OR NOT MUCH HELL IN THE KITCHEN
A couple of years ago I decided to stop over in London for three days, on my way “home”. I was in need of a walk down memory lane, London having been the city where I became an adult, the great love of my life left in haste after a shallower love affair had gone sour. I always vowed to return but somehow I ended up in Los Angeles. At least, I don’t spend my time griping about the weather anymore.
A couple of months before my departure, on the heels of the many Gordon Ramsay’s tv shows which had hit the airways in America, I had booked a table at his eponymous restaurant on Royal Hospital Road, his three Michelin star establishment. As I was dining alone, I was given a table rather late in the evening, even for European standards, but I didn’t complain. I work for a restaurant and I am aware of what makes good business practice.
I alighted the cab 45 minutes ahead of my reservation, on a drizzly (surprise surprise) March night, in my best Miu Miu pants, floor length coat and black beret. Jean Claude, maitre d’ extraordinaire, promptly showed me to my table, already set in a corner of a room smaller than I expected, filled with diners who seemed to be having a jolly good time: a couple on a date, a family with their college age children, some professorial looking Americans – the atmosphere was extremely relaxed for such a high class restaurant.
I knew I was in for a 3 hour experience as I chose the tasting menu which comprised 8 or 9 courses – I had been saving for it and went all out, adding the black truffles whose season was coming to an end. Jean Claude went out of his way to make me feel comfortable – being in a restaurant alone for 3 hours can be a daunting experience. He had guessed I was a chef, the giveaway either the fact I was flying solo or, more likely, my rough and unpolished hands that are like a false note every time I bother to dress up and splash make up over my face. He talked to me about the kitchen, how the brigade works, gave me Gordon’s 3 star cookbook to peruse (a tome rivalling the Divine Comedy in length and weight) and told me about Gordon’s upcoming plans for a restaurant in LA.
I then proceeded to have a memorable meal, one of the best in my life, in its simplicity of ingredients, purity of flavors and impeccable presentation. It was truly worth the small mortgage I had to take out to pay for it.
Fast forward last week, to the kind invitation on the part of a friend to dine at Gordon’s restaurant in LA, the London West, inside the hotel of the same name. As soon as we walked in the cozy room in West Hollywood, the similarities with my London experience rushed back. The restaurant has one of the hardest features to find in an eating establishment, perfect acoustics to facilitate pleasant and lazy conversation with your fellow diners without shouting over the bread basket or the server having to kneel to rattle off the specials. The service was once again excellent even if it lacked that British polite detachment and veered a bit more towards the friendly Californian way (but please don’t imagine anything along the lines of “Hi, I am Stephanie and I will be your server tonight”).
We were treated like royalty: Andy Cook, the young British head chef came to our table and made a few recommendations and the food was outstanding. Slightly short of the brilliance I encountered in London but the risotto with white truffles was perfect, each tiny grain of rice cooked like the Almighty intended.
By talking to some of the people who work at the hotel I also realized what made Ramsay’s places different – it was the cult of his personality for lack of a better definition. His employees talk about him always using his first name, somewhat implying that the towel you will be using in the hotel room was chosen by Mr Ramsay himself.For someone with holdings all over the world, it is a remarkable feat to train your staff with such precision and to be able to maintain such high service standards.
And if you happen to go through Heathrow and have 50$ burning in your pocket, shell them out on Gordon’s picnic basket and carry it on the plane. You will look like a pretentious pratt but you will be oh so happy to dig into your prosciutto and figs while your equally cramped neighbour is sticking his fork in his plastic lasagna.