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 Hotel has a long history. It was opened in 1906 by Swiss hotelier César Ritz after his initial solo hotel venture The Carlton Hotel on Pall Mall (which opened in 1898). These days the public spaces of the Ritz are very grand, impeccably decorated with plenty of formally dressed staff. The dining room is at the back of the hotel as you enter: you walk past the constantly packed tea room to get to the restaurant.

The dining room itself is impressive, with very high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows to match, overlooking the Ritz’s Italian garden and Green Park itself. Everything is opulent, from the thick carpets through to the painted ceiling and grand murals, to the stone statues. Such is the scale of the room I didn’t even notice a grand piano in one corner: 100 diners can be seated at capacity. The bone china on which the food is served was specially commissioned for the Ritz. This is very much a formal dining room, and one of the last places in London to insist on a jacket and tie for men.

Chef John Williams (MBE) has been overseeing the kitchen since 2004, after long stints at The Berkeley Hotel and Claridges following training at Au Crocodile in Strasbourg. A team of around 16 chefs serves the main dining room. The menu was £48 for three courses, which seemed to me quite modest, though the a la carte is pricy: starters £18 - £27, main courses £37 - £49, so sticking with the menus is probably the way to go. The cooking is very classical, and the menu full of appealing dishes with luxury ingredients.

The wine list was extensive and features fine growers, but was very heavily marked up in all but obscure parts of the list. Egon Muller Riesling Scharzhofberger 2009 was fairly priced at £59 for a wine that costs £30 retail, but the lovely Torres Mas la Plana 2004 was heavily marked up at £96 for a wine that you can pick up in the shops for around £22. Things get no kinder as you move to the high end of the list: the divine Vega Sicilia Unico 1991 was £680 for a wine that can be found for around £214 retail. Pinot Gris Schlumberger Kitterle 2005 was £83 compared to a shop price of around £22. The excellent Coche Dury Mersault was £236 for the 2008 compared to a retail price of about £113, whereas the 1999 was a steep £482 compared to a retail price of around £172. It is a real shame that the hotel has dictated such egregious mark-up percentages, as it discourages wine lovers from bothering at all. There is no excuse for Louis Roederer champagne to be charged at £21 a glass, when a whole bottle costs £36 in the shops.



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