Note: Gordon Ramsay at The London closed in October 2014. Local professional reviews were uniformly terrible, but the restaurant had two Michelin stars for most of its run, losing them only in its final year. The New York media paid practically no attention after the opening period, but somehow it remained open for eight years, outlasting many other imports, including two Alain Ducasse fine-dining restaurants, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House and Adour, both of which had far more critical acclaim than Ramsay.
The visit described below was from the restaurant’s early days, with founding chef Neil Ferguson, who was quickly fired after bad reviews. We paid a later visit in 2007, where we had a “Master Class” meal prepared by Ferguson’s replacement, Josh Emett. Later on, Markus Glocker took over; he later moved to Bâtard, where he earned a Michelin star.
Gordon Ramsay at The London Hotel is the latest New York restaurant vying for four stars from the Times and three from Michelin. The loudmouth chef already operates what is arguably the best restaurant in London (the three-star Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road), along with a bunch of others, including The Savoy Grill, which I visited last summer.
The pathway to hell is littered with chefs that opened New York restaurants with four-star aspirations, only to fall short. We’ll have to wait till late 2007 for the Michelin Guide, but Frank Bruni in the Times and Adam Platt in New York both delivered withering two-star smackdowns to Gordon Ramsay.
Meanwhile, plenty of people are making reservations to find out for themselves. It isn’t quite the hot ticket that Per Se was (and still is), but prime times nevertheless fill up quickly. I booked my date at Ramsay exactly two full months in advance, and a 6:15 p.m. reservation was the best I could get.
Ramsay offers two seven-course tasting menus at $110 or a three-course prix fixe at $80. While no one would call it inexpensive, it a bargain compared to other top-echelon New York restaurants. Had the major reviews been favorable, I suspect these prices would have gone up promptly. Now, perhaps they’ll be stable for a while.
I was keen to order the tasting menu, which Ramsay calls the “Menu Prestige.” My friend chose the vegetarian tasting menu, and we tried a few bites of each other’s plates, so I got a pretty good idea of what Ramsay’s cuisine is about. There aren’t any “Wow!” dishes, but there are no duds either. It is very classical and correct cooking, all executed to a high standard.
The bread service came in two flights. First, there were slices of crisp bread with two spreads: cream cheese and foie gras. I could do with plenty more of that foie gras spread. There was also a choice of sourdough or multi-grain bread with unsalted butter.
This was the tasting menu:
- Amuse bouche: White bean and mushroom soup with black truffle. Served in an capuccino cup with the soup whipped in a foam, in fact resembling capuccino.
- Pressed foie gras and game with port sauce and pickled mushrooms. A rather unmemorable terrine.
- Lobster ravioli with celery root cream and shellfish vinaigrette. An excellent dish, and I would have liked more of it.
- Striped bass fillet with pak choi and caviar velouté. Probably the highlight of the meal.
- Roast cannon of lamb with candied onions, confit tomatoes and marjoram jus. A peculiarly named dish, and for no good reason. There were several slices of rack of lamb, off the bone, and 8-hour braised lamb shoulder. My friend, who usually does not touch lamb, enthused about the braised shoulder, saying it was “the kind of lamb I could eat.”
- Cheese cart. Not as impressive as at several other high-end restaurants (e.g. Chanterelle, Picholine), but certainly very respectable, and I thoroughly enjoyed all that I had.
- Apriocot soufflé with Amaretto ice cream. A can’t-miss dessert.
The vegetable tasting menu had the following:
- Amuse bouche: Vegetable soup
- Marinated beetroot with ricotta and pine nut dressing
- Sweet onion gratin with Parmigiano Reggiano
- Cep risotto with shaved truffles
- Chef’s Preparation, seasonal vegetables
- Chocolate mousse [substitution]
- Apricot soufflé with Amaretto ice cream
My friend’s two favorites were the amuse bouche (which, like mine, came in a small coffee cup) and the chef’s preparation of seasonal vegetables. You wouldn’t think a plate of sautéed vegetables could stand up as an entree, but Ramsay made it work, and my friend couldn’t stop singing its praises. The kitchen was also happy to accommodate my friend’s request for a substitution, as neither of the standard choices for the sixth course (grilled pineapple or the cheese cart) appealed to her.
I requested a wine pairing, and the sommelier did an excellent job for $60 each. We hadn’t discussed price, and I actually expected him to come in considerably higher than he did.
Service was friendly and generally excellent, with only minor flaws that at a less-expensive restaurant one wouldn’t even bother to notice. Our meal took a bit more than two hours, which seemed just a tad rushed. It’s difficult to pace a tasting menu, and this one needed a bit more leisure. At one point I asked a server to slow down, but it didn’t seem to make much difference.
The room is comfortable and elegant, with tables widely spaced, and heavily padded armchairs to sit in. Our table would have been large enough for a party of four at many restaurants.
After dinner, we were offered a tour of the kitchen. It is a huge space, as the same kitchen is responsible for the main dining room, the adjoining London Bar (a casual “tapas” restaurant), and I believe the hotel’s room service operation as well. Everything is immaculate, and you can easily see why they are proud to show it off. We walked by the chef’s table that blogger Augieland raved about. I’m sure the guests there are fed like kings, but with servers and touring diners constantly walking by, it’s no place for privacy.
Ramsay did not earn the coveted four-star ranking from Frank Bruni. The Times critic has been on the job for 2½ years, and has yet to award four stars to a restaurant that opened on his watch. (For the record, Bruni was the first to rate Per Se and Masa, but they were already open before he landed the job. His other four-star write-ups have been re-reviews.) Surely he is itching to pull the trigger. But Bruni has made it clear that he has little interest in traditional formality. Bruni also has the modern critical bias (shared with many others) against restaurants that do classic things well without generating a lot of excitement.
I have only one meal to go on, but if I were reviewing for the Times, I would have awarded three stars. In its elegance and polish, Gordon Ramsay is in some respects better than many of the three-star restaurants I’ve visited, but it doesn’t have the “Wow!” factor that the best restaurants deliver.
Gordon Ramsay at The London (151 W. 54th Street between 6th & 7th Avenues, West Midtown)