…. the immortal words of the wartime song by forces sweetheart, Vera Lynn … and tonight we were those Angels that dined at The Ritz!
The Ritz, not the original one in Paris, but the Ritz Hotel at 150 Piccadilly, London! Built in 1905, it is now owned by a couple of brothers, the Barclay brothers, who have spent 10 years and £50 million restoring it to the pinnacle of London hotels.
Any why? Because they had ‘an offer’ on which seemed too good to miss. 3 courses and 2 glasses of wine for £55. I’ve paid more than that for dinner in a pub!
I have also always maintained that, at least for me, 50% of any dining experience should be ambience and if appropriate, a view, and so the opportunity of spending an evening in what is described as ‘the most elegant dining room in London” was not one I was prepared to pass by.
So together with my oldest friend Jenny – a former fashion editor of Marie Claire magazine, and now independent fashion guru, and her friend Roberta … a foodie whose parents own half of Genoa , – unfortunately Caroline was on the Island – both bon viveuses and always up for a jolly jape, we trooped into the Rivoli Bar, which for the sake of a bit of old fashioned name dropping, was designed by my cooking-friend Tessa Kennedy – not her best work in my view, all rather brassy, bitty and really rather small (or intimate maybe) – where with ostentatious fanfare we were shown to a table.
I ordered a champagne cocktail off the (wildly expensive) drinks list, which was a mistake as we intended to keep costs down. But once in, it really would have been somewhat disingenuous to walk back out again ! An orange flavoured cocktail arrived in a fancy flute – I have actually never had a champagne cocktail in my life, and probably never will again …. I am not a fan of champagne – but it was good, served together with some nuts, some kettle chips straight out of a bag and some olives which looked like they’d been fed on steroids. It was all good… ish (I am not good on cocktails other than the odd Cayperinah) as the Italians do ‘nibbles’ so much better, but at was soon time to go into dinner.
But first … on passing down the central corridor we passed the Palm Court … where I was confronted by something so amazing I had to stop and stare, mouth dropping almost to the floor! It was 8.30 in the evening …. And the place was crammed full of people having … afternoon tea! Tea at the Ritz is so hugely popular amongst a certain type of person that the first sitting is at 11 am an the last at …7pm!
It was all quite incredible and in a way made me a little sad. Aspirational looking 20 and 30 something serious looking young women, dolled-up to the nines, and a few touristy men sitting there at silly little tables, stuffing all-you-can-eat formulaic looking sandwiches, sugary cake and Lapsang Souchong down their throats …. at 8.30 in the evening for God’s sake in the rather over lit and dreary Palm Court.
They had actually paid more for their experience than we were about to pay for our upcoming 3 course dinner with wine in the beautiful dining room. Extraordinary, and for me rather typical of the times we live in. Do something because it is the done thing …. Whatever the time and whatever the circumstances. I like afternoon tea as much as anyone …. But please …. In decent weather, with something to look at, preferably outside in a nice garden and above all, not at dinner time ! We left them to it!
The best tea I know … anywhere? Thought you’d never ask ! The Mediterranean Terrace of the Royal Hotel in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight …. defo, as they say, not The Ritz in the middle of the night!
We were shown to our table and sat down and looked around. The whole thing was just beautiful. A lovely painted ceiling above us, some dramatic god-like, heavily gilded statues in alcoves around the edge of the room, a pianist playing a Steinway Grand in the corner, tables full of well dressed punters (though with a high propensity of older men with besotted looks on their face in the company of very young, very bored, very pretty looking women who I noticed spet a lot of time staring at their mobile phones ….) a wonderful table setting with a big candle and before we had even settled in the rather flambuoyant French Maitre D’ bought us a salver of 3 amuse bouches each, the best of which was a tiny little spring roll filled with a very intense Coronation chicken mixture.
After a bit of light hearted argy bargy about which wines our “offer” entitled us to (I dared to stage-whinge a little about the prospect of Minervois which is a pretty skanky wine, even if it came free with our ‘deal’ …. And so they bought us their Premier Cru Chablis insted … result, I felt!) we got our first course.
He also bought … joy of joys … toasts nomme Nellie Melba. Tiny thin slivers of toast which of course require a considerable skill in social graces to spread them without them snapping into a million pieces on your plate!
It was time to get going and our first course arrived pronto!
Watercress and Egg-yolk ravioli
On the lovely white dinner plate was a single large ravioli which contained an egg yolk which oozed unctuously onto the plate when cut into. It was mixed with some fresh watercress, a few slivers of tomato … and tasted wonderful. Ravioli with egg-yolk is regarded as the piece de résistance of ravioli aficionados and this was certainly a wonderful example of the art.
What was a little less wonderful … indeed decidedly odd … was a sliver of “crispy chicken-skin” which was covering the whole thing. I can only put it down to an aberration on the part of the chef as it was totally out of place and frankly tasted evil. We looked at each other and moved it quickly to the side of our plates!
Our mains came next –
Lamb noisette with Turnip, shallot and calves liver.
I’m afraid I dislike black pudding of any sort, which was offered with this course and they were very understanding and replaced it without fanfare with a couple of thin slices of liver. The lamb was soft and pink, the liver too. The vegetables as always with French food were a little sparse and there were some small dollops of what I think was mustard on the plate. The truffle gravy was generous, hot and so tasty …. For me the dish was a delight. I ordered a green salad on the side which came with about 4 different types of very crispy fresh leaves and a perfect vinaigrette dressing.
One of our three had the fish option which was a good portion of braised halibut, with some kale, some radish and a lobster jus. It was tasted and looked amazing.
All the courses were brought to the table under a cloche which matched the plates, and then removed with considerable panache all at the same time, by the waiters. It is a nice way to present food as you cant help feeling a slight frisson of excitement waiting for the cloches to be removed, as well as it keeping it warm en route from the kitchens, and added considerably to the glamour and fun!
The pianist had by this point been replaced by a cutely geriatric quartet that had previously been entertaining the herds having tea in the Palm Court and as they started playing my favourite composer of schmaltz Fritz Kreisler, I went over for a bit of a chat. They seemed rather tickled by this as obviously doesn’t happen very often and I ribbed the violinist for having ducked out of the double stopping when playing Liebesleid for me! He blushed and admitted his omission! I almost offered to show him!
I returned to the table in time for pudding –
Exotic fruit soufflé with banana ice cream on the side.
I have only ever had 3 souffles in my life, all 3 in rather smart restaurants, so my expectations were high. It has each time been unforgettable and I am now determined to master the art of making my own soufflé!
Exotic fruits is always an intense flavour and the huge soufflé wafted to the table all puffed up, decorated with icing sugar and accompanied by an absolutely delicious banana ice cream. It was heavenly, and as all three of us ordered it, there really wasn’t a great deal of chit chat going on whilst we enjoyed it … well, apart from a great deal of oohing and aaahing!
One of my pet hates with some modern restaurants is their audacity in trying to impose 2 sittings in one evening! Absolutely incredible that anyone puts up with it, (though I suspect the people having tea at 7 in the evening would … anything to garner another ‘experience’ however truncated) but here there was no hurry, and so all three of us sat chatting and observing our fellow diners (the lady on the table behind us was a little squiffy by the time the humungous brandy tray arrived at her table, so much giggling and shrieking accompanied her choice of post-dinner stiffner) talking about old times, present times and future times, particularly how often we could afford to come back and repeat tonight’s experience!
However coffee soon came … an excellent small espresso coffee for £6.50 …. Bracing, but it came with a such a large plate of mignardises of all types … and clearly all made on the premises that we didn’t mind at all. Chocolate drops, a few squares of raspberry jellies …. Considering we only ordered one coffee the chocolates were enough to fill all three of us up with a goodly sugar fix to send us on our way!
And so ended this most enjoyable evening. We headed out into the foyer where one of the waiters took a photo of us and commented on how very smart the ladies looked. Well, they did … very, both is designer chic clothes.
Jenny in a vintage Karen Millen black chiffon dress embroidered with fuschia flowers with stiletto boots by Dune and Roberta a black Joseph dress and a Luisa Spagnoli ochre silk taffeta coat (For the record I was wearing a Pierre Balmain charcoal pin-striped suit with Charles Tyrwhitt Sea island cotton shirt, Christian Dior shoes and Armani silk tie!… lol etc!) and so I make absolutely no apologies for saying that anything that requires you to wear something smart , be on your best behaviour and smacks, even faintly, of ‘smart’ meets with my entire approval.
A certain type of person will ridicule it, and frankly I in turn find those sort of people rather ridiculous. Chippy and sour …. The people in the dining room at The Ritz this evening – at a guess about 100 of them – all went home having experienced an unusual and even uplifting experience. It certainly was for me. No other restaurant that I have been to in recent years could remotely pull off what we experienced this evening, and I take that as a sign of the Ritz’ stated desire to share what they do with as wide a clientele base as possible.
I suppose if that means serving afternoon tea at 7 in the evening … so be it! But take it from me, going as an angel – however impoverished – to the Ritz for dinner is a truly heavenly experience!
Previous dinner posts from Peter
- Another culinary highlight ... but of a different kind. - May 17th, 2013
- A saturday evening in .... - April 20th, 2013
- Fish pie followed by Peter's Tiramisu ! - March 19th, 2013
- Borough Market, London - March 2nd, 2013
- The Old Plough, Station Road, Cobham, Surrey - September 6th, 2012