Puttin’ On The Ritz Mayfair
Her Ladyship wanted a proper night out. She’s 92 and had just finished a punishing round of radiotherapy so the obvious thing to do was a restorative visit to the Ritz. She hasn’t been around quite as long as the hotel itself which was founded in 1906 but was a regular in the 1940s and in the run up to Xmas where would be more glamorous? I was fascinated to see how the kitchen would manage the legacy of its founder, the legendary chef Auguste Escoffier, the great moderniser of classical French cooking.The Ritz Restaurant is London’s answer to the grand Parisian dining rooms and with a long overdue Michelin star recently received by executive chef John Williams the restaurant is definitely experiencing a resurgence. The style is classical both in terms of food and service and the dining room is a marble columned extravaganza of neo-classical excess. Xmas is in full swing as we enter the lounge with a chanteuse, string quartet and pianist carolling away. But despite the seasonal jollities we have to wait way too long for our table at the entrance to the restaurant especially given her ladyship’s venerable and fragile condition. The staff are simply too busy being self-important rather than caring for their customers. However the room is lovely, bedecked with all sorts frivolous nonsense and after a slurp or three of fizz her Ladyship soon perks up.The kitchen sends out some amuse bouches which sustain us as the pianist plays a set list straight out of the mid 1970s.Her Ladyship opts for the chicken consommé as she is very much still in recovery mode. I’m not sure if it was even on the menu but it was the perfect dish and beautifully executed.My chestnut soup comes with wild mushrooms and was a much more substantial affair. I have an almost erotic obsession with chestnuts which gives my analyst great pleasure and the combination of the smooth, sweet and rich marrons with the funghi was almost too much to bear.Her ladyship declares her plate of grouse to be perfect.My main dish featured a beautifully cooked fillet of turbot with oscietra (posh caviar), baby leeks and a champagne sauce. Turbot really is the best flavoured fish and I wish my stove was powerful enough to get that perfectly seared crust which John Williams and his team achieved whilst retaining the flesh in its pristine pearlescent state. By this time of the evening the pianist had morphed into a band with a lounge-lizardy singer singing standards from the Great American Songbook. The pianist perked up throwing in a couple of tasty bebop solos and elderly couples tottered around the dance floor. Suddenly a couple of Strictly-standard ballroom dancers gave a very energetic floor show that was pleasingly diverting. Her Ladyship was a ballet dancer back in the day and approved.
Because you can never have enough chestnuts I chose the deconstructed Mont Blanc for dessert. It was witty, playful and delicious in the way that deconstructed dishes are meant to be-but in my heart I was slipping into the long lamented Swiss Centre off Leicester Square where they served a vertigionous and very constructed plateful that you needed crampons to ascend satisfactorily.
You would have to possess a heart of stone not to enjoy The Ritz. The old-fashioned glamour, the quality of the food and the entertainment create an unmatchable offer. Did I mention the prices? Best not…