Everybody knows the restaurant, and the name it carries is one of the heaviest in today’s cuisine world. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay is one of the most famous restaurants in the world, rewarded with three Michelin stars ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ since 2001. The current head chef is Matt Abé, but we visited this place when Clare Smyth was still leading the kitchen brigade.
Clare Smyth, the head chef, is the only British female chef to hold and retain three Michelin stars. Before joining Ramsay’s brigade in 2002, she worked at The Waterside Inn (under Michael Roux) and at Gidleigh Park. She also attended training at Louis XV in Monaco and at The French Laundry. An impressive CV for this young chef (she was born in 1978) who is set to open her first solo restaurant, Core, in Notting Hill in August 2017.
Her modern French cuisine style has been influenced by her mentors, Ducasse and Ramsay in particular. Light food, especially sea fish, get a prominent place in her list of proteins. The broth is another main component of her recipes. The liquid part of the dish is meant to give depth and structure, letting the flavors of the course combine together and achieve greater results.
The place reflects the idea of the head chef. The cure for details is maniacal, from the door to the table. The dining room, refurbished in 2013, has a minimalistic modern style, with an eye for details. We are just a bit concerned by the number of tables. The room is quite small, and the density of table is a bit too high for the premise.
The waiters were helpful, and they spoke to us in several languages. The Maitre de Salle, Jean Claude Breton, was just perfect. A keen eye for details, he’s fluent in different languages and able to match his interactions with every different type of customers. He’s a star in the restaurant.
The tasting menu has all the classical dishes the restaurant is known for, from the lobster ravioli to the pigeon, for 145£. The first time visiting the restaurant, this is a must try. Other possibilities include the seasonal inspiration menu for 175£ and any three courses from la carte for 110£. The extensive wine list includes several hard-to-find gems, but at a hefty cost.
The mise-en-bouche is still carrying a winter soul. A soup of egg, potato, and black truffle served in an egg shell. It is robust, hearty, warming. This mise-en-bouche is spectacular, setting the bar to a high level. We would probably prefer to have these kinds of flavors in January rather than April, but the dish itself is perfect.
The first appetizer is in line with the French soul of the restaurant. Foie Gras filet served with green apples and smoked duck. The flavors are complex and inspired, with the right combination of acidity and fats between the apples and the liver. On top of that, the addition of the smoked duck is splendidly executed, exalting the whole dish. Pure class.
If the first two entries were good, the successive two are hymns to perfection. Ravioli of lobster, langoustine, and salmon is one of those dishes that should be put in an art gallery.
The pasta, thin as it should be and with the right combination of yolk to collaborate with the other ingredients without killing the other flavors. The perfectly balanced filling, with the delicacy of the langoustine, the sweetness of the lobster, and the robust taste of the salmon joined together, all supporting each other in creating a memorable experience. Finally, the bisque, flavored with sorrel, giving a strong citric support to the dish. We could start composing poems about this course, it’s probably the best thing we ever had and something we would put there in our personal food paradise 👌!
The follow-up of this splendid course is another wonderful creation. Halibut and king crab are served with a broth prepared with finger lime and ras el hanout. The halibut, from the Isle of Gigha, is unique in the world. It’s farmed and not caught wild. As incredible as it sounds, this lets the meat of the fish to be fattier and sweeter, without losing any flavor. The king crab, caught in Alaska, is a well-known delicacy. Its flavor is slightly sweeter compared with other regions, creating a bonding with the halibut. To balance these striking but delicate flavors, a broth is served directly in front of the customer. Finger lime acts as acidity corrector. Ras el Hanout is a mix of spices, typical of Morocco. The name is Arabic for “head of the shop” (similar to the English expression “top-shelf”) and implies a blend of the best spices the seller has to offer. In this case, more than 40 ingredients create the mixture. The ending result of the dish is next to perfection. The flavors are deep, balanced, without a single imperfection. This course is at the same level of the previous one, and the two things we will remember best about this meal.
The following course offers a choice between lamb or pigeon. The Herdwick lamb is a classic Ramsay dish. A simple combination of flavors to give the lamb the possibility to express its potential fully. The meat is fetched from West Cumbria and just roasted, paired with a summer vegetable navarin. Under the Navarin there is a braised lamb shoulder and confit belly. We have some doubts about the effectiveness of the dish. The presentation is a bit confused, with half of the meat hidden under the vegetables without any apparent reason. The flavors are right, and the lamb is extremely high in quality, but we have been left with a bit of disappointment.
The other option, another classical from Ramsay’s set, is a roast pigeon with sweet corn, lavender, honey, and cherries. We felt this dish has the very same faults as the other option. Sure, the meat is beautifully cooked, and the pairing with the sweet elements is well performed (even if very standard), but there is no Wow factor, nothing that made us think about the dish afterward. Plain good courses, but that’s not enough.
The standard menu proposes a mango, jasmine and passion fruit soup, designed to cleanse the palate and set the entrance to the dessert phase. It has a lovely combination of acidity and sweetness.
There is the possibility to skip this dish in favor of cheese. This is something that we disliked, as we would have preferred to have both the cheese and the soup, but that doesn’t sound as the menu was supposedly created, which is something we failed to understand.
The cheese tray is lovely, with a focus on French cheeses. These are specially selected by Bernard Antony, a cheese farmer from Alsace. He is one of the most renowned cheese producers in the world, and among its customers, we can find several starred restaurants spread all around the world.
The pre-dessert is a make-your-own dish: they served us a frozen mortar and pestle with verbena and mint, asked us to crush it and then to cover a ball of cucumber sorbet with it. Of course, this is a simple dish with basic flavors, but we loved the presentation and the idea behind it.
The dessert is a lemon parfait with bergamot honey and sheep’s milk yogurt sorbet. The presentation of the dish is stunning, a work of art. The parfait is surmounted by a ball of sorbet and enclosed in a slice of crusted honey. Around the central part, a series of drops of honey is carefully placed, at regular intervals. It’s a beauty for the eyes. The flavors are delicate and pleasant, the acidity of the lemon perfectly balancing the sweetness of the honey. The right dessert at the right time.
Petit fours include one of the trademarks of the restaurants, white chocolate & strawberry ice cream bonbons served in a container with liquid nitrogen. The primary focus is on the spectacularity, with the white smoke coming out from the bowl, rather than on the actual flavors. The strawberries do not play really well with the chocolate, and the ending result is a bit undertone.
Clare Smyth is an astonishing chef with a particular eye for creating visually stunning dishes. Our expectations for this meal were incredibly high, and some of the dishes did not match them up. Most of the times, though, these were a matter of personal interpretation. At the same time, we had two of the best courses we ever had, and that’s something we will never forget. This is a place for everybody who enjoys classical French cuisine of the highest quality, with small space for experimentation and extravagance.
Note: Ms. Smyth left the kitchen and opened in August 2017 her first solo project, Core. Given how we loved her style, we are eager to try her new adventure!