The palatial scale and rich decor of The Ritz Restaurant never fail to evoke a feeling of wonder and delight. Elegant Louis XVI furniture, sumptuous drapes and grand sculptures complement the majestic rococo design perfectly. The whole room, with its sea of gold, white and red, is a work of art in itself. In daytime, the massive floor–to-ceiling French windows flood the room with natural light. At night, the magnificent chandelier and wall lighting emit a wonderful, serene glow which illuminates the room in all its glory.
The fine cooking of John Williams and his team in the kitchen, together with the seamless service of the front of house team, do full justice to the beauty of these surroundings. Everything is carefully synchronised to provide guests with a truly memorable experience.
A dinner in early November began with well made canapes: steak tartare served on crisp bread had a piquant, spicy kick; smoked salmon yogurt on tiny meringues simply melted in the mouth; and prawn crackers with Marie Rose sauce were a playful, flavoursome interpretation of the classic starter.
A ballotine of goose liver had been expertly marinated, poached, rolled and chilled to produce a velvety texture and mild, creamy liver flavour. Its pistachio crust gave textural contrast, whilst the whole dish was lifted by two textures of apple – a smooth puree and scooped balls enrobed in a spiced port sauce. The sweet, aromatic and gently sparkling Riesling went well with this rich first course. (Wine: Riesling Scharzhof, Egon Muller. 2011, Mosel, Germany)
For our next course of native lobster we were treated to the rare delight of gueridon service. This wonderful piece of restaurant theatre, so rarely seen elsewhere but one in which The Ritz excels, captures the attention of even the most garrulous diner. Restaurant Manager Luigi removed the meat from the tail and claws with effortless skill that comes from years of professional training and experience.
The crustacean itself had been steamed en cocotte on a bed of vegetables, infused with ginger, lime and star anise, a process which preserved its natural succulence whilst adding a gentle fragrance. Carrot fondant and puree, together with braised fennel gave contrasting sweetness and texture. A rich, intense bisque like sauce, poured at the table, bought the elements together. The dry, mineral qualities of the chosen Chardonnay was another pleasing match. (Wine: Chardonnay Hamilton Russell Vineyard, 2011, Walker Bay, South Africa)
A “surf and turf” course featured butter poached turbot, precisely timed to retain its moist, firm texture and delicate, sweet flavour. Perched on top was a breaded, soft boiled deep fried hen’s egg, the yolk of which provided a rich natural sauce for the fish. Juxaposed to this but working well with the fish was unctuously sticky oxtail, slow braised in red wine, deboned and shredded. An intensely flavoured cep puree and sauted girolles added a deep earthiness. The rich, elegant smoothness of the powerful Sauvignon did full justice this composite dish. (Wine: Sancerre Blanc, “Les Caillottes”, Pascal Joliver , 2011, Loire Valley, France)
Venison Wellington, again served in gueridon style, proved a triumph of taste and texture.
The crisp, buttery latticed topped pastry and ham and bread crust encased well seasoned, medium rare game. Parsnip puree had a gentle smoky quality which complemented the venison well, whilst the rich, red wine jus lifted by black truffle brought the elements together. As if the dish could not get any better, a shaving of white truffle added a heady fragrance to this tour de force of an autumnal dish. The chosen red wine had a fortified, port-like aroma and rich warm body of berry fruit which stood up to the meat well. (Wine: Aleano Douro Reserva, Symington family, 2008, Douro, Portugal)
Visually stunning and highly creative desserts have always been one of the highlights of dinner at The Ritz and those served at this meal were no exception.
A well flavoured vanilla yogurt was playfully presented as a stick of striped rock draped with sugared curls. An intense raspberry sorbet with fresh raspberries enlivened with lime enhanced this refreshing dessert. (Wine: Muscat Beaume de Venise, Domaine de Coyaux, 2005, Rhone Valley, France)
No version of deconstructed lemon meringue pie could look as beautiful or taste as good as The Ritz version. Here the soft meringue was placed on top of the crisp pastry, with gently astringent lemon cream piped on top, both being encased in a delicate while chocolate comb. The accompanying verbena and buttermilk sorbet added further zing to the dessert. (Wine: Moscata D’Asti, Sarocco, 2010, Piedmont, Italy)
A layered Amadei chocolate ganache with praline was a masterclass of chocolate confectionary. Tonka bean ice cream gave colour and textural contrast, with a refreshing element which this rich dessert needed. The attention to detail in this dish, as with the other desserts, was astounding.(Wine: Pedro Ximenez, Bodegas, Hidalgo, Spain – sherry)
This is not to say that simpler preparations were unavailable, as seen in the well made croustade of caramelised apple with butterscotch and Muscavado ice cream.
Other aspects of the meal were very satisfying indeed. Service, as usual, was solicitous, informative and unobtrusive. The sommelier demonstrated excellent knowledge and skill in matching some demanding savoury and sweet courses with well-chosen wines. Melba toast – which has almost disappeared from restaurant tables – provided a lighter alternative to the breads, although these themselves, especially the bacon brioche, were irresistible. Good coffee partnered well dainty petit fours which included crisp macaroons and intense jellies
All this still begs the question as to why The Ritz has not received its much deserved Michelin star. Having visited the restaurant several times, the consistent excellence of the cooking and the increasing but not outlandish creativity cannot be denied. Could there also be an almost perverse inverted snobbery at work which favours the relaxed informality of modern dining and shuns tradition and formality, which are Ritz trademarks? If there is, then it is one of the less attractive features of certain restaurant guides. Surely, there is room for both styles to be recognised and rewarded in the varied world of fine dining.