London - L'Atelier & Gordon Ramsey
- Bill Hunt May 25, 2008 02:20 PM
Dining in London, or “An Arizona Yank in Chef Ramsey’s Court.”
Though our recent trip to London was a bit short, time-wise, it was anything but short, food-wise. We arrived and stopped in at a favorite, Le Boudin Blanc, Shepard’s Market, http://www.boudinblanc.co.uk/, because we enjoy it, and because our flat is just around the corner on Curzon St. It did not disappoint, but the three highlights were yet to come. I had booked Gordon Ramsey’s at Claridge’s, http://www.claridges.co.uk/restaurant..., and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, http://www.joel-robuchon.com/. Sandwiched in between, we did George (a private club in Mayfair), as guests of a gracious donor. Because it is not publicly accessible, I will not do a review, except to say that the food and service were top-notch, although the spaces were a little cramped. Still, a wonderful experience.
I'm going to add each review as a "reply," to this message to keep the initial length down and let people read only what they are interested in. This has worked very well for other lengthy reviews with multiple restaurants on other boards.
Le Boudin Blanc Shepherd’s Market, Mayfair
We discovered Le Boudin Blanc, 5 Trebeck St, London, W1J 7LT, +44 20 74993292, http://www.boudinblanc.co.uk/ maybe eight years ago. When in London, we always stay in Mayfair, and have recently let a flat, whose back wall actually overlooks the restaurant. I can open the bathroom window and will immediately know what they are serving at that time. We normally end up dining there early in the trip, or at the very end, plus a lunch, or maybe two. They have never disappointed us.
On this trip, we were flying a new route: Denver to LHR. It was a new route for United, and we chose to try it, instead of our normal LAX-LHR or SFO-LHR flights, because United offered incentive “points,” to do so. This meant that we arrived in London later than we normally do. It also meant that we were still rather well-fed from the flight.
After getting squared away in the flat and unpacking, we decided that we were hungry enough for something, just not too much. Being rather lazy, but also knowing that Le Boudin Blanc was just around the corner, we headed over. Though we did not have reservations, it was early enough to get a table. Though we only dine there for maybe three meals, twice per year, we were greeted like long lost family. I’ll bet that they treat everyone that way!
We started the evening with a bottle of Bouchard Pere et Fils Chassagne-Montrachet ‘04 and then ordered their French Onion Soup and my wife, a Pear, Endive and Gorgonzola Salad. Each was great, as usual.
For our mains, my wife chose the Dover Sole Meuniére, and I the Scottish Filet of Beef (with Roquefort sauce). Again, what we have come to expect over the years. My wife is a Dove Sole fan, and has this dish several times per trip. She’s had it a the old Scott’s (and the new Scott’s), The Woolsley, J. Sheekey and several other restaurants around London. She insists that this version is as good as it gets and better than all but the Savoy House and the Dorchester. I also often do Scottish Beef Tenderloin and love Le Boudin Blanc’s iteration of this dish. In my UK dining, only Butler’s (The Chesterfield Mayfair) has ever exceeded the dish here. That is pretty rarified company for this wonderful little “neighborhood restaurant” to be mentioned in.
I added a glass of a petite Chateau Bordeaux (name not in notes) for the beef. A note: though the list of wines b-t-g is short, the sommelier usually has a couple of “specials” by the bottle on the chalk board in the main dining room, plus also some additional b-t-g selections. Just ask, and you will likely receive. In all of my thousands of bottle of wine, he is the only person to pour me a Chilean red, that I’d buy again, the Santa Rita Casa Real Cab (Bdx blend).
Some day, we will definitely save enough room to sample the desserts, but have yet to do so.
We later did lunch, when some board members got into London, but it was just as good, and I actually did about the same, save for Red Mullet, in lieu of the beef. It was equally as good and the best Red Mullet that I have ever had. Wife did exactly the same meal, and the wine selection was very similar, save the b-t-g Bdx.
I almost hate to sing the praises of this restaurant, as I would hate to not be able to squeeze in. However, they deserve every word of praise, that I write.
Gordon Ramsey at Claridge’s
We had dined at Angela Harnett’s Menu (The Connaugh - now closed). Ms Harnett is a protégée of Gordon Ramsey, and the meal was everything that we had anticipated. In the States, we are offered two TV programs, featuring Chef Ramsey, “Kitchen Nightmares,” and “Hell’s Kitchen.” We were prepared for Chef Ramsey’s acute attention to detail and to his food preparation. We were also ready to “pick a few nits,” as he is so very quick to do, with regards to the culinary efforts of others. Well, it didn’t happen. There were no “nits to pick.”
Claridge’s is located on Brook Street (at Davies St), Mayfair, London W1K 4HR. The restaurant in Claridge’s is lovely and well-lit. There are art deco design elements that are carried over from other spaces in the hotel, but there are major differences, especially with regards to lighting. The general ambient level is bright, though not too bright. The walls are light and the “chandleries1” provide a warm glow to the area. The room is divided by archways on the street-side, that form semi-private dining rooms of two different sizes, plus there is an alcove, open on one end to the main dining room. The tables are all very neat and spaced properly for ease of service. Though the area was nearly full, and the semi-private spaces filled with separate functions, the room was quiet. OK, there was some laughter coming from one of the arched areas behind us, but nothing that we could not easily talk over, in conversational tones. I’d describe the restaurant as elegant, refined and very comfortable – a perfect venue for fine dining.
We chose the Chef’s Tasting Menu and asked the sommelier to pair wines with each dish.
Our meal began with Fennel and Ginger Soup with Sautéed Tiger Prawn, which was accompanied by a Domaine Gresser, Brandhorf Pinot Gris ‘06. Though I am a big fan of prawns and shrimp, Tiger Prawns have left me underwhelmed in the past. These, like those at L’Atelier, were perfect, large, juicy and flavorful. The fennel and ginger were subtle and complimented the meaty prawns perfectly. Also, I am less a fan of most Pinot Gris/Grigio offerings, regardless of their place of origin. I find too many to be watery, insipid little wines, and not worth the effort to pour and consume. The Domaine Gresser was a totally different animal and paired perfectly. This is a serious little wine, and accompanied the prawns wonderfully. The sommelier has done his “homework,” and it showed.
As an aside: I love to do Chef’s Tastings with the sommelier’s pairing. This gives me a “night off,” from my normal wine pairing duties and also exposes me to wines that I might not have tried, based on other experiences with a particular varietal. When done well, these can be real eye-openers and a lot of fun. Gordon Ramsey at Claridge’s is one perfect example of how well it can be done. Though we order this way at many restaurants, I grade harshly, when it does not work, and all too often, it does not. If the sommelier either does not know the cellar, or maybe what the kitchen is doing that day, or just will not take a chance, beyond the “usual suspects,” I write about my disappointment. None of that on this trip!
Second course was Ballottine of Foie Gras (marinated in white port [their capitalization, or lack of], pear and saffron chutney and toasted brioche). OK, I am a pushover for foie gras, as I have admitted all too often. Though more of a “seared foie gras” fan, this was excellent, perfectly smooth and oh, so flavorful. We had a light little Barsac, but its name did not make my notes.
We moved on to the next dish, Ravioli of Dorset Blue Lobster and Salmon (with basil dressing). I would not have thought of pairing lobster and salmon, but each complimented the other very well. Our wine was an ‘06 Domaine Chevrot, Maranges, Pinot Noir. Normally, I’ll reach for a Meursault, or Montrachet, or a Champagne, with lobster, and a Pinot Gris (usually a King Estate Reserve and an Oregon PN, as most of our salmon is from the Pacific Northwest, US). I still had some of the Domaine Gresser PG and both it, and the Domaine Chevrot PN, went well with this dish. Very nice choice by the sommelier. Not sure that he anticipated that we’d be holding some of our previous wines, just to taste with the current dish, but we often keep some of all, or most, just to do a taste test. No one seemed to mind, and our 4-top had plenty of room for all the glasses.
I chose the Crispy Suffolk Pork Belly (with crushed peas, apple and onion purée and morel sauce). This was accompanied by a Domaine Desouch, Jurancon ‘04, which went perfectly, as did the Domaine Chevrot. Only quibble that I might have had would have been the amount of meat vs the fat in the pork belly. I know that it is the fat that renders to provide the luscious texture to the meat, but there might have been a touch too much in this particular cut. The outer area was perfectly seared and all was very tasty.
My wife chose the Pan-fried Fillet of Stonebass (with a fricassée of broccoli and anchovies and a parmesan velouté). She was served another Pinot Noir, that did not make the notes, but went very well, as did the Domaine Chevrot.
We opted for the Chef’s Cheese Selection (French and British) and found it paired with Lustau East India Solera Sherry. As we still had some of almost all of our other wines, we had a wonderful little “wine and cheese” party.
The finishing touch was a Valrhona Chocolate and Honeycomb Fondant (with orange yoghurt sorbet). While it was lovely and perfectly prepared, we were both quite full. The portion sizes were almost perfect. We did not have much of anything left on our plates, and were both quite full.
Of our two main meals, at publicly available restaurants, it was a toss-up between Gordon Ramsey and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. I think that I would choose the latter, but my wife chose the former. Both were near perfection, and though expensive, were great values, for what one got: service, ambiance, food, wine – everything. We will definitely dine at other Gordon Ramsey restaurants in the UK, and only hope that they are nearly as good as the establishment at Claridge’s. A walk back in a fine London mist was definitely called for.
1 The “chandeliers” are not such, in the traditional sense. They are more large Chinese lanterns, but not quite that either. Lovely to look at and quite functional. Because of the ceiling height, they are very large, though not intrusive and in perfect scale to the room.
PS Just found that superscript does not translate to CH in a pure text format. Sorry of any confusion that my inclusion of this might have caused.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Our evening at L’Atelier started out quite early, as we had the afternoon off and wanted to see what the walking time was from Mayfair. We stopped in after their lunch crowd, but well before dinner. The hostess was kind enough to show us around. We had rather early dinner reservations, as we were leaving for the States the next morning and gave our name. She stated that we were to be seated in the upstairs, and showed us around. It was a lovely, modern space, though was a bit more stark, than I had expected. She talked of the bar area, that was another level up, and recommended that we arrive early to start there with some wine.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon is located at 13-15 West Street, London WC2H 9NE, http://www.joel-robuchon.com/. For me, it is right at the edge of Soho and Covent Gardens, though for a Londoner, there might be a better geographical description.
Later, we walked through Mayfair to Soho and arrived a few minutes before our reservations. Since we planned on doing both the “tasting menu” and the “sommelier’s pairings” of wine, we walked around a bit, not really feeling the need to start the wine too early. When we checked in with the hostess, she ushered us to a dining area on the ground floor, not the place that we had been shown earlier. It was at this point, that my confusion began. We talked to her about the dining space, and mentioned the dining room on the 1st floor (the 2nd floor to any “yanks”). She then led us upstairs, and I inquired about the menus – different, we were now told. I inquired about the “sommelier’s pairings” – different, we were told. OK, I am a simple yank and was becoming confused. There are actually a couple of slightly different Joël Robuchon restaurants in the building, and the one that we wanted was L’Atelier, which was on the ground floor, where we had been initially seated. Back we headed, a little embarrassed. Fortunately, our original seats were still available. Within the building, there is L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Le Bar de Joël Robuchon and La Cuisine de Joël Robuchon. Even with my exploring, I cannot tell you all of the differences, but maybe their Web site will reveal these.
Once seated, and after a few apologies to the servers for my confusion, things began to happen. First, we encountered the sommelier, who was actually “working” the room above. He took time to get some “starter wines” going, as we looked over both the “tasting menu,” and the á la carte menu. With one exception, the “tasting menu” was the way we wanted to go. Unfortunately, my wife has developed an allergy to bi-valves (oysters, scallops, mussels and clams) and one dish featured scallops. After an inquiry, we were assured that a substitution could be easily made for her. They worried that I might also have a problem, but I assured them that I did not. I did offer to have that course per her menu, if it would make things easier on the kitchen, but was informed that it would not make any difference. The next inquiry was whether langostines would be a problem for her. No, it was only bi-valves. Even single shelled mollusks, like limpets and abalone do not cause a problem – something about mollusks with two shells!
It did take a moment to get the wine pairings down, as we wanted the full wine-tasting menu, as well, even though we had started with a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, while we perused the menus.
By now, we had settled into a beautifully lit room with an L-shaped bar, surrounding a working kitchen, and several tables (most seemed to be grouped 2-tops, that accommodated four diners). Black and red were the themed colors (colours for those following along in the UK). The ambient lighting was dark, but there was excellent “task lights” everywhere. While the overall mood was dark, the illumination was really very good, where one was dining. I also liked the under counter lighting and the accents. The space was modern, yet was very utilitarian. Form did follow function here. I hate spaces that are too dark to see the presentations. I always wonder what the restauranteur doesn’t want me to see. L’Atelier is a perfect blend of light and dark. It was a bit less elegant, than I would have anticipated, but I warmed to it. I will admit that I am a big fan of elegant “fine-dining,” and really enjoy the full design treatment.
The seating at the bar is on stools, that are evenly spaced around the “L.” The only problem that my wife noted was that the cushions were not that comfortable for her. Now, she’s only 5'-1" so that might have been a problem. She did note that a server had offered some other ladies a cushion to “pad” the stools a bit. For me, I found no problem. She took up the offer for a cushion. This actually worked well, because it provided her with a bit of a “boost,” up to the counter. The under-counter purse hooks were a nice touch. I really like spaces that offer ladies a “purse stool,” or similar, to keep their belongings off of the floor. Usually, my wife brings a “purse-hook” that mounts on the table, but did not have it for this trip. Besides, it would have been unnecessary at L’Atelier, as they had already taken care of this little extra.
When we had arrived, the restaurant was only about ⅓ full. Remember that we were dining very early, especially by UK standards. There might have been music in the background, but I did not notice. With the rather hard surfaces, I worried about the volume level, when the crowds arrived. I did not notice anyone else, when the spot filled completely. I do not know how the noise level was modulated, but it was. Even the working kitchen did not overwhelm us with the clatter of pots and pans. Noise levels in restaurants are a pet peeve of mine, but L’Atelier did not come close to offending me. I could converse with our server, Judy, and with my wife. Joël Robuchon must use “noise cancelling” signals, or something, as the place should have been a lot louder, than it was – just perfect! I do not need high db-levels to convince me that I am having fun, or that I’m in a “happening” place. The food and décor speak instead and L’Atelier’s certainly did.
Our meals began with L’Amuse-Bouche, which was a little custard, topped with Caviar. With this, we were presented with a glass of Champagne. I should make note here, that I did not manage to write down each wine-course. The “table area” at the counter is smallish, and things were so well orchestrated, that we just sat back and enjoyed the courses, and the wines. Each wine was presented, so I did get to study the labels. I just did not make notes.
Our next course was La Courgette (Courgette velouté, tiger prawns and golden croutons). The “velvety pumpkin” was wonderful with the prawns being quite tender. I find that too many dishes featuring Tiger Prawns, have tough, over-cooked prawns, but not this dish.
This was followed by Le Tourteau (crabmeat in tomato jelly and avocado). Wonderful, simply wonderful.
Then we were presented with the L’œuf (egg cocotte topped with light wild mushroom cream). As with all of our previous wine-courses, this was served with a white. Considering the mushroom cream, I might have gone with a red Burg here, but the pairing worked, so we were both pleased.
Next came Le Foie Gras Chaud (hot foie gras with tender apples and apricots, rosemary chicory and Sichuan pepper). I have to admit that I am a foie gras pushover. I am more a fan of “seared,” than pâté and mousse, but this was like velvet. Maybe Chef Robuchon should have added “velouté” to the description, but he HAD already used it earlier. Here, the sommelier went with a Muscat, that worked perfectly.
For the next dish, my wife got a substitution. I had La Noix de Saint-Jacques (scallop cooked in its shell with seaweed butter), and my wife was served a tempura langostino with an aïoli. The presentation of her dish was almost worth the cost. The prawn was perched on a spear, a bisected crescent. She hated to eat it, because of its simple beauty. (Note: we had this same dish at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas, USA, several weeks later, except that it was paired with a basil pesto and was not quite so beautiful.) We were back to dry whites, and the Muscat did not adversely affect their flavors, even with its residual sugar and full-body. I really enjoyed my scallop, though could not really pick up any definitive taste in the seaweed butter. It was great, just much more subtle, than I expected. Unfortunately, my poor wife could only look at my scallop with envy, though not too much, as she was busy studying her prawn. At least I got to taste it, as well. What a wonderful and sharing wife I have!
For our “mains,” we did one each: La Caille (free-range quail stuffed with foie gras and truffled mashed potatoes) and L’Agneau (lamb cutlets with fresh thyme). Both were very good and neither of us minded more foie gras. Neither had appointments with our respective Drs for our physicals, upon return to the US. Even with the foie gras, I gave the nod to the lamb of these two. The quail was moist and tasty, but was a bit tougher to eat. Also, I am more of a lamb fan, than a quail fan. Still, both dishes disappeared quickly.
The first “dessert” course was Papaye et Banane (papaya and banana compote, blackberry jelly and cheesecake ice cream). This was not as sweet, as the menu made it sound, and I was very pleased with that.
For the second “dessert” course, my wife got Le Chocolat Sensation (Araguani chocolate, white chocolate ice cream and Oreo cookie crumbs). I bargained for a mini-cheese-course, as the Papaye et Banane was enough sweet for me. Though the counter space was limited, we both had managed to hold on to many of our wines. I know that other diners were probably wondering what the heck we were about, as we had to move the glasses about to accommodate the servers’ reaching over the back of the counter to serve and bus our area. Still, I was glad to have all these wines, to go with the cheeses. I also added a glass of Dow ‘85 Vintage Port. Wife even held off on coffee, as she’s been served “regular,” when she ordered decaf, on all too many occasions, and she needed a good night’s sleep, prior to our return flight.
I cannot praise the chefs, the servers and all of the staff enough. The evening was very close to perfect. So good, in fact, that we immediately booked a night at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas, for an upcoming trip.
With the wines, and a few minor substitutions, plus the Port and gratuities, the bill came to several hundred £s. I increased the gratuities a bit, over what was already charged, as we had excellent service. Even with the disparity between the £ and the US $, I would dine there again, as it was a great “value.” Other than not being able to apply the cost to an expense account, I had no complaints.
We had planned on walking back to our flat, but the rain had picked up, so we availed ourselves of a cab, instead. So much for a much needed walk back, after a wonderful meal.
Review of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas, will be posted to CH in a day, or so. There were many similarities, and some differences. It, too, was a wonderful dining experience.
Oops! I forgot to add this restaurant.
La Trompette is a lovely little restaurant, 5-7 Devonshire Road, Chiswick, London W4 2EU, 020 8747 1836. Good friends, who moved to London from Wimbledon, some months back, invited us to join them at this spot. I had never heard of La Trompette, but now I have. It was a wonderful evening, and we enjoyed ourselves totally.
As we were guests, I let the wine list land with our host, who finally passed it on to me. He did do a lovely red Burg, and I added a Meursault. Unfortunately, as this was also partially a business dinner, I did not make notes on the wines. The wine list was fairly simple, but geared toward the cuisine of the restaurant. This seems to be very common in the UK. In the US, too many wine lists are filled with the same common wines, regardless of what the kitchen is doing. Even “neighborhood” places seem to “get it.” Wine IS food, and needs to go WITH the food.
I started with a Seared Loin of Tuna (with green bean and caper vinaigrette, tepenade, sauce vierge and quail’s eggs), followed by the second-best Red Mullet (with risotto of brown shrimps and herbs and grilled fennel), that I have had. Both in the UK. By the mains, the Meursault was gone, and the Pinot Noir went well with the mullet, especially with the fennel.
We ended with a lovely cheese platter for the table, and finished the wines. I added a Ferreira Quinta do Seixo VP.
I never saw the check, but do not feel that La Trompette was at all expensive, especially by London standards.
That sounds great. If it's up to the standards of the restaurant at Claridge's (realize that one is fine-dining, and the other is a pub), it should be excellent. I have gained a new diminsion of respect for Chef Ramsey, over what I had, based on a few TV shows, and the restaurant of one of his "students."
re: Bill Hunt
To be fair, I think the chefs that Ramsay chooses to cook at his restaurants should get the credit for meals produced. For me, Ramsay is now more of an entrepreneur and TV personality than he is a top chef, although his talents are amazing. We are bombarded with his TV shows in the UK, and my least favorite is the Kitchen Nightmares-America, but I won't go into that here. :-)
Recently, we saw a bit of Maze's chef on a British cooking program, and Jason Atherton is a true star.