Went to dinner Saturday night at the new Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at the London Hotel. I called up the day the reservation line opened and was able to get a 9:00 table. The room is very well designed - with the aqua dinner panels, it has the feel of an elegant Park Avenue apartment from sometime in the 1950s. Our server heard us talking about the swiveling wall panels and turned the ones by us so we could see what they look like at lunch. The dark wood and porthole size mirrors on the panels made it look like lunch would have a much clubbier atmosphere. The room is small (45 seats, I believe) and all the tables seemed good with comfortable swiveling chairs.
Now the food. We started off with a glass of champagne from the champagne trolley, which was a nice touch since this was a special occasion dinner. Both of us got the 7 course tasting menu. The canapes came first - a small bowl of truffle cream cheese and a small pot of "chicken liver parfait", with crostini. Both were delicious. My only complaint was that the crostini were cut off bread with too many holes, which made slathering that much harder (both of us wanted a lot on each piece since they were so good). Our request for more crostini was accommodated immediately. Next, the amuse about which a lot has been written already - white bean cappucino. Spectacular. Great white bean flavor with a nice hint of the pork the beans must have been cooked with. Smooth texture with some of the beans at the bottom of the cup for some contrast. Yum.
Next was the terrine of foie and game with country bread. The foie was silky and great. The game was a little chewy for my taste - tasted great, but wanted something a little more forgiving in the terrine. Putting everything on the grilled bread brought it all together, though, since the bread added a bit of chew that made the game make more sense. After that, we had a lobster and salmon ravioli. Very tasty, with nice firm fish and a pasta wrapper that could hold up to them. Not terribly exciting, but very good. Next came black sea bass with an artichoke veloute. Perfectly cooked fish in a very well made sauce. For the main course, I got the cannon of lamb, nice and rare with perfect accompaniments of roasted onions, tomato confit and what had to have been a button of leg meat. My date had the beef with braised oxtail and bordelaise sauce. The beef was perfectly medium rare and delicious, but the oxtail was out of this world good. I love oxtail and this was some of the best I've had.
For pre-dessert, we had one cheese plate, with wonderful selections by the cheese server (turns out our favorite cheese on the plate is only $14/lb. at Murray's, who knew?) and one pineapple puree, coconut milk and pineapple granitee - like a light, refreshing pina colada, perfect right before dessert. Dessert proper was an apricot and almond souffle with a little spoon of amaretto ice cream. Nice and light and flavorful, with little bits of almond for some texture and crunch. Very nice way to end the meal. Of course that was not all since they brought the bon-bon trolley to finish us off once and for all. The same server in charge of the cheese brought the trolley, told us about everything and then offered to put together an assortment. We got a big plate with tons of little sweet bites. Favorites were the peanut brittle and the lemon cotton candy in its own little bowl. We left completely stuffed and satisfied.
Service was immaculate. Lots of servers each with a different task, but everything felt very integrated and professional and no one was ever hovering. The wine list was pricey (one red was going for $10,000), but I chose a reasonably priced pouilly-fume from the Loire and then asked the sommelier to choose a burgundy in about the same range, which he obligingly did, and chose a wine we both enjoyed immensely. Also, when we told the cheese server how much we liked the one cheese, she immediately went to write it down for us. Overall, I found everyone very professional, friendly and accommodating. They made the night very special.
Having written all that, I get the feeling Gordon is not going to be happy when the reviews come out. I think putting everything (room, service, food) together, he will end up with 3 stars, but not the four I'm sure he wants. The food seems to match with the '50s ambience, as if he's doing a riff on haute cuisine of that time (and executing it very well). Since New York has had these kinds of restaurants since the '50s, I'm not sure he'll have the same reception as he had in London, which (correct me if I'm wrong) has only become a dining destination in more recent times. Considering the number of fine dining restaurants New York has and has had over the years, I'm not sure this is the restaurant the City has been asking for. With tastes turning to new kind of cooking - Nobu, Per Se, even Le Bernardin's move toward incorporating Asian flavors - I'm not sure something this old fashioned is destined for great write-ups. I'm looking forward to seeing whether I am right or wrong. In any event, the food is great and I would go back for another splurge, but will probably try places I haven't been first.
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