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Steve Plotnicki

Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road

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Some business meetings that came up at the last minute, mainly a lunch meeting on Monday brought me to London earlier this week. When I scheduled the lunch, I asked the P.A. of the person I was meeting with to try and get a table at either of the Gordon Ramsey restaurants. When she phoned me the next day to tell me they were booked, and that she had reserved at The Ivy, I was more than a little disappointed. But then good fortune kicked in. I called the restaurant myself about a reservation next month, and I figured I would give it a go and ask for a table for Monday lunch. After a moment of checking, they offered me a table for 1:45. Do they like Americans more than Brits?

I arrived right on time. My table wasn't ready and they sat us in the small waiting area. The place is much smaller than I imagined it. I was also expecting a gruff welcome and cold treatment. From the things you read about the place, it seems like Gordon himself is screaming at everyone as soon as they enter. But they couldn't have been nicer to us. In fact, one would think that they knew me and were welcoming me back. Maybe I was wearing the right suit? I asked for a wine list and poured through the pages for about five minutes while waiting for the table to be ready. The list itself was excellent, with many top choices in every category. But unfortunately it was a bit dear in price, though I have to say it had the requisite "bargains," if one can afford to call 200 pound bottles bargains.

After we sat, they served us a small cup of Pumpkin Soup with Truffle Oil as an Ameuse Geule. A nice warmup. I started with a Salad of Caramelized Sweetbreads which was stunning, showered with some capers that fortunately didn't dominate the dish as they often do. I followed with the Sea Bass steamed in Basil Leaves served on wilted spinach along with some fingerling potatoes that had dots of celeriac puree on them. And the entire dish was painted with dots of caviar. This dish was less successful overall than my starter, though still very good. But the others at the table had Turbot and Shin of Beef which were both excellent. A good cheese cart as well including a very stinky Soumaritine (sp?) from Burgundy. We drank delicious wines, draining both bottles with ease.

1999 Coche-Dury Meursault Perrieres - I am a sucker for Coche’s Perrieres. They are cut with such precision, like they are gems. And the wine sparkles that way too. The 1999 bottling is less fat than prior vintages. Stony and more mineral in style. Not as much lemon custard as the ‘’96 or ’97 bottlings. I know I sound like I’m complaining but it was still gorgeous. As with all young Coche wines, the wine just grows like crazy in the glass. And by the time we had drained the bottle we would have been happy taking it intravenously. 92 points and if this wine picks up weight it will merit a higher score.

1988 Henri Gouges Nuit-St.-George Pruliers - It started out a bit funky. But after about ten minutes the funk blew off and it turned into a delicious little wonder. Lighter in weight than I expected. None of the hard tannins, big acid characteristics of the ‘88’s. Nice Burgundy 90 points

It was a lovely meal. We started at 1:50 and it was well past 4:30 when we left. Nobody hurried us. The place wasn’t at all the way people talk or write about it. They couldn’t have been more accommodating. I could get used to being a regular there if I had to :). I need to go back for dinner as I understand they serve a tasting menu in the evening and that would be the best way to evaluate the place. A three course lunch is a difficult way to get a handle on what a chef is thinking. One more thing, the food was beautifully presented. The dishes were elegant and well organized without being overly fussy and it added to the overall experience.  Score it <b>A-</b> for now, but I anticipate the score to rise a notch after another visit.

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Steve

It sounds almost unrecognisable from the experience I had at Claridges which was one of the most undistinquished of any of my dining out experiences.

You almost make me want to try it again, but at £300 for two, not quite

S

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Simon - You should give it another go. It's worth the punt as they say. I'm usually not impressed by the upper end of restaurants in London like The Square etc. I mean they are fine and all that but I never see what the big deal is about. This was clearly more focused and quite enjoyable as a result. Actually, a trusted source was raving about La Trompette and I have to try it.

Jon - No other freebies I can remember other than an extra dessert which is escaping me at the moment. Unfortunately, I pay much better attention to the food when the occassion is merely social and not a business metting. As for The Ivy, the person I was lunching with has heavy juice there, like he can get a table on 20 minutes notice at a busy time. But it's another place I enjoy going to providing one accepts that they are not trying to win any awards with their food. Yet, I've never had less than an enjoyable meal there.

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Beg borrow or steal the money to visit.  Since eating here last year all meals will be compared to it.  GR may be pratt no. 1 but he sure can cook.

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The problem I have is that at the price, there are so many places I can go to again and know I will get superlative service/food which we simply didn't last time

Whatever my opinions of GR, I would never question his miraculous talent.  He was not in the kitchen the night i went and it showed, but it shouldn't be allowed to

Steve, the lunch sounds better value than the evening tasting menu  (£55).  I am a sucker for these as it is a good way to see what a kitchen/chef can do but here it was almost perfunctory and we both wished we hadn't bothered.

Perhaps they ought to issue a warning when you book your table "Mr Ramsay will/wont be in the kitchen tonight" and you can make your choice accordingly

I suspect it will only get worse as he add the Connaught to his portfolio

S

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I don't know if you meant the warning idea seriously Simon,but I think it is a serious point.

If a restaurant calls itself "Gordon Ramsey" or "John Burton-Race at The Landmark" do punters have a right to expect said chefs to be actually in the kitchen doing the cooking,or at least supervising it? After all,that's what the name of the place and all the attendant publicity would seem to be advertising.

If you go to the theater and the star actor is unable to perform wouldn't you be offered the option of your money back?(maybe not these days,I rarely go to the theatre-too busy eating- but it used to be the case).

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They have approached him about taking over now that the previous chef ( rather excellent, but whose name escapes me for a moment ) had retired.

Tony, I think you are right in part

If you go to a Show called, for example, Pavarotti in Concert, and the great man is ill, or somewhere else performing, they don't wheel out some other fat Italian who can sing but not quite so well and expect you to put up with it.  The same should be the case with Ramsay/Race etc.  I am not expecting them to examine everything that comes off the line, but I do think they need to be in the Kitchen.  Gary Rhodes is I believe in the kitchens at his places in Lonodn every other day.

If you go to a non chef led place just as if you go to see an ensemble theatre piece, it really doesn't matter as long as the replacement is competent.

The real issue is that the person running the kitchen must be able to match up to the exacting standards that have allowed the person to put their name above the door in the first place.  On my, admitedly only, experience at Claridges, that was not the case.

That is why I am so wary of anything that is trading on the name of a star chef i.e Petit Blanc. Shudder!

S

(Edited by Majumdarathome at 12:13 pm on Feb. 7, 2002)

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Tony & Simon - A few bits here. First of all, I don't believe that it is necessary for a name chef to be in the kitchen. But having said that,  in almost every instance where I have been at a name chefs restaurant and he is away, the food hasn't risen to maximum heights. I'm not sure why that is, and I'm not sure how one goes about fixing that. But my best guess is that the things that make one's cooking great are subtle distinctions as well as constant choices that happen spontaneously. I mean for example, if someone on the line butchers the chicken wrong and if the mistake will change something about the dish, there really isn't anyone but Gary Rhodes who can make the decision to use it or to turn it into chicken salad the next day. And I guess it's the same in my business. There are thousands of little decisions where if they were made by others, it would change the complexion of the business. The other thing is, and it is something we all hate but which can't be avoided in todays food world, chefs are brands. They make a lot more money by attaching their names to things than they do from cooking. I wish it wasn't that way but it is.

The problem with Ramsey is that they called the Claridge's restaurant "GR at Claridges" and it doesn't really tell you if it is supposed to be the same as what you get on Royal Hospital Road or different. And everyone assumes, or at least wishes, that it is exactly the same, with less of a hassle to get in. That's why the theme for Claridges should have been completely different from RHR. Like a steakhouse or all seafood.

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I recently told my brother that Ramsay was being lined up to take over at The Connaught when he told me the restaurant manager had become a regular where he chefs.  He then told the restaurant owner (where my brother works) who dismissed my gossip out of hand.

On the managers next visit he brought along Jerome Ponchelle (Bourdin's RH man and current head chef), so the owner made a joke of my comments.  They went down like a lead balloon!  They confirmed the rumours, and I hope I'm not speaking out of turn but they're not happy.

The Connaught is an institution of fine hotel dining and I can only guess that they feel this will be ruined by the "Ramsay" makeover.

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A first.

I am in complete agreement.  JGV ( Jean Georges ) is not someone who has given me any great eating experiences ( even a brief lunch atVong last week was a huge disappointment ) but he knows enough to brand each of his places differently.  JG is the top of the line, Jo Jo's is the bistro, Vong the fusion, JG Prime the steakhouse.  You know whats you get before you set foot in the door

The problem with GR@C's is that he is setting up to offer everything they do at RHH.  The Tasting menus, the style of cooking and most of all the prices, so he must be judged on those standards.  We have had different experiences of Claridges and I may have been on an off night but at £300 for two, you really should not be able to have to experience an off night anywhere.

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Simon - Depending on the size of the restaurant, and his experience their, I wouldn't be surprised to see Claridge's become the main GR restaurant and the RHR location becoming a more casual satelite. Just a hunch I have. But after being at RHR a few weeks back, it is a lovely space and place, but there's no reason he can't be in someplace a bit grander.

As for The Connaught, it was a lovely place to dine. Along with Taillevent, the most civilized dining experience anywhere. But I can understand why they would want to change tacts as the clientele was a bit staid.

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Quote: from Steve Plotnicki on 1:17 pm on Feb. 7, 2002

But after being at RHR a few weeks back, it is a lovely space and place, but there's no reason he can't be in someplace a bit grander.

Steve -- For me, RHR , with its glass effects and muted lighting, is more pleasing than the spacious dining room at Claridge's.  But I generally prefer smaller restaurant areas.  I do like, however, the old mirrors with designs on the edges of the reflecting surface and the height of the ceiling at Claridge's.  One reason GR may want to keep RHR as the three-star restaurant is that the two-seating-per-meal policy is better retained at Claridge's from a profit maximization perspective.

Sometimes I feel I would rather take a meal at Claridge's than RHR.  I know the Claridge's kitchen will be fast, to accommodate the two services, and the facility is open on weekends.  Perhaps wrongly, I do not feel the need to dress up as much as I would for RHR.  However, I vaguely remember reading that GR has video cameras watching diners at Claridge's.  A bit intrusive, although this practice may be shared by certain NYC establishments.

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Cabrales- I was really reffering to his ability to make more money in the Claridge's space. I'm not suggesting that the sspace is nicer or more appropriate.

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I've eaten in at least one NYC restaurant where I've not seen a problem with the owner/chef being out of town even for a week. I'll go so far as to add that one of the best meals I've had was on a night when the third in command was in sole charge. Admittedly, although I'm on good terms with the owner, I may be on at least as good terms with the executive chef, but decidedly closest to the executive sous chef. Nevertheless, part of the job of being a chef these days is being an executive and both being able to delegate ressponsibility and knowing how to hire and train employees. Whether or not anyone buys my likening cooking to art, it should be realized that many of the renaissance paintings attributed to a master, were actually painted largely by his studio assistants. It's often as important to talk about the kitchen as it is about the chef.  This is especially true when you're dealing with the food and not just the concept, but one still has to credit the chef for building that kitchen.

Analogies these days between the chef and the leading actor are rather pointless. A much better analogy might be made to the director, if not the author. Surely no notice is made if the director, or stage manager is not on hand at the performance. The only one who's absence you should notice at a restaurant should be your favorite waiter or maitre d'hotel.

I regret that I have nothing to contribute to the discussion of actual restaurants, but it's a pleasure to read a thread that at least makes me reconsider going to London.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Quote: from Majumdarathome on 5:11 pm on Feb. 7, 2002

If you go to a Show called, for example, Pavarotti in Concert, and the great man is ill, or somewhere else performing, they don't wheel out some other fat Italian who can sing but not quite so well and expect you to put up with it.  The same should be the case with Ramsay/Race etc.  I am not expecting them to examine everything that comes off the line, but I do think they need to be in the Kitchen.  Gary Rhodes is I believe in the kitchens at his places in Lonodn every other day.

<snippo>

That is why I am so wary of anything that is trading on the name of a star chef i.e Petit Blanc. Shudder!

So is this a point about quality or principle then Simon? Gary Rhodes cooks at Dolphin Square every other day, that's sufficient. I can buy that. Ramsay is at Claridge's for how many services each week? What if you go to RitS when Gary is off doing telly?

The extreme is Shaun Hill, obviously; go to the Merchant House, you know who cooked your dinner. But in a 'normal' restaurant, whether the chef's name is above the door or not, who was on the pass when your meal came out? Was Robuchon obliged to run more services when he changed the name of his place from Jamin?

I think the only possible judgement criterion is whether the meal was up to scratch.

The Petit Blancs are OK, by the way, but no better than that. The Oxford one I think has gone downhill a bit in the past couple of years. Crappy service and a relatively big bill last time I went.

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BUX - I disagree. How often do you go to a theatre production becuse of the director?  Sometimes, but infrequently. I would argue you go because there is a great name offering what others have called a great performance and you want to see for your self.  if you turn up and the star is off you feel gypped, even if there is a competent stand in.  It takes the gloss off the evening.  That is how I felt when I went to GR's

Adam - Rhodes was not on the kitchen the time we went.  That was disappointing, but he had been in that afternoon and the staff seemed to think he would be in later that day.

What mattered was that he took the time to be sure his cover was excellent.  This did not seem to be the case at GR@C's

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Some unattributed gossip/speculation from the catering world. Not all of this coincides with my own experience BTW:

An ex-employee of Gary Rhodes saw him twice in the 3 years he was employeed front of house at City Rhodes

It would not amaze some people if Jason Atherton returned from Dubai to take over at Royal Hospital Road when Mark (?) current head chef there, goes off to open the Connaught.

Gordon Ramsay has not cooked in a professional kitchen for 3 years.

I do not stand by any of this, it's just some things I have been told,

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It would not amaze some people if Jason Atherton returned from Dubai to take over at Royal Hospital Road when Mark (?) current head chef there, goes off to open the Connaught.

At RHR -- Mark Askew.  

I read in some London magazine (TimeOut??) that it *might* be Angela ? from Dubai who might head up the Connaught (with possibly an all-female team in the kitchen), and that the GR restaurant at the hotel might be Italian (!) and might be called Bellini.

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Simon: BUX - I disagree. How often do you go to a theatre production becuse of the director?  Sometimes, but infrequently. I would argue you go because there is a great name offering what others have called a great performance and you want to see for your self.  if you turn up and the star is off you feel gypped, even if there is a competent stand in.  It takes the gloss off the evening.  That is how I felt when I went to GR's

I diasagree. First I am more likley to go to a great play than a poor one. The author, director and cast all have input. Personally, I don't like virtuoso performances of poor substance. Be that as it may, in both the theater it's the perfomance one should want, not the performer. In the restaurant it's what's on the plate, not who's in the kitchen. If a chef knows how to run his kitchen, it may run better without him, than the kitchen of a lesser chef with that chef in attendance.

Finally, if the performance of the understudy is superior to that of the star, I am most rewarded. There is nothing so fine as discovery or being there when a star is born.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Bux, you're right in what you say, but you're surely missing the point.

There is no question that after the event it's the meal you got served that matters, not who cooked it.

The question is how do you come to believe before you get served that you are likely to be served a good meal in this place ?

And the point being made is that you go to the restaurant because you have confidence in the "name above the door" based on his reputation for cooking good meals. I accept the argument that a world-class chef may also be a world-class trainer and documenter who can transfer all his skills to his staff. I'll also accept that some of GR's staff may actually be better chefs than he is. But that is a judgement that needs to made in advance by the customer, and he can only make that judgement if he is given the facts.

As an example, I would guess that people go to Conran restaurants not for named chefs, but for the Conran imprimatur of style and defined quality. In fact, that's also why people go to Macdonalds. And that's fine, because the proprietor lays out his stall, and people buy from the stall knowing exactly what's on offer, and generally receiving exactly what they expect.

GR's product is very singularly himself. He's the one who turned himself into a 'personality' chef, and who promotes himself and his own cooking skills. So that's all he has on his stall, but that's clearly not what his customers are getting.

This isn't an issue of culinary distinction so much as fair trading.

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The question is how do you come to believe before you get served that you are likely to be served a good meal in this place ? . . . .  As an example, I would guess that people go to Conran restaurants . . . for the Conran imprimatur of style and defined quality. . . .  This isn't an issue of culinary distinction so much as fair trading.

Bux & macrosan -- As suggested in my last post, it does not matter to me whether GR (or Mark Askew, for that matter) is there so long as his cuisine, and the other aspects of the restaurant experience, are at the same level without him.

Before I first visit a restaurant, the reputation (in the assessment of critics or other reviewing diners that I respect) of the chef would be a factor in how high on my "to do" list of restaurants to sample a given establishment might be placed. After my first visit, however, reputation becomes less important because I will have had at least a meal there on which to judge the restaurant's suitability for me.  Perhaps, if a first visit progresses poorly, a chef's reputation might prompt me to give a restaurant more "second chances" to further attempt to understand it.  

On the naming of restaurants, it does not change my expectations about chef attendance when a restaurant is called "Gordon Ramsay" relative to a case, like L'Ambroisie, in which most diners know that Bernard Pacaud is the chef.  A baseline requirement is that the cuisine be based on recipes and direction of the supervising chef, who bears the responsibility for the consistency and quality of the cuisine. I agree with many of the points made by Bux. Pacaud does not make rounds, and I have never seen him. But I do not feel jilted on account of that (i.e., not knowing whether Pacaud was in the kitchen).  So why should it be any different for GR?

macrosan -- On Conran, I'd have to say his restaurants have a style and defined quality alright, it's just not a positive one in my mind  :wink:

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Below is an attempt to replicate a post from early yesterday, which was affected by the system upgrade.

I recently had dinner at Gordon Ramsay RHR: braised pork belly with langoustines and a subdued horseradish sauce; venison with a subtle and appropriate thin chocolate sauce, with little cubes of celery root; and a chocolate fondant with *milk* ice cream that was most delicious (the milk ice cream is a pairing I did not notice in 2001 menus).  The venison was medium rare, and prepared very much to my liking.  It matched the 1997 Lafite Rothschild ordered, which was not too young to drink.  I also noted I have been separately contemplating ordering venison rare.

In response to another member's question about the price of the wine (which I will leave for separate replication), I indicated it was approximately 220 to 250 pounds.  I did not mind the pricing because the venison dish was very pleasing in hindsight. I would have minded purchasing the wine if the meal had not been disappointing.  I noted there was 1992 Dom Perignon by the glass, which was nice when sipped with the normal pumpkin soup amuse (mushrooms, parmesan and white truffle oil).

I was also asked whether GR was at RHR the night of this meal. I responded that I would not know either way, given GR's tendencies not to "smooze" with clients.  I have never been invited to the kitchen, and have no desire to be.  I have only seen GR twice -- (1) once at Claridge's when he was talking to the dining room staff in the little after-dinner salon, and (2) at RHR, when I had a early reservation and arrived even earlier.  I suggested that, so long as the cuisine was yummy, it did not particularly matter to me whether GR and/OR other members of his team were in the kitchen.

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