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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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This was my first visit here after the winter pandemic lockdown. The dining room is as magnificent as ever, with its gilt, marble, mirrors and thick carpet, and tables are more spaced than in the past, the huge room now serving seventy people at capacity. There are assorted menus at the Ritz but I usually let the kitchen surprise me with whatever is best at the time of year. A five course tasting menu was priced at £105 and a seven course one was £125. A three course lunch menu cost £60 at the time of writing. 

The meal began with a few familiar nibbles. Ragstone cheese mousse was served on a tuile base and had silky texture and full flavour. Duck liver parfait, sour cherry and yoghurt was beautifully balanced, the acidity of the cherry cutting through the richness of the parfait. Making up the trio was my favourite coronation chicken wrapped in a cylindrical sugar tuile, whose filling has a lovely gentle spice that works nicely with the crisp texture of the tuile case (18/20 nibbles). The sourdough bread made here, incidentally, now has an improved recipe and is lighter than it used to be.

Native lobster from Cornwall was tender and came with tomato consommé, basil emulsion and dehydrated Sicilian Datterini tomatoes. Alongside this were new season French almonds, roasted red pepper tuiles, fennel fronds and flowers, basil leaves and flowers and finally a lobster tuile made from reduced lobster stock and dried tomato powder.  This was a pretty dish, and the tomatoes had excellent flavour, while the lobster was fine, though for me a lobster can never really compete in flavour with a langoustine (17/20). 

This was followed by roasted veal sweetbread from the Netherlands, glazed in Madeira and surrounded by a ring of Wye valley asparagus cooked in a butter emulsion. This was accompanied by pea puree, French morels that had been cooked in a chicken consommé with butter, girolle mushrooms cooked in foaming butter with thyme, Perigord truffle. There were actually two sauces, one poured on each side of the sweetbread: truffle sauce and aerated aged Parmesan sauce. The sweetbread was a thing of beauty, with superbly light texture and delicate flavour, the rich Madeira and the sauces nicely balanced by the asparagus, while the morels were lovely. This was top class cooking, and you would be delighted if this turned up in a three-star restaurant in Paris. The only thing I would do to enhance this dish would be to use the wonderful asparagus from Vaucluse, but that is about the only thing that separates this dish from perfection (19/20).

Cannelloni of wild mushroom contained a mixture of king oyster mushrooms, girolles and chestnut mushrooms bound in a mushroom puree with diced celeriac, all wrapped in celeriac. This came with grilled girolles, salt baked celeriac and mushroom and celeriac puree, along with wild mushroom sauce with Madeira and soy cream. The pasta had delicate flavour and the earthy celeriac went really well with the woodland flavour of the mushrooms and the rich sauce (18/20).

Cornish turbot was cooked in a bath of beurre noisette and served with herb emulsion with a vermouth sauce finished with peeled grapes. The turbot had a “mother of pearl” sheen that is a sign of very precise cooking, the fillet coming from a very large fish and having excellent flavour. The sauce was light and the grapes brought their acidity to make the dish feel refreshing rather than heavy (18/20).

Pigeon from Anjou in south east France was prepared with the help of the grand silver duck press that the Ritz possesses. The pigeon was brined, caramelised until golden, then roasted and glazed in reduced chicken consommé. The bird was carved at the table, the breast set aside and then the pigeon carcass crushed in the press to provide rich juices that were flambeed in a red wine sauce with Armagnac and green peppercorns. The pigeon was served alongside hen of the woods mushroom, wild garlic flowers and sweet cicely, along with French white asparagus. The pigeon was beautifully cooked and had superb flavour, and the white asparagus was extremely impressive, precisely cooked and working nicely as a contrast to the rich sauce. On the side were superbly light and crisp souffle potatoes (18/20). A vegetarian alternative main course was also lovely, incidentally. Courgette flowers were filled with spiced cous cous, Kalamata olives and tomatoes, confit aubergine that had been barbecued on a Japanese grill, along with courgette puree and piquillo pepper compote. Some restaurants treat vegetarian dishes as something an afterthought, but this not only looked beautiful but the single taste that I tried was impressive. 

A miniature lemon tart had excellent pastry but for me could have had more lemon in the filling. I think it is difficult to get the balance of a lemon tart right if it is not full sized. This was still very nice but I think could be improved (16/20). Better was a dessert of wild gariguette strawberries from France. This dish had a vanilla tart shell filled with strawberry jam, vanilla sponge and wild strawberry, with a strawberry and chocolate disk, a strawberry mousse dome with an insert of wild strawberry, as well as vanilla and white chocolate ganache, strawberry jelly, vanilla custard, wild strawberry sorbet, almond crumble and strawberry gel with a garnish of Atsina cress. This was an elaborate dish of many elements, but they worked together extremely harmoniously, with the strawberries having excellent flavour (19/20). The final dessert was a relatively simple but dazzlingly effective chocolate souffle with vanilla ice cream. Over the years I have tried a lot of souffles, and it is a skilled job to get the texture right all the way through from the edge to the centre. This version, which intriguingly had a rice pudding base, had superbly even and feather light texture all the way through, with rich chocolate flavour that was complemented by superb chantilly cream.  I thought for a while about how this could be improved or whether I had eaten a better chocolate souffle and concluded that I had never encountered a better one (20/20).

Alongside petit fours there is now a choice of herbal teas or coffee. The tea is presented on a trolley with various plants, with leaves snipped off the plants to order to be used as the infusion. Coffee today was a choice of Colombian and Ethiopian arabica from a supplier called Carnival in south east London. The petit fours comprised salted caramel bon bon, passion fruit pate de fruits, ark chocolate, almond and hazelnut praline and a sophisticated take on a Jammy dodger. Service was silky smooth throughout, and the bill came to £214 per person in total before tip. The Ritz has been on fine form for a long time now, and it is great to see it back on such fine form after the long pandemic lockdown.

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Further reviews: 22nd Oct 2021 | 14th Oct 2021 | 25th Jun 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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