My Jack and I had dinner at Gordon Ramsay at the London last night, and we found ourselves just a bit disappointed. Now, it is true that we tend to like our food a little edgier, and we went primarily for our friend, who is single and very much wanted to go. But we don't eschew continental food. We had a surprisingly amazing dinner at Chateau les Crayeres in Champagne last fall that was like an entirely new level of dining experience for us (made other high-end places look like good casual restaurants in comparison,) and we expected much the same at Ramsay, which also has two Michelin stars.
I will say that I was quite pleased with our sommelier and his assistant - we did the prestige tasting menu with matched wines, and asked him to come up with different wine choices for us, so we could taste different pairings with the same food. They did a fine job and while we didn't talk wine much, as we were with our friend, they were happy to elaborate on things when asked. The food was also uniformly excellent - not mind-blowingly inventive, and nothing that made me fall over with excitement, but perfectly done in every case. I particularly liked the scallops and a salmon/foam amuse that seemed like the essence of the sea. The swiveling seats are also clever - no need for servers to have to rush to pull out/push in chairs.
But we have had plenty of amazing food at various restaurants - with 2 stars, and for $400/person, we expected more in the way of service (as at les Crayeres, where we found the staff omnipresent and yet completely unobtrusive.) For instance, while my water glass was never empty, there were several times when I noticed that it was getting rather low (perhaps 1/4 full) and felt a little concern that I might run out. It feels a bit silly to complain about something like that, but my expectations were higher than that.
The worst part was at the end - the bonbon cart fellow came by as we were finishing our dessert and we told him we wanted to finish our dessert wine before choosing anything. He came back while we were still drinking and I asked him to please give us just a couple more minutes to finish the wine. I specifically said they we WERE interested, but wanted to finish our dessert wine before getting tea/coffee. He then asked if he could set aside some things on plates for us and I said, a bit more firmly, that we still needed a few minutes with our wine. The next thing I knew, our headwaiter came by with copies of our menus and chocolates, thanked us for coming, told us he would be back with the check and walked away as we looked at one another in shock. I was going to do my consumer advocate thing but we figured they probably had people waiting for our table, and as we were full anyway (I would have had difficulty making room for bonbons but would have managed our of sheer gluttony,) we decided to leave. Again, not the end of the world, and I am sure I could have fixed things if I chose, but at this level I was expecting a seamless experience.
I think we also expected more "spectacle." For instance - at les Crayeres they had a cart of a dozen breads on offer, from the simple to the exotic - here we were offered a standard baguette or multi-grain. At les Crayeres, even before the bonbons, they brought out not one dessert (which was actually, admittedly, two small things, garnished with honeycomb,) but a number of variations on a theme, comprising five or six items and served in three separate courses. At GR we saw them coming out with tiny plates with some kind of mousse or cupcake bearing a candle for special events. At les Crayeres, when setting things up with the hotel, I mentioned that my husband had a birthday coming up - to give weight to my request that he get a tour of the kitchen. During his kitchen tour they surprised us both with an entire, gorgeously decorated little cake for him (then immediately boxed it up, of course - and we ate it for three days following, once our appetite returned.) The number of official courses were about the same, but with multiple amuses and intermezzos, we may have had twice as many courses at les Crayeres - it was easily a 4 to 5-hour meal.
Now, it may be that a 2 star experience at a French chateau is very different from one in the middle of Manhattan. For those with more experience, should a much higher level of service be automatically assumed? I can hardly call last night a failure, but certainly we would not do it again.