The Ritz Restaurant Revisited Review, July 2011

Posted on: July 5th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Fine-dining-guide had the pleasure of revisiting the Ritz in July to sample dishes from the summer menu. As the sun set and the evening light faded, the glories of the rococo dining room, illuminated under the orange glow of the chandelier and wall lighting, appeared more sumptuous than ever, enhancing this unique dining experience.

John Williams’ inexhaustible creativity is given full rein in his use of top notch seasonal ingredients. These are employed in sensitive, balanced combinations and cooked with consummate skill to maximise their taste and flavour. Classicaltechniques and modern, sometimes playful, touches give the cuisine its distinctive character. As always, dishes are beautifully presented, avoiding over elaboration and allowing the main ingredient to take centre stage.

The starter of dressed crab roll has become a signature dish. The summer version used creme fraiche and coriander tobind the delicate white crab meat within its thin apple wrap. The perfectly judged balance of sweet crab meat and acidicapple was given herbal fragrance by flecks of coriander which happily did not overwhelm the whole dish. Avocado and Charentais melon add fresh, contrasting textural notes. This was a brilliant start to the meal (Wine: Ritz Selection Champagne, Cuvee Privee, N.V. Brut)

Another equally luxurious starter of warm native lobster was perfectly timed to retain its inherent tender sweetness. The tail and claw meat exhibited a rich succulence rarely matched in other (nameless) top end restaurants which so often overcook this crustacean. A sauce based on apple juice with grapefruit gel and segments provided the gentle acidity the dishneeded. Visually, the presentation was stunning. The light bodied Riesling, with its bright citrus aroma and minerality, went well with this dish. (2010 Riesling, Saint Clair, Marlborough, New Zealand)

Another Ritz signature cooking technique was demonstrated in the next dish. A whole turnip, wrapped in a salt crust and baked in hay, had been thinly sliced to serve as an open raviolo enveloping morels and button onions in a watercresssauce. The delicate muted flavour of the turnip allowed the rich smoky earthiness of the morels to shine. The soft, honeycomb like texture of the fungus also provided a good contrast to the crispness of the onions, the sweetness of whichbalanced savoury elements perfectly. The freshness and good balance of the Pinot Gris proved to be another fine match for the food (2007 Pinot Gris, Hugel et Fils, Alsace, France)

Fish cookery, whether using the humble mackerel or the noble halibut, has always been a forte of the Ritz kitchens. The composite dish offered was a veritable tour de force of conception, execution and presentation. Two perfectly trimmed Dover sole fillets were sandwiched together with leaves of lemon verbena which succeeded in enhancing the fish’s distinctive mild flavour. The timing to the cooking retained its firm texture. A light, balanced sauce of acidic verjus with sweet golden raisins lifted the whole dish. By way of contrast and added richness, a bowl of lobster fricassee, deeply flavoured in thick, creamy bisque, was served as an accompaniment. The warm, fruity character and aromatic notes of the Italian Chardonnay worked well with the fish. (2008 Marinali Bianco, Villa Sandi, Veneto, Italy)

Next to be served was a lamb dish which could be described as “summer on a plate.”. Noisettes of new season’s milk fed lamb were cooked pink, producing a meltingly tender, rich tasting result. A crisp beignet of slow cooked shoulder meat added textural and flavour contrast. Delicately spiked rosemary curd, made from lamb’s milk, provided some of the saucing, in addition to the rich but light jus. Finally, potato fondant, smoked aubergine, courgette flower, sun dried tomato and basil leaf garnishes evoked all the fresh and vibrant flavours of summer’s bounty. A Chilean Merlot of elegant and complex character was served with this dish. (2008 Angustora, Merlot, Grand Reserva, Casa Silva, Colchagua Valley, Chile)

Two desserts exemplified the skilled craftsmanship and imagination of the pastry section, worthy of Careme himself.

The first highlighted a port roasted fig and its intense sorbet resting on caramelised rice pudding, itself contained in cinnamon shortbread case. The whole construction was then topped with a gossamer- like cage of spun sugar. Perfection!

Vacherin Glace was a playful deconstructed version of the French classic. Here the lemon verbena cream formed the base,whilst nodules of meringue, along with raspberries, ice cream and tuile biscuit decorated the top. The sweet and fragrantflavours combined with soft and crisp textures, made this an exciting new dessert. The rose and lychee aroma of the accompanying sweet wine complemented the desserts well, (2007 Elysium, Black Muscat, A Quade, California, USA)

Other aspects of the meal were all first rate, from the excellent breads – the bacon brioche is particularly fine – to the coffee and petits fours. The efficient service, under the scrutiny of Luigi Cagnin, was welcoming, well informed and unobtrusive.

As stated in my previous review, the talents of John Williams and his team have yet to receive the Michelin starred recognition they deserve. The summer menu at the Ritz can only serve to confirm the brilliance of the their output. Let us all hope The Ritz receives good news in September!