Once a year I have the privilege of going to a fine dining restaurant for my birthday. My parents are foodies who worked all their lives as doctors before retiring, and one of their great pleasures is to travel the world eating delicious food. Living in Japan, I don't get to share in many of their meals these days, but when I come home for my birthday, they treat me. I'm so lucky.
I've been wanting to go back to this restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, for years now. We went in 2010 for my brother's birthday, and I had fond memories, so wanted to return. But it's a bit awkward to get a reservation, partly because the restaurant is popular but mostly because it's not open on weekends.
This year everyone's schedules lined up, though, so we decided to return to Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, one of what was until recently one of just two 3-Michelin-Star restaurants in London (joined last year by a Japanese restaurant). We walked from Sloane Square to the Chelsea restaurant and after having our coats and bags taken to the cloakroom, had some tasty fruit juices in lieu of aperitifs (some of the others had gin and tonics, but gin is one spirit I really dislike).
The restaurant was different from how I remembered it. It was more spacious and modern, with more art deco touches. In fact, I see that it was refurbished in 2013. The chef was different too - when we first went, it was Clare Smyth (Ramsay hasn't been the chef there since 2007), and this time Matt Abé. So with many crucial elements having changed, it was worth trying again.
We were treated to some little canapes with echos of Japanese and Chinese cuisine, which were a pleasant start. The restaurant seated a few more this time, with many two-person tables around the edges of the room. This gave a slightly unnerving feeling for those of us in the centre of being the entertainment at a cabaret, but that was soon forgotten as we chatted and were greeted by the friendly staff, including an amiable maitre d' Jean-Claude who we remembered from last time.
An amuse-bouche followed in the shape of a soft-boiled egg with creamy garlicky soup inside. I've forgotten exactly how it was described, but it was a very tasty little treat to begin with.
The first course of the Menu Prestige was pressed foie gras with a wonderful piece of fluffy brioche toast on the side. Now, restaurant Gordon Ramsay is the place I had the best foie gras I ever remember having, but that was braised. Braised foie gras isn't for everyone, but I love it, even more than I love foie gras pates, so while this was a good start to a very good meal, it couldn't match up to my memories of the starter from seven years ago, nor to the braised/seared foie gras I had in The Square or Seven Park Place the last two years.
A ravioli followed, stuffed with lobster, langoustine and salmon, which was tasty and charming but a little salty for me.
Better was the halibut with king crab and lime. The fish was superb and balanced in a very interesting way by the lime. This is one of the advantages of a tasting menu - I'd never choose this kind of dish from the a la carte, but I'm happy to try it and be surprised.
Lamb with winter vegetables followed as the main course. It was delicious, especially when the meat and vegetables complemented one another when eaten at the same time. Again, lamb isn't what I tend to choose and I'd much rather have a steak, so while the cooking here was superb, it wasn't quite optimal for me because there are dishes I'd rather choose. Nonetheless, a delicious centrepiece.
Cheese was next. I forgot to take photos until I'd already sampled some. I wanted a strong cheese and two blue cheeses, and one of those blue cheeses was amazing. I'd rather larger, seedless grapes with my cheese, though.
A little blackcurrent sorbet came after that, with slightly questionable presentation but a very pleasant flavour with champagne crushed ice accompaniment.
I preferred the rich flavor of this little cheesecake-like affair for dessert, though, which was very sweet yet very refreshing and matched my dessert wine neatly.
Finally, they brought out some dainty little treats to polish off the meal. These little ice cream balls encased in white chocolate were delicious.
They brought me a little birthday cake, too! Cute. And those salted caramel chocolate pieces were some of the nicest chocolate I've ever had - and I eat a whole lot of chocolate, haha.
And finally, these little jelly pieces with a leaf in reminded me of Japanese mochi. I prefer sweeter things but these were definitely well worth having in between the salted chocolate pieces to refresh the palette. And that was the end of a very fine meal shared with loved ones, which I would love to have again, but which wasn't quite aligned with my ideal dishes. I'd love to try Abé cooking the same dishes I had at the Square last year. The last two years' meals edge this one out slightly, but I'd still say this, averaged with memories of last time at the same restaurant, was one of my top 5 fine dining experiences! I'll have to try Smyth's new restaurant Core when I can, though.