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Kitchen Nightmares: Where are you Gordon? (Review of The London, Opening Night)

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Subtitles: "The Emperor Has No Clothes" or perhaps, "Well, At Least the Bread Was Good."

Suffice it to say, this is one of the single worst opening nights I have ever attended. Both Craft and Paperfish were better and that is not saying very much.

First off, I should mention I went in with very high expectations. I am a big fan Gordon Ramsey via Kitchen Nightmares, and am a regular viewer of Hell's Kitchen (although not exactly a fan of that show.) Plus, I already have a deposit down on a trip to go to England next summer, the highlight (and primary reason for going on the trip) being a special dinner with the illustrious chef.

It is also worth mentioning that I had a business trip in TX earlier that day and was in meetings 6:30AM PST. I went from the plane directly to the restaurant - I am just that dedicated.

I was with a party of 8, including a few relatively well-known local restaurant people who cannot be named. I am mentioning this now as it was reasonable to expect some degree of special treatment. Well forget that. If we were getting special treatment (we did observe some whispering and pointing in our direction) then the general public is really in trouble. There was actually much drama that had the end result of them splitting us into two CIRCULAR tables of four. While the tables were adjacent, they were positioned in a way to make shared conversation (and tastes) pretty much impossible. Plus, they could not even give both tables the same waiter. This was only the beginning of the "nightmare."

We quickly learned that this was to be a small plates menu. Not a big deal, until I learned that small plates meant microscopic. A funny moment was when the first food item arrived, Scot said, "how nice, we are getting an Amuse Bouche." Pleasure morphed into concern when we quickly discovered it was the first course. Remember how everyone made fun of California Nouvelle cousine 10-20 years ago? Big giant plates with a miniscule food particles on them? This was really that kind of experience. But I am jumping ahead.

Let's discuss the room. It is worth mentioning that I usually tend to be neutral on things like decor. Occasionally, I am really impressed with a space (Paperfish, Republic) and there are others that are maybe not my taste (Providence.) But I am rarely moved to such a negative reaction until the London. There is a lot of white, brass, gold, over-sized and mismatched furniture and fixtures. Think Donald Trump meets a New Jersey Diner. But forgetting personal style preferences, the place is a logistical nightmare for the waitstaff. Giant circular tables with big circular bench booth seating dominate the room. They abut each other in a way that makes the wait-staff have to kind of run figure 8's in order to serve people. Lots of passing of dishes occurred. There are also a number of square tables around the perimeter of the room. (I still can't determine why the 8 of us could not have four of these tables but I was not there for the big drama when this was discussed and those involved clearly did not want to discuss it so I dropped it.) None of us could believe that Mr. Kitchen Nightmares himself could allow such a horrid arrangement.

Ok, that was a big back story, I realize. But it really helps to set the stage for the food. Sometimes when you have the right environment things can be overlooked. Often I find myself remembering a restaurant as a little better than it probably deserved because I was just enjoying the company and the moment. I could not grasp onto anything here.

Our two tables ordered separately and shared wine but not food. My table shared interest in some of the same items, so we had multiples. A good thing, re the portion sized mentioned earlier. Some more about the menu: Chef Ramsey supposedly prides himself on locally sourced cuisine. So we were confused by some menu items that shouted quite the opposite: " Connecticut Rabbit," "Scottish Langoustine," etc.

There was a choice of a tasting menu for $85/6 courses which was nothing more than an uninspired grouping of some a la carte items already on the menu, so we passed on that and went all a la carte. There were three price points on the a la carte items: $14, $18, $22. Three specials were $15, $18, and $26. Now this sounds very reasonable on paper, but the size of even the most expensive "large" items was so small that it really made the prices appear outrageous.

Between the two tables, here was what was ordered. Portion sizes were so tiny I personally tasted very few of these. In general, anything containing fish was described as "too fishy" and "not fresh enough." The english pea soup would have been nice without the smoky, fishy salmon. I actually enjoyed the cassoulet, which had a nice variety of unusual shellfish and a lovely sauce, but it was a real tease. Our table of 4 shared 2 orders, and it was painful. The cod was just horrendous. THe pig tails, truffles, and truffle were blended into what looked like a brown ground beef sauce. The flavors of these items did not come out at all. It wasn't until I reread the menu just now that I remembered it should have tasted like something other than too-fishy fish with meat sauce. The pig's head was also a table favorite. It presented kinda like pig trotter or maybe a homemade non-spiced sausage without the casing. The 2-3 grams I tasted had a nice flavor and texture. Duck breast was flat and uninspired. Duck tongue was a tiny crispy morsel that added a touch of crunch but not much else. Fillet and short rib: Eh. My table cut its losses and did not order dessert. They brought us a complimentary plate of forgetable macarons (And I love Macarons) and some passionfruit marshmallows. The other table had a variety of desserts, and indicated we made the right decision.

1. Apple-Cured Duck Breast and Crispy Tongue, Foie Gras with Amaranth
2. Chilled English pea soup with cured salmon, creme fraiche, and caviar
3. Broiled black cod, pigs tails with Kumamoto oysters, Pèrigord truffle
4. Pacific yellow fin tuna with pickled daikon, crab beignets, sesame soy dressing
5. Burrata Mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes, cape gooseberries, basil pesto
6. Smoked rainbow trout, avocado, fennel crisps, sauce mousseline
7. Smoked pork belly with roasted Scottish langoustine, celeriac and apple
8. Cassoulet of seafood, king prawn tortellini and garbanzo beans
9. Wild Asparagus Risotto with Chive Flowers
10. Braised Pig's head with English peas and Chantarelle
11. Breast and braised leg of poussin with white cabbage, pickled ginger
12. Beef fillet and Kobe short rib, cipollini onion, baby beets
13. Monkfish with crispy chicken skin, lemon thyme consomme

After our $1000 dinner we went to Bar Marmount and had burgers and fries for dinner. Much better than our nightmare experience we had at the London.

Come on Gordon, you Donkey. what is wrong with you?!!

The London
1020 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069
1-866-282-4560

If anyone is interested, this review is also on my blog, here: http://foodandwineblog.thefoodietrave...

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  1. well on one hand, at least it was a soft opening

    on the other, if he doesn't get his shiz together, he's gonna have to go kitchen nightmares on himself

    1. "Come on Gordon, you Donkey. what is wrong with you?!!"

      I was just the other day thinking about how his restaurants must be run. After the abuse he puts the hells kitchen contestants through, I was wondering if his places are perfect --never a forgotten substitution, never an over cooked chicken breast, never having to ask who had the beef. I guess now I know. Thanks for the review.

      1. Disappointing but not surprising given my experience with one of his lauded London restaurants a couple of years back. Now if we could only get The Square or Petrus to open here instead....

        1. Wait a second, this was a soft opening? You went with "restaurant people" to a soft opening and now you're giving it a negative public review? From one experience?

          That ain't right. Every restaurant gets a sorting out before they can run smoothly. Some often take months. I think you're suffering from premature castigation.

          2 Replies
          1. re: foodiemahoodie

            Point well taken, but in this case, the primary points of criticism transcend the quality and taste of the food. (Although the food certainly wasn't great) Main problems are the ridiculously small portions for the money and the logistical layout of the room. They would have to completely rework the menu concept and replace the very expensive furnishings to fix these issues.

            For the record, I have been to many soft openings in LA and understand what it means to manage expectations. But this one by far was the worst. They have a long road ahead of them.

            1. re: wasabica

              Don't feel too bad... a VERY similar report was given by the LA Times food blog.

              http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/daily...

              --Dommy!

          2. I wonder if Christina will be able to do anything for this place. Somehow I doubt it. Does anyone know when she actually will start there?