Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Ritz * - Revisited

This post was to come up much earlier. However, I was faced with a technical challenge. The battery on my laptop failed. Yes, it is a 7 month old machine, thankfully, bought with every warranty and service contract that could be sold covering the machine. I must say that the service by Dell was excellent. My enquiry with the “Dell” engineer revealed something rather surprising. Del has outsourced servicing/support for their machines to Wipro. So, the engineer who turned up was a Wipro employee seconded to Dell.

We had last eaten at the Ritz in November 2016 soon after the Ritz had been awarded its first star in Michelin. You can read about that experience here. Since then, we have been reading only good things about the food. Once we knew our visit to London was certain, HRH the Queen of Kutch made a reservation for dinner.

When we entered at 7.30, the room was 40% full. The clientele was generally older, all white. We were the only Browns and there was a table of 4 Yellows. A flock of Blacks turned up much later. But you get what I am saying, a well-heeled, older, non-Instagram, non social media crowd. Later, the restaurant got more full.

The dining room is gorgeous. Possibly, the most opulent I have been in. A close second, though in a different style, would be the dining room at Berner’s Tavern. High ceilings, Apricot walls and dim LED lights, all of which, while making the room beautiful, contribute to making photography challenging.

There is only one Menu, though divided into 3 sections. First is the Table De La section where food is brought out on a trolley and there is table side carving or preparation. The second section is the Menu Surprise where you are offered 6 courses chosen by the Chef. A La Carte is the third. We chose the Menu Surprise. Our reason was simple. This Menu Surprise was simply smaller portions of the food from A La Carte – sort of like a Greatest Hits. In actual fact, these 6 Course excluded Canapes and Petit Fours. It turned out to be 7 courses and not 6, a fair amount of food, not excessive for me, but a little much for HRH the Queen of Kutch.

We started with a couple of Gin & Tonics, which is one of our favourite drinks. And drinking this Aperitif in London in Summer is absolutely correct. The wines are pricey, though I spotted a reasonable bargain in a house wine which sounded great - Ritz Pauillac, Domaines Barons de Rothschild, Lafite. Not bad, though HRH the Queen of Kutch declared it a little acidic. She has a fine palate.

I am not going to bore you with a description of every dish. The photos carry a description of the dish.

The Canapes. Left to Right. Cheese Sable. The exquisite Coronation Chicken Tuilles with a mild Curry flavour and lastly Lemon Macrons with Smoked Salmon Mousse wand Salmon Roe garnish. 

Dehydrated and then re-hydrated Heritage Tomato, Burrata, Parmesan and a Tomato Consomme.

Parmesan Mousse to accompany.

Duck Foie Gras Terrine. Please have a careful look at the Cherry slices. Lots of tweezer work, but, more importantly, look at the knife work when slicing. Also, dont Cherries have seeds? How was this sliced?

Langoustines, Almonds, Green Beans with a Shellfish Bisque/Sauce 

Turbot  with a Champagne Sauce

Cutlet & Fillet of Lamb with Courgette 

Cheese with Truffles

Pre Dessert - Peaches with Peach Ice Cream

Dessert - A luscious Chocolate Tart with Caramel Chocolate Sauce 

The food was flawless. The standard of cooking, the quality of the ingredients, the presentation, the flavours, the sequencing and the colours were all top class. Though this restaurant has been graced with a single star in Michelin, honestly, the food was right up there with the big 3 star boys and certainly as good as the better 2 star places. All the food came out hot despite the service glitches. Not a single, and I mean not a single, dud dish or even a slightly subpar one. This was a tour de force of high quality classical French cooking and techniques, in other words, Haute Cuisine in its true sense.

The big problem we thought was the service. This is what we had experienced the last time as well. Let me try and tell you what we thought the problem was.

Our section of the restaurant comprised of probably 8 tables, 2 rows of 4 tables. Of these 6 tables were occupied with a total of 15 people, give or take 1. We had two persons serving us, a senior who also took orders and his deputy. Of course, there was a separate Sommelier with his team who handled the drinks and water. The waiters were Italian [not that it made any difference, simply FYI] and were friendly, hard working and we had no complaints with them.

The food was brought to the dining room by runners or Bus Boys who carried food laden trays covered with Cloches to the room. Then the waiters would get the food to you. The Bus Boys would then take empty trays and dirty dishes back to the kitchen. The problem was that 2 waiters was simply to few for even the 15 odd people they were serving. This is high end food. Each course needs cutlery to be changed. Every dish needs an explanation to be given by the waiter to every diner, which sometimes invites a question and, obviously an answer. Each guest on the table has to be served simultaneously, so two waiters could serve a 4 top. Sometimes the kitchen sent up 2 or 3 tables food together causing delays in service. God help you if you were the third table in sequence to be served.

While this was galling and irritating, inexplicably, for the Cheese course, which required no cooking was delayed by 15 minutes. Either the kitchen delayed sending it, or, having sent it, the waiters were simply to busy to serve it to us. Thankfully, it was a Cheese course so waiting did not damage the food. At this point, HRH the Queen of Kutch, told off the staff. This had a dramatic effect. Our last two courses came out in a flash and, we were asked if we wanted our Petit Fours boxed. We said yes. Why did this happen? Possibly we were switched from being table No 3 in sequence to becoming table No 1. The whole menu Surprise had taken a good 3 hours. This was long. Sitting that long with breaks between food did get a bit irritating.

All in all, it was a most pleasant evening. The irritation hit only towards the end of the meal when the wait got to you. The food was excellent, the room exquisite and the atmosphere charming.

After having been twice, and on both occasions having had similar experiences  [though the food this time was much better than the previous] do I recommend this restaurant?

Of course, yes. Great food, eaten in a historic and beautiful dining room in an iconic hotel, what more could you want. The service is not the waitstaff’s fault, its something more fundamental. They need more staff, but then with so many staff in such a large room, that raises other issues. To conclude, do visit the Ritz, besides making you feel good, as my niece Aditi says, it makes you feel rich!

The Menu Surprise is GBP 105 which is INR 10,000 per person.

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