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 dining room being a gem of a room dating back to 1906 and liberally decorated with gold leaf, mirrors, fine marble and carpet so thick that you could sink into it, seating up to 65 guests. The kitchen, led by executive chef John Williams and head chef Spencer Metzger, is a vast affair, with seventy chefs when it is fully staffed. This scale allows some extremely time-consuming and laborious dishes to be constructed, such as old school classical French sauces. No fewer than thirteen pastry chefs work here under head pastry chef Lewis Wilson, and the level of precision is clear from the photos of the dishes. There were various menu options, starting with a three-course set menu at £70, and tasting menus either £150 or £170, with optional wine pairings. We opted for the most ambitious of the menus.

The meal today began with a trio of canapes. Ragstone goat cheese mousse with wood-roast pepper topped with a little basil rested on a sable biscuit base. The mousse had silky texture, the biscuit base being very delicate. Duck liver parfait came with sour cherry and yoghurt, the richness of the duck liver nicely cut through by the acidity of the fruit. Crab tartlet was flavoured with Granny Smith apple and grapes, with the apple a nice balance for the natural sweetness of the crab (18/20 canapes).

Native lobster with tomato and basil was the first formal course. Native lobster was cooked in a court bouillon until tender, then removed from its shell and warmed in clarified butter. Datterini tomatoes from Sicily were blanched, peeled, dehydrated and then rehydrated in an aromatic tomato essence infused with anise hyssop, fresh coriander seeds and basil. The dish was finished with a tomato consommé dressing made with macerated tomatoes and finished with basil oil. This was a lovely dish, the lobster very tender, and with some real culinary magic being applied to extract so much flavour from the tomatoes (18/20).

Ballotine of duck liver is a classic French dish, served here with cherry and pistachio yoghurt and a tiny salad. The foie gras was top quality produce from Castelnau Chalosse in the Landes region in the southwest of France, from the highly regarded supplier Philippe Andignac. The liver had been marinated in port, Sauternes and Armagnac for 24 hours before being rolled out with a port and spice reduction. It was wrapped in a spiced port jelly and preserved cherry gel and then served with the pistachio yoghurt and micro salad. The pistachios were top quality ones from Bronte in Sicily and appeared in a delicate Bakewell tartlet served alongside. This is a visually quite simple dish but the flavour is top notch, the texture of the ballotine remarkably smooth, the richness of the liver balanced by the acidity of the cherry and the soothing yoghurt. This was accompanied by lovely toasted brioche (19/20).

Langoustine a la nage is a signature dish here. Large langoustine tails from the coast of Scotland were poached in butter and served on a base of cauliflower puree, Cornish vegetables and fennel and broad bean flowers from Merseyside. The shellfish were of impeccable quality, their natural sweetness enhanced by the creamy sauce and balanced by the fresh vegetables. This is a glorious dish, making the most of a top notch ingredient (19/20).

Wild sea bass from Cornwall was pan-fried and then roasted in the oven to get a crisp skin, served with courgettes, broad beans and a Menton lemon puree. The dish was finished with a saffron aioli and bouillabaisse sauce. The fish was carefully cooked and the sauce worked very well, having a gentle bite from the use of a touch of pimento (17/20). Egg custard (chawanmushi) was topped with black truffle and Parmesan. The truffles were the new season winter truffles from Australia and had very good fragrance. On the side were superb Gruyere gougeres topped with a sliver of black truffle, the choux pastry piped out neatly and having lovely texture, flavoured with the richness of the cheese and lifted by the delicate scent of truffle. The egg custard dish starts with by cooking the wild truffles to extract their flavour into a truffle cuisson jelly. The egg custard is made with milk, kombu, cream and Parmesan, whisked with 36-month aged Parmesan foam, topped with slivers of black truffle and served with a little truffle sauce. The depth of flavour of this dish is quite remarkable, the custard as light as a cloud but permeated by the intoxicating flavours of Parmesan and truffle (20/20).

Cutlet of Suffolk lamb (a breed dating back to the 18th century, this particular sheep being raised in Dorset) was the final savoury course, served with Roscoff onion, English peas and mint. The lamb had been aged for ten days or so, and was roasted in a pan and then finished in the oven. On the side was Boulangere potato, the strips of potato rolled tightly to create a spiral and then cooked in lamb stock flavoured with garlic and rosemary butter. The cutlet was served with diced lamb sweetbread and lamb tongue that had been slow-cooked and mixed with chicken mousse and then stuffed inside late season morel mushrooms. Finally, there was a mint emulsion and Roscoff onion puree to accompany the meat and its jus. The lamb had superb flavour, and the morels with their stuffing were also excellent. Mint is a classic accompaniment for lamb, the peas had plenty of flavour and the classy potatoes complemented the meat nicely (strong 18/20).

Pre-dessert was Kent strawberry with white chocolate, with strawberry ice cream and vanilla Chantilly covered by a lattice tuile. The fruit flavour came through well and the tuile was delicate as well as decorative (18/20). The main dessert was a visually spectacular chocolate and hazelnut sphere. A hazelnut praline centre was encased in a hazelnut mousse, which in turn was encased in a chocolate mousse. This was glazed with dark chocolate and a coating of roasted hazelnuts with decorative gold leaf. Separately there was hazelnut praline, milk chocolate cremeux and hazelnut “brisket”, accompanied by milk ice cream. This dish tasted as good as it looked, the nuts combining beautifully with the dark chocolate, the milk ice cream providing some balancing relief to the richness. The sphere itself was lovely to eat in itself and worked well with the lovely praline at the centre of the dish. This was an impressive dish (19/20), one inspired by a creation of former (and sadly now departed from this life) pastry chef Laurent Jeannin at Le Bristol in Paris.

Petit fours were also classy, comprising salted caramel macaron, dark chocolate, almond and hazelnut praline and a little raspberry and custard tart. Without doubt The Ritz has one of the most accomplished pastry sections in the UK. Service was terrific, the waiters attentive yet unobtrusive. The bill came to £285 per person all in, with the food being £170. If you went for the shortest menu then you could easily eat here for £130 all in. When you consider the very high-grade ingredients used here and the level of technical skill involved, this is not a very expensive menu price, especially if you compare it with some other high end dining rooms around the UK, which at the moment are frequently using some distinctly ordinary and far from luxurious ingredients in their highly priced tasting menus. This was a superb meal from a kitchen operating at a very high level. There is not a single restaurant in London cooking better food than this at the moment.


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 | 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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