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 has perhaps the grandest dining room in London, dating back to 1906, and is the last restaurant in London to require a jacket and tie for gentlemen. The room has splendid mirrors, pink marble and gilt, so dressing up a little seems entirely appropriate. Executive chef John Williams has transformed the kitchen over his long tenure here, and even Michelin grudgingly granted a star some years ago, long after The Ritz was outperforming London’s multi-starred venues. For more on history and the lengthy, well put together but not bargain-laden wine list see my previous previews.

As usual I opted for the surprise tasting menu. At the beginning of the meal, we were shown a display of the venison that would appear later, as well as the live langoustines that would also feature in our long lunch. Canapes were a sphere of Ragstone goat cheese mousse with wood-roast pepper and basil, as well as duck liver parfait with sour cherry and yoghurt. These are an effective contrasting pair of canapes, with the liver providing a strong, deep flavour with acidity from the cherry, contrasting with the milder flavour of the goat cheese from Kent. My favourite canape is the coronation chicken wrapped in a cylindrical sugar tuile, the gentle spices working beautifully with the restrained sweetness of the crisp tuile wrapper (18/20 canapes).

Today the Scottish langoustines were exceptionally large, around 400g each in weight, which to give a sense of perspective is about eight times larger than is typical. These had dazzling sweetness, the tails lightly poached in butter and presented with a beautifully balanced bronze fennel nage sauce, resting on a cauliflower puree with fennel and broad bean flowers, which are sourced from Merseyside. The shellfish had fabulous flavour and work really well with the hint of earthiness of the cauliflower and the fennel, the nage linking the flavours together (strong 19/20).

Roast troncon (a portion of the fish cut through the backbone) of brill was served with smoked butter and dulce, with herb emulsion and grapes that were dressed with a white verjus (made from grapes just before harvest, which have low sugar and high acidity). The dish was completed by a little celery and a smoked butter beurre blanc sauce, along with wakame seaweed (edible kelp), finger limes and lobster oil. Brill is an excellent fish that resembles turbot though doesn’t grow quite to the same size, and was accurately cooked here, the accompaniments reminiscent of the classic Veronique that is usually associated with sole. (17/20).

I was particularly impressed with Dutch veal sweetbread roasted in butter, garlic, thyme and rosemary then glazed in a rich Madeira sauce. This was accompanied by English kohlrabi that was salt baked and then cooked in a butter emulsion, along with a few Scottish girolles and some dried French morels and Jerusalem artichoke puree. The dish was completed with two sauces, one of black Perigord truffle and the other of aged Parmesan. The sweetbread itself was superb, flawlessly cooked and having lovely light texture, but the key to the dish were the fabulously rich sauces, yet the dish still had sufficient balance due to the earthy kohlrabi and Jerusalem artichokes. These elaborate sauces are rarely to be found in London dining rooms these days, but the Ritz has the resources and the skills to make these fine expressions of classical French cooking (easily 19/20).

The final savoury course was fallow deer from the New Forest, roasted with Douglas Fir and juniper berries, served with pear poached in poire Williams, the dish garnished with chestnut puree and “sauce grand veneur” (huntsman’s sauce). This is another great classical sauce based on a peppery sauce poivrade that is enriched with trimmings from the venison along with carrots, onions and more. The effect is fabulously rich, the acidity of the pear pepper cutting through the rich sauce, the pepper an excellent balance for the lovely venison (18/20). Roast fig was the pre-dessert, the fig having been cooked with spiced vanilla and fig liqueur and served with caramelised almond, fig leaf ice cream and fig leaf oil. This was a very seasonal and enjoyable way to transition through to the final dessert (17/20). The latter was Paris Brest, choux pastry filled with hazelnut mousseline along with caramelised hazelnut, salted caramel and a chocolate crumb with silky smooth vanilla ice cream. This was a classy dessert, the choux pastry excellent and the hazelnut flavour not too strong (18/20). Petit fours were raspberry and custard tart, banana choux bun, vanilla and strawberry shortbread like an impossibly classy Jammy Dodger, and a dark chocolate, almond and hazelnut praline.

Service was attentive and charming, and the bill came to £215 per person, of which £110 was the surprise menu and the rest was drinks and a tip. This was yet another glorious meal here, the kitchen really operating in a high gear at the moment. What I especially enjoy is how the old classical French dishes are respected yet modernised in places, making the most of really top-class ingredients such as the glorious langoustines that appeared today. The Ritz currently serves better food than any of the multi-starred London dining rooms. If you doubt this then consider the current three stars: I just ate at Gordon Ramsay, which has good technical cooking but a reticence to serve high grade luxury ingredients, as shown by the utterly fragrance-free truffle we were given there. Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester has an excellent pastry section but its savoury dishes do not match up. Sketch has a nice room and service and serves enjoyable food, but nowhere near as good as here. Core is technically strong but if you think that their dish of carrot and lamb compare to (say) the pressed pigeon here then you would be mistaken. Helene Darroze is probably the closest these days, but I still preferred the meal today to my recent meal at Darroze. As a further benchmark, having just come back from Paris, the level of cooking at The Ritz compares well to many of the top places in the capital of French dining.


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 | 20th Jul 2022 | 24th Jun 2022 | 15th Apr 2022 | 08th Feb 2022 | 14th Dec 2021 | 06th Dec 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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