Friday, March 09, 2007

Two London's in one day

Today I jetted off from London to enjoy a fabulous meal in London. That is I flew from London Heathrow to New York JFK and went straight to Gordon Ramsay at the London, and despite the somewhat diva-ish some say crazy prospect of flying all the way to New York for one night for a meal, the resultant jet lag was worth it.

I arrived before A, N and bump – well they had a more troublesome journey from New Jersey than I had! I furnished myself with their finest Kir Imperial and made myself comfortable in the bar. On arrival, the receptionist kindly informed them that J was “waiting and sparkling in the bar” – as every diva should!

Here are some pictures of how fabulous the food would have looked if I'd been able to photograph my dishes with any light at all. You can see the elegantly ridged fine bone china, the design of which Gordon collaborated with Royal Doulton on. I think you MIGHT spot the difference between these and my own humble photographs!

After a brief aperitif we were escorted to the hallowed inner sanctum of the fine dining room to commence our much anticipated feast. Our maitre d’ was the lovely Jean-Baptiste Requien that we all recognised from Hell’s Kitchen and the F word. We had already decided that barring any bump-intolerant food we’d all have the menu prestige and so began our epic epicurean journey.

The restaurant is not extravagantly decorated but understated and ever so sophisticated, the metallic wall panels shimmer in an art deco way but the style is very now and much to my chagrin the lights are very dim – just fatal for food photography! The most vibrant part of the scheme were the obligatory red neon fire exit signs which were reflected the dining room. It did give it an interesting red accent which can be seen in the photo of the glass plate of bonbons. It did make me wonder if that’s why the lights were so ‘atmospheric’, would more dramatic lighting have bounced all over the room reflected in the panels and given the impression you were eating in a très chic fairground hall of mirrors. My London hairdresser assures me that this was all designed by a friend of a friend who also designed Madonna’s “crib”! The elegant dining room serves 15 covers so is pleasingly intimate without feeling at all crowded. We were most intrigued by the chairs, your standard elegant upholstered chair with the hidden surprise being that they could swivel in any direction affording a fine view of our refined surroundings. N was terribly impressed with hers and would have happily requested a doggy bag for it.

My usual anti-tomato stance was duly noted so after our first silken chicken foie gras and toast and tasty miniature onion and bacon tart we were given a blt and a beetroot crisp “sandwich” for the tomato hater. The blt was the star, a bacon and onion cream, chilled lettuce velouté, tomato gelée which I am assured was just the essence of a blt and the sensation of eating a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich which actually consuming one.

I had the less dramatic but very lovely marinated beetroot, ricotta, pine nut and Cabernet Sauvignon dressing which had the thinnest of beetroot crisps that shattered pleasingly when forked and then deliciously mingled with the ricotta and dressing.

The excessive anticipation had not been to no avail and despite the poorly lit photos; you can see we feasted on course after course of perfection. And that’s what Gordon excels in, beautifully presented, perfectly executed, and magnificently tasting sublime food - just heaven!

Next we tucked into a pressed foie gras and game with port sauce and pickled mushrooms. It is such a shame that the fabulous jewel like qualities of the little vegetable and purée accompaniments have been lost in translation. But they tasted wonderful and we had great fun identifying each one, a point to a jet-lagged J for picking out the little tiny dollops of puréed cauliflower. Just delicious!

Next we had one of Gordon’s signature dishes lobster ravioli with fennel cream and shellfish vinaigrette, though I’m fairly sure our menu actually said lobster tortellini. Whichever it is we enjoy a fat and silky soft pasta filled with succulent lobster with a very tasty sauce.

Here my menu goes even more wayward; I asked our waitress if we could have a menu to take away as it saves a lot of furious scribbling of courses. I was duly supplied with a folder of press-pack information on the opening and all the menus but ever so curiously not the actual menu we had. Almost but not quite!

Because we definitely had fish – possible cod sat astride some sort of Basque pepper mixture but the menu refers to striped bass with pak choi and caviar velouté but I know there was pepper. And the reason I’m sure about this is pepper is not an ingredient I am partial to as I always think they’re going to be squeaky, slimy and pervade my whole meal. And they invariably do- until now! Maybe I’ve hit the nail on the head. Years ago when I first read Jeffrey Steingarten’s “The Man who Ate Everything” I was impressed to read that his first task in 1989 on being appointed as food critic to American Vogue was to make his own black list of food phobia and develop a six-step program to eliminate them one-by-one. His technique for this was to find the most exemplary example of each “bête noir” and with continued exposure and each of the food stuffs being consumed in the best possible light he would finally find the good in each. And sure enough after six months of tracking down the finest exponent of each despised substance he was able to declare himself the perfect omnivore. Obviously when I first read this it gave me considerable food for thought, would I be able to take on such a gigantean task? My list is rather extensive, (see right) and I’ve spent many years studiously avoiding them. Could I ever learn to love a tomato? Maybe the answer is to get Gordon to cast his Michelin starred wand over each evil food and maybe, just maybe I could join the tomato adoring, goat cheese enjoying, curry worshipping masses – hmmm, I rather shudder at the thought! Maybe one day… but I’m not sure I have room in my life for such substances. But at least for tonight I enjoyed some peppers.

After that diatribe there’s little doubt which I plumped for our of a choice of mains of roast cannon of lamb with candied onions, confit tomatoes and marjoram jus or loin of venison with beetroot fondant, parsnip purée, creamed ceps and bitter chocolate sauce. Yes you’re right, I tucked into a stunning juicy venison loin with an accompanying little silver sauce spoon so I could savour every last drop of the delicious chocolate sauce.

It’s rare that I eschew cheese in a tasting menu but time and jet lag weren’t really on my side but the alternative – the palate cleansing roasted pineapple with crystallized cilantro (ugh, coriander in disguise) was actually zingy, refreshing and just perfect after the meat.

And then we had a soufflé – an apricot soufflé with Amaretto ice cream. What surprised us was it was quite an impressive size for a tasting menu – and just so light, cloud-like and melt in the mouth and was very good indeed.

And now there was nothing left to have some coffee, tea and to avail ourselves of the extraordinarily imposing and captivating bonbon trolley. This was a multilayered trolley stacked high with every gorgeous sweetmeat you can think of. There was dark chocolate with mouth-watering liquid mint centres, crunchy golden honeycomb, airy macaroons of every flavour and hue, a curious stained glass raspberry confection called a confoundment (possibly not called that actually!), intriguing Clanger shaped chocolate cones, boiled sweets, little crystallised ginger titbits… and so many, many more. We were the last in the restaurant so we thought we should select a few of the most delectable and then take up their ever so kind offer of a tour of the kitchens. I think we were possible the only to have this honour and enjoyed seeing the gleaming metal surfaces the night staff buzzing around (either setting up the mis en place for tomorrow’s service or preparing room service for the London hotel) There’s also a prestigious eight seat chef’s table to enjoy the culinary masterpieces in the heart of the kitchen.

I was trying to find an "if only..." to ensure my review didn't turn into gush-fest but other than personally craving more light so the photographs may have lived up to the food I can't find anything amiss. All the staff were so lovely, they made no attempt to chivvy us along though as we finally stood up from our table to explore the kitchen after every other diner had left we were informed that British diners took longer to eat than their American counterparts. They are extremely knowledgeable and can answer any queries about ingredients, provenance etcetera. As well as being extraordinarily well fed you feel cosseted nay thoroughly spoilt throughout the entire evening and don't really want to go back into the real world again.

I’m not sure that there are enough superlatives for Gordon Ramsay’s New York venture, I hope Michelin do the right thing by them later this year. I will be watching you Michelin!
I am awarding three utterly sublime forks with the addition of removing the esteemed a
nd highly coveted diamond encrusted fork from Tom Aiken and awarding it instead to much worthier Gordon Ramsay at the London, it truly deserves to be my most supreme restaurant experience. Get a reservation if you can and go to London! You won't regret it I can assure you.

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