from all over the world, 62% were from France but with offerings from as far afield as Brazil, Turkey, Armenia, Canada, Croatia and Japan. A tenth of the list was under £75, and that gives you 83 bottles to choose from, with a further 109 bottles between £75 and £100. Intriguingly, there were 31 wines below their current market value in the high street. Many of these were high end Burgundies whose price has gone crazy in recent times, but not all e.g. Ladoix Domaine Prieure Roch 2012 was £180 for a bottle that the Wine Searcher database lists at £290, which reflects the real price at a couple of shops that I checked. In general, sample references were Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2020 at £50 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £17, The Gem Pinot Noir 2011 was £75 compared to its retail price of £25, and the very enjoyable Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2020 was £100 for a wine that will set you back £38 in the high street. For those with the means there was Antinori “Cervaro della Sala” Castello della Sala 2015 at £205 compared to its retail price of £133, and Ridge “Montebello” 2015 at £390 for a wine whose current market value is £236. Fully 17% of the list is from Italy, which perhaps reflects the tastes of head sommelier Giovanni Ferlito.

This meal began with two familiar and one new canape. Ragstone cheese mousse with wood-roast pepper and a garnish of basil was silky smooth as always. Similarly, the duck liver parfait with sour cherry and yoghurt was excellent, the acidity of the cherry cutting through the richness of the liver. New to me was beef tartare tartlet covered with a crème fraiche and a layer of oscietra caviar. The beef was excellent and nicely seasoned, the caviar high quality and the pastry delicate (18/20 canapes).

Native lobster was cooked in a court bouillon, taken from its shell and then warmed in clarified butter. This came with an array of tomatoes macerated in olive oil, with a tomato consommé dressing made from the same tomatoes and finished with basil oil. The lobster was tender and the tomatoes had lovely flavour (18/20).

Langoustine a la nage is a signature dish here, very large Scottish langoustine tails poached in butter and resting on a base of cauliflower puree, Cornish vegetables, fennel and broad bean flowers, the dish finished at the table with a creamy seafood nage garnished with herbs. The langoustines had lovely sweetness, just lightly cooked, with the hint of bitterness of the fennel as balance, the vegetables complementing the shellfish and balancing the creamy richness of the sauce (19/20). 

Turbot fillet came from a very large 8kg fish and was seasoned with a light curry salt, then seared in the pan until golden, turned over and cooked in lemon butter with rosemary and bay leaf. This was garnished with a cucumber fondant filled with creamed leeks wakame seaweed, crème fraiche and chives. On the side was confit Jersey Royal potato with oscietra caviar and beetroot crisp, the dish finished with a vermouth sauce and dill oil. The turbot had excellent flavour and went very well with the garnishes, the vermouth sauce pleasantly light. Perhaps the fish could have been cooked a few seconds less, but this was still a fine dish (17/20).

Chawanmushi with Parmesan and truffles followed. Truffle jelly was made by cooking wild black truffles to extract their flavour. The egg custard was made with milk, kombu, cream and Parmesan, whisked with 36-month aged Parmesan foam and truffle sauce. The black truffles were from western Australia (it is winter there so just in season) and had excellent fragrance, while the tremendous umami depth of flavour from the savoury custard and Parmesan in this dish was remarkable. On the side were gorgeous gruyeres and truffle gougeres. An essentially flawless dish (20/20). 

The main course today was Bresse duck from Merial, a top supplier in Bresse. The skin is stuffed with hay to dry age the duck for five days. The duck is then scored and rendered in a hot pan to remove the fat and crispen the skin, and the bird then roasted in the oven. It is then brushed with honey and finished with toasted coriander, fennel seeds, cracked timut (Sichuan) pepper pickled lavender, thyme and pink peppercorns. The meat is served with mini apricot tarte tatin, caramelized almonds and baby turnips, a rich duck sauce and pomme souffle potatoes on the side. This was a very impressive dish, the duck of impeccable quality and cooked beautifully, the apricot providing some balancing acidity and the pommes souffle light and crisp (19/20). 

A pre-dessert was mango and coconut with vanilla crème Chantilly, diced mango and fresh passion fruit, along with coconut sorbet, all covered by a delicate tuile. This was pretty and refreshing, just as a pre-dessert should be (18/20). This was followed by Kentish strawberries with custard and caramelised almonds. Vanilla custard mousse rested on a light joconde sponge, topped with strawberry jelly and almonds with fresh strawberries. This was a lovely summer dessert, the sponge airy as a cloud, the strawberries having good flavour and the custard mousse having plenty of vanilla flavour (18/20). Petit fours were also excellent, comprising vanilla macaroon, dark chocolate, a raspberry and custard tart and almond and hazelnut praline.

Service was excellent. I was being taken here to celebrate a friend’s birthday, but a typical cost per person might be around £130 if you went a la carte. Given the very high-quality ingredients used here, the technical skill and the grandeur of the surrounding this does not seem that much. There are tasting menus in London now priced at more than twice the level here but with barely a fraction of the luxury ingredients, or indeed the level of culinary expertise to be found here.


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 | 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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  • Peter Duckworth

    Ate here recently for our wedding anniversary, after your glowing reviews, and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. We had the full tasting menu. Sumptuous surroundings and exquisite food made it the finest dining I have ever experienced in London. The taste of the incredible veal sweetbread dish will linger in my memory for a very long time.

  • Gareth Johns

    Good to see my old stamping grounds keeping up the standards, well done Chef Williams and team!