The title said it all for me, that I wasn’t particularly enjoying my most recent meal at Ramsay’s flagship on Royal Hospital Road. Yes, the one he was on about almost every week–save the last when he hosted the finale at the new Petrus–on his recently aired Ramsay’s Best Restaurant.
To be fair, I’m never an enemy of Ramsay’s food. The first visit to Royal Hospital Road five years or so ago left me rather thrilled by the cuisine, not the bill. Ever since, I had been, more or less, a regular, but since Ducasse was opened, I was swayed by the old Frenchie and the booking system that never left me with a headache. Yet, for whatever reasons, despite my good friend’s warning and my other bib’s acrimonious refusal to accompany me, I felt I should re-visit Ramsay’s.
I went …
First impression. Royal Hospital Road had become a zoo of tourists. You’d never find these people, say, at The Waterside Inn, Marcus Wareing, The Ledbury, etc. I would like to make it clear, being a snob as I was and expected myself to be paying more than £100 for lunch, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near tourist-diners. There were clutters of shoulder bags under the tables, jackets–I wouldn’t go so far as to question the shops they were from–hung at the back of the chairs. I believed the dress code was smart but a few diners wore something I wouldn’t even identify as smart-casual. And, most evidently, almost all tables came with a camera–and I was sure they’re not bloggers. This sight was indeed depressing. Actually, there was the noise preceding my tourist-sightings. Loud, boisterous, as one would expect oneself in a GBK or Pizza Express. The exclusivity, the formal but leisurely ambiance of the place was history.
The staff–who seemed to recognise me and asked where I had been, though I didn’t say Dorchester or The Square or Noma out loud–was still very accommodating and efficient, though the impressive gesture of hospitality was totally drowned by the noisy, sans-exclusivity dining room. You know, you can have a packed restaurant but without these highstreet hurly burly.
Let’s crack on with the food. First up was this nibble of Truffled Arancini with Truffled Mayonnaise. Not bad. The mayo was quite water and did not stick to the rice balls when dipped.
Then came the amuse bouche of Duck on Ricotta Bed and Chesnut Veloute. I enjoyed it, despite the veloute’s being rather foamy. The deep-fried duck ball was bold in flavours, while the light veloute mixed with the cheese added the second dimension to the meat flavour.
Flipping through the menu, I was not so sure what to order. When you saw terms like “hollandaise sauce” or “salad nicoise” on the menu, I felt a bit dumbed down. Not necessarily saying that these couldn’t be fantastic recreations of the traditional but was there a need to spell that out loud? I’d rather be challenged and “get” the concept while eating it. I was indecisive and taking my week’s hard work into account I made up my mind asking for the “special” of the day: Hand-pulled Linguine, Parmesan Foam, White Truffle. This came with a £45 supplement. Was I insane? Maybe I was …
The white truffles–not ones of the plumpest I had–came in a rather posh box gilded with Ramsay’s name–a great advertising tool as people ordering these were likely to ask for a photograph opportunity! These truffles, I tried not to think about this, had been passed over and sniffed, thank goodness the swine flu was no longer en vogue. But, it was too late to change my mind and thinking, being optimistic as I was, I still had my health insurance.
Shaving time. Go on …
What!!!???? You couldn’t be serious? Did that look like £45 worth of white truffle?? Compared to my favourite You Know Which Truffle Restaurant, this was a JOKE!! Setting my truffl-ing anguish aside, the linguine was rather pleasant with a lot of bites and the parmesan foam light and not overpowering. But, taking the truffle into account, this was so NOT worth it. The aroma was sort of there but wasn’t quite. It didn’t smell the ultra-best, though in this regard, I couldn’t shun the restaurant. You never know if this is the magic truffle until you grate it, somebody told me.
Moving on to my main course of Roasted Gloucestershire Old Spot ‘Cote de Pork’, Apple, Stuffed Ceps, Pommery Mustard Pomme Puree, Endives, Braised Shallot.
Well, in translation, this was a pork chop.
Flavour-wise, it was good. The pork was tender and perfectly cooked, well glaced with the jus. The chopped and stuffed ceps had some delightful crispiness. The apple added a touch of freshness, lifting the dish from being too heavy. The pomme puree, however, looked like mashed banana, DIY baby food a careless mum would make and in the process she had accidentally dropped a bagful of mustard seed in the mixture. Texture? I found it too liquidy. And as for taste, it was too subtle; despite the yellow colour, there was no kick from the mustard.
Looking at my watch, it was interesting. It had only been just an hour since my arrival. Usually, when you were in a great restaurant, you wouldn’t notice time flew by. This time, the dishes flew–and my brand new £50 notes would follow suite–but not time.
What’s more depressing than looking at the time was, indeed, looking at the dessert menu as they appeared unchanged, fixed in time, almost exactly the same as when I first went 5 years ago (save the Banoffe Souffle), like those walls from Assyria in the British Museum–I couldn’t compare this to the V&A as they occasionally switch artefacts around. I was sad, sad enough to ask for the desserts that were on the set lunch menu instead. Before that, I had this pre-dessert of Mango drink. Velvety texture, subtle mango flavour that went nicely with the foam. What’s not RIGHT about it was that this was the same as I had a year or so ago! I recalled they did this strawberry drink with some popping rocks years ago, which was nicer.
My dessert, from the set lunch menu, arrived. It was a rum baba with orange garnish. The baba was airy and not dry, but it had no bounce; it did soak up the alcohol but quickly turned soggy. The marmalade layer of the baba was adequate, but I was not keen on the runny cream–which made the sponge even more soggy–and the orange wedges. The rum from Barbedos–no, you didn’t get to choose your own rum–had no distinct flavour or smell, very neutral. One last bitching, I felt a rum baba should be served in a bowl or similar types of vessel because the rum would be contained and keeping the sponge soaked. In front of me, the rum was just running all over the plate, as if some sort of jus. Not right.
Before I left, I had some more freebies: first, chocolate, and second, the strawberry ice cream coated in white chocolate. They were lovely, and the sight of the dry ice oozing out from the ice cream bowl caused some “oouuu ahhh” in the dining room. Just as I was about to tuck in my ice cream–my favourite that had, too, been on the freebie menu for years–somebody started singing a “Happy Birthday to You”. Not very loudly, but audible from my table. This was just so inappropriate….
Meal done and the total amount of time spent at Royal Hospital Road was 1h 30min, the briefest trip ever to a Michelin-starred restaurant. Looking back, the food was not bad and I was certain Clare Smyth Royal Hospital Road was amazing enough to help the place retain its third star. They were still serving good food refined to Michelin standard, but the place was currently overrated by its third Michelin star. I’d say, this was a two-starred level food and not one ahead of the UK’s two starred pack either. Back to my question: “Will RHR lose its stars?”. It might, but considering how often Ramsay quoted Michelin in his new show, I felt he had become somewhat of a spokesperson for them. Would this mean he’d be more likely to keep his stars? Never mind that. For me, the menu today showed it all. There was no vision whatsoever for the future and I felt Gordon Ramsay should get out of Hell’s Kitchen and get–more often–into his own.
My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “6 out of 10″.
GORDON RAMSAY AT ROYAL HOSPITAL ROAD
68 Royal Hospital Road
Tel. 0207 352 4441
NOTE: If you fancy good juice, they serve ones imported from France by Alain Milliat and they are exceptional! I had Milliat jam at the Connaught and was so happy to have tried his juice at RHR. Special thanks to the thoughtful sommelier.