Cookery with class. Dining @ Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Cookery with class. Dining @ Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Well you’ve seen him screaming at terrified chefs, hurling abuse at dismal restaurateurs and throwing the occasional plate of food into the ground. This is Gordon Ramsay, or so the media would have you believe. If his flagship restaurant, run by the incredibly talented Clare Smyth, says anything of Ramsay’s true nature then it describes him as humble, extremely dedicated and possessing an eye for detail that makes this restaurant the longest holder of three Michelin stars in all of London. This is Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

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We arrive in beautiful Chelsea to a slightly damp evening, quickly forgotten as we are ushered into the stunning dining room on Royal Hospital Road. Gold and silver glitter amongst the tables. The diners themselves seem to glitter, Katy Perry sits in a corner table with John Mayer causing Jess’s jaw to drop. Celebrity spotting is definitely not what we’re here for however. This is about food.

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Menus arrive and we decide to change pace a little and thought we would eat a la carte. Yes I know it’s not the usual tasting menu straight up but we have a tonne of eating to do here in London and want to be under 300 kilo when we return home. With decisions made and Champagne in hand we relax and let Clare and her team work their magic. Snacks weave their way towards us, a perfectly oozing quail scotch egg is crunchy and creamy whilst a truffle steamed bun sits like a little cloud on the plate.

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As quick as they arrive they disappear and we are presented with a little treat from the kitchen. A cannelloni of leek stuffed with porcini in a velouté of chestnut. Incredible. The soft, sweet leek with slippery, earthy porcini melts into the richness that comes only from wonderful chestnut. This is understated simplicity, the quality of the ingredient, the skill of cookery. It takes a good chef to use ingredients well, it takes a great one to let the ingredients speak for themselves. This was a decadent way to begin the proceedings and left us both wanting more.

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First course arrives, for Jess a Ramsay classic. Having seen the recipe for this in his famous 3* cookbook I was keen to see the dish itself. Ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon poached in a light bisque with oscietra caviar and sorrel velouté. It arrives looking like a perfect dome, black caviar adding an extra layer of lux to what proved to be meticulously cooked seafood served with the lightly citric sorrel velouté. This is classic cookery, though foams, gels and airs are incredible it is not everyday one gets to experience food like this. This is cooking at its finest.

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For me I of course see offal on the menu and dive right in. Yes I’m a chef and these are the tasty bits I love to eat. Forgive me vegos. Sautéed foie gras with roasted veal sweetbreads, carrots, almonds and Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar. Wow, meaty, creamy, sweet, savoury. This dish sang off the plate. The foie is pan roasted and melts like butter, the sweetbreads are fried in nutty brown butter and the vinegar brings the acid to cut down all that delicious fat! This starter had guts, well it had offal, ok a poor joke I apologise, but it is the only way I can describe it. A flavour explosion that had me gobbling mouthfuls and wanting to lick the plate. 3 Michelin stars wouldn’t mind would they?

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Still savouring the fantastic starters and keeping Jess from staring at Katy Perry for too long, main course arrives. Well actually only part of it arrives, my Cornish turbot cooked en papillotte is opened in front of us, the smell is a heavenly scent of ocean, seaweed and butter. Ok I’m salivating, get that fish on a plate lets go. Cornish turbot baked on the bone with seaweed, palourde clams, coco beans and fennel. This is probably one of the best fish dishes I have ever eaten! Yes that is saying a lot and I don’t care, this dish is amazing. The turbot takes on all of the umami flavours from the seaweed, the fennel brings in a lovely liquorice note and the beans are creamy and moorish. I dream of cooking fish this perfectly, the turbot peels away from itself in delicate white flakes, this is the fish they serve in heaven.

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Utterly distracted by my fish course I almost miss a taste of Jess’s Cotswold lamb,
autumn vegetable “Navarin,” best end, braised shank, confit breast and shoulder. If I’d have waited a few seconds more I probably would have missed out because Jess sure looks like she is enjoying it. The lamb is blushing pink, the braise unctuous and sticky and the confit as it should be, rich! There is a tonne of technique going on in this dish. This is not lamb and vegetables, it is so much more. This is treating the lamb with the respect it deserves and serving as much of it as possible. A feast of meat cooked to perfection.

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Now in all honesty I could sit back feeling content for hours, actually I could probably have one more bite of fish, but we must go forth into the world of pastry. Our palates are cleansed with a refreshing mix of goats milk yoghurt and a passion fruit, mango concoction. Then dessert menus arrive. The part Jess has been waiting for, Katy Perry seems like a distant memory now. Dessert time.

imageChoice is agonising but eventually we narrow it down to the two that we must try. Jess goes for Lemonade parfait with honey, bergamot and sheep’s milk yoghurt sorbet. This beautifully plated treat arrives underneath a spun honey tuille, the dish tastes incredibly of lemonade. The honey and bergamot bring both sweet and savoury notes whilst giving the dish a floral characteristic that instantly reminded me of long summers and refreshing drinks.

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For once I went for richness, I know I’m not always the dessert lover but I am an insatiable lover of chocolate, especially chocolate and orange. So for me it is smoked chocolate cigar with blood orange and cardamom ice cream. Don’t be fooled by the effeminate looking plate the photo shows you, this was a dessert straight from a dark place, the rich rich chocolate barely giving room to the tart blood orange. Cardamom is a wonderful spice note with chocolate and here only made the chocolate taste even darker, it was a wonderful take on the classic flavours of chocolate and orange.

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It was nice to eat a la carte for a change. We seem to have become so used to tasting menus it was lovely to eat different dishes and chat about what we love. Dining. Service here is immaculate, sharply dressed waiters are friendly, down to earth and happy to chat about the food and their experiences in the restaurant. You could chat with Jean Claude and hear every story from within these walls. We sit back to some petit four of strawberry ice cream dipped in white chocolate, heavenly little bites that round out our meal with some silky smooth coffees. We head into the kitchen for a quick chat with the lovely Clare and a look around the powerhouse of this amazing restaurant. Clare is so humble and chats about how much she still loves cooking and working for Gordon. Maybe he’s a big teddy bear after all??

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Time for us to mosey out, avoiding the paparazzi on the way we farewell what has been an incredible experience of fine dining excellence. Make the time to get here, make the reservation, do whatever it takes. This is classic cooking at its best and needs to be appreciated, Clare and her fantastic team will ensure an amazing evening.

This is definitely not Hell’s Kitchen.

Josh & Jess

Dined October 2013
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
68 Royal Hospital Road London, England
http://www.gordonramsay.com/royalhospitalroad

Welcome to the motherland. Day 49

Welcome to the motherland. Day 49

The frost licks at our window, cool and inviting. We draw back the blinds to a crisp Russian morning. St Petersburg beckons and Jess and I are eager to explore. Finally dressed in layers of warmth, it’s a pleasure to completely wave goodbye to the Miami blistering heat. The city seems to breathe, drips of colour splash on weary buildings, footsteps crackle on concrete decaying from over use. This is Russia, this is what we came to see.

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Walking the streets is paramount for discovery, history is all over here. St Petersburg, home to royalty. Enormous palaces are seen in the distance, spires of the great fortress gleam golden in the creeping sunlight. Our first stop, the Neva, bottle green water trickles past as the river winds its way in and out of the city streets. The giant Rostral Column stares down at us, a symbol of the mighty Russian empire. These columns represent the masts taken from conquered ships many years ago.

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Pigeons flock like floating ash through the park lands while we walk towards the Kunstkamera. A sort of museum of oddities, an insight into anthropological studies, medicine and the macabre. Not exactly the Russian history we thought we would see but it peaked my interest seeing defunct medical theories and floating heads in formaldehyde. The Menshikov palace housed many Russian royalty, it now lies stagnant and worn, age is evident on the St Petersburg streets. The city feels lived in, as though it has seen it all. Makes it a perfect spot for young tourists wanting to discover and explore.

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The Peter and Paul fortress is the height of Russian opulence; embossed gold structures, bronze layered features and great marble pillars mark the great Romanov Dynasty. Here they lie, marble tombs now their final resting place. This is the burial chambers for many Russian royalty and Romanov heirs. The heavy wooden doors barely budge as we enter the enormous church, giant pillars flecked emerald green reflect the glow of bronze and gold metal work throughout. Sun streams through stained glass and dazzles the white marble tombs, I cannot believe the beauty of this place. It seems not a house for the dead, rather a place to celebrate their memory. We could explore all day, it would take a lifetime to know the details of this space but the fortress houses so much more.

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Street vendors hark and cry from the streets, their carts ladled with brightly coloured matryoshka dolls, fur from far off Siberia and trinkets for tourists. The Russian tongue sounds much sweeter than the almost harsh Germanic tones we’ve been bombarded with. The path ahead takes us to the Commandant House. Once the house for royal guards, now a museum dedicated to the history of the Russian royalty and the building of the fortress. To the east lies the Neva gate, a solid wall separating the fortress from the river. Stones lay dormant against the rivers current as the Neva swells its way past the gate. Here another museum gives us some more history of the structure and the Romanov people it was designed to protect.

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During the Russian Revolution their were many imprisoned in the cells here. Trotsky, a famous Bolshevik wrote many papers on his social ideals within these walls, said betrayers were hanged here, revolutionaries were locked in solitary confinement cells cut off from the light of day. This feels a little like another concentration camp, just a quick look I think. Wooden stockades held thieves for public humiliation and the executioners block stands in the centre square. Russia holds no sympathy for those who descent.

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Though the Cold War seems long ago, their is still a presence here. Military tanks lay dormant behind rusted iron, the city streets hum with what were once munitions plants, now busy textile factories and shopping malls. There is an indescribable presence of power here. Not something tactile rather a whisper, the Russian people are proud of their city. It’s reflected in everything they do, their architecture, language and I haven’t even mentioned the food. Our afternoon finishes with the Russian staple, blini. Soft, velvety crepes stuffed with as many toppings as you can think of. For Jess a simple ham and cheese, feeling decadent after a day of palaces and wanting to wane of prison hunger I opt for sautéed mushrooms finished in a garlic cream sauce. These crepes ooze warmth, trickling through your body, a serious combatant to the increasingly chilling evening. Mushrooms, earthy and rich burst with garlic heat and I am in love, so much so that I need to cook.

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The nearest market is flooded with locals, all I need is some Russian staples. Cabbage, bacon, garlic and just because I’m a little French chef a hefty dose of butter. Our apartment kitchen proves a little haven for me, I haven’t cooked in a while so I’ve been feeling increasingly lacking in my skills. Begin by frying the bacon, the sizzle of fat hitting the pan brings sweet nostalgia only further indulged by the smell of fresh chopped garlic. The Savoy cabbage is slice as fine as these dodgy knives will allow, sous chef Jess hacks at the chopping board with a giggle, we haven’t cooked together in a while so it’s a treat. The cabbage hits the pan and water goes on to boil, what are we serving this treat with? Well it’s not exactly Russian but it’s what we feel like, hot buttered noodles. With the cabbage softening in butter and bacon fat the pasta is cooked and a quick toss brings it all together.

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Dinner is served.

Josh and Jess

Restaurant Mason Newcastle

Far beyond the city streets, dining at Restaurant Mason.

It’s lunchtime. I look left, I see Jess. I hear a stomach rumble. Mine or hers?Either way we’re hungry so we sit down at Chef Chris Thornton’s Restaurant Mason. Chris has spent much of his time in what is considered to be one of the most difficult kitchens in the world. Chris was a chef at Brett Graham’s The Ledbury. He is now settled amongst the busy suburbia of inner city Newcastle. Mason makes a bold statement with crisp white linen, friendly service and a pair of tattooed arms at the pass. We settle in on an outside table. Jess and I love to watch the hustle and bustle.

This is food with precision. As we sit we are greeted with house made bread and churned butter. Our starters are friendly flavours but this is food that you want to keep eating. For Jess roasted prawns with rosemary gnocchi and a butter sauce. The gnocchi is featherlight and contrast the crisp prawns wonderfully. For me I chose a salad. Yes I know, a salad. Now I have nothing against salad but I am usually a protein followed by more protein person, but a salad of quinoa, crisp squid, rocket and ratatouille was way too good to pass up.

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A breeze picks up and suddenly I am reminded that winter is almost here. The next two dishes are a reminder of winter warmers, a thick wool coat, uggies and everything else that makes the cold weather fantastic. For Jess, pork belly, braised red cabbage and roasted carrots. It’s like a roast dinner on steroids. The slightly pickled cabbage cuts through the rich and fatty pork and the carrots have just enough sweetness to drive home the deliciousness.

image Now after a salad it is time for me to dive into some protein. And here it is. A porterhouse steak, a sauté of local mushrooms and a golden potato rosti. Salivating? You should be. The mushrooms are cooked in butter and finished with thyme, the steak is a perfect medium are and the rosti is a little gold friend crashing the party. I broke records devouring this plate. I barely had enough time to notice the huge bowl of triple cooked chips next to me.

imageNoticing a wayward parking inspector checking out my car it’s dessert time. Jess has a textures of chocolate plate, a touch of naturalism here. The dessert looks like a chocolate forest, mousse, berries and an oozing chocolate fondant.

imageMy dessert is something else entirely. I have the Restaurant Mason carrot cake. Layers of carrot cake are pressed with sour cream, cream cheese and finished with an intensely savoury carrot purée. There’s also a silky looking quenelle of chai ice cream. This blend of sweet and savoury is something I really enjoy. Not only for the fact that carrot cake reminds me of baking with my mum but for the taking of the past and thrusting it into the future. It is food with love but there is a deft touch here. A touch of a professional.

imageMason may be set in amongst the urban sprawl of hunter street but it is a setting that is anything but. You may find yourself in a little hustle and bustle getting a table but the food here is tight, neat and tasty. The tattoos give it away. Chris works hard and his food shows. From that tiny little kitchen he can take you far off the Newcastle streets and into a world where the only touch is his own.So take a moment. Step out in Newcastle and let Restaurant Mason take you far beyond the city streets.

Dined May 2013

3/35 Hunter St, Newcastle NSW

http://www.restaurantmason.com