My TV boyfriend is taking a lot of heat these days from the British tabloids. There are interviews with the alleged mistress and, yes, he has a potty mouth. He also does that weird jumping up and down thing like a five year old who needs to get to the toilet. But for my money, Gordon Ramsay — on TV or off — is one of the most exciting chefs of our time. His ability to take a tried and true classic and reinvent it for upscale dining is incredible. Suffice it to say, we are a household that has all Gordon Ramsay’s cookbooks, all his shows saved on Tivo and, whenever we are in London, we make a pilgrimage to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. After this visit, we don’t care what you say about him, we’re loving Gordon Ramsay even more.
I did mention that we have all of his cookbooks. That doesn’t mean we actually cook from them. Well, I read them like novels, but I don’t have the patience for all the prep and presentation — which is really the genius of his dishes. Andy does. So a visit to Gordon Ramsay at Claridges was akin to bowing to Mecca for us.
But first we had hours of shopping at Harrods to attend to. Since I’m not a shopper — or rather, I go shopping once every two years whether I need to or not — I used this Harrods foray for other purposes. While I’d love to be able to cook some of Gordon Ramsay’s dishes, the fish dishes especially seem to call for types of fish that I’ve never heard of. My observation is that Pacific fish are oilier and stronger flavored than Atlantic fish. I’m suspecting that substitutes wouldn’t work. But it was fun to peruse the Harrods Food Hall fish market to check out all these exotic fish I read about in Ramsay cookbooks, but never encounter in California fish markets.
At last it was time for the event of the day, dinner at Gordon Ramsay at Claridges. I brought my camera, and I wish I could have used it. But a quick scan through the reviews of the restaurant revealed dozens of complaints about Americans snapping pictures of the food. And besides, we were seated dead center in the middle of the Art Deco room, so even a discreet snap was not possible. Not a problem, that left me more time to people watch. What a scene! There was the possible Indian billionaire with what we pegged as two call girls. (He was feeding them champagne — the cheaper house brand — all night. They were flaunting their cleavage.) There were the suspected young titled Hooray Henrys in wild embroidered waistcoats. There were the gentlemen we thought were senior financial executives with their bejeweled and coutured wives, who were nonetheless flashing horribly blackened and crooked teeth. (Some things never change in Britain and de-emphasis on cosmetic dentistry seems to be one of them.)
But the most exciting trend at this Gordon Ramsay restaurant — compared to a few years ago when we went to his Boxwood Cafe — seems to be a shift from snooty French staff. Now the dining room was filled with a veritable UN — all more enthusiastic and ten times more interesting than what you used to encounter in these places. Of note were dozens of West Africans lending their particular grace and musical cadences to the proceedings. Our cheese course server was from the Ivory Coast. I didn’t want to pry, but I had heard that many people of African decent are lactose intolerant, so I was intrigued by his career choice. But the man knew his cheeses. And, I’ll tell you, French cheeses have never sounded more appetizing than when announced in a lovely West African accent.
The highlight of the evening, however, was Suzuki, our sommelier. He steered us unerringly to the perfect Burgundies for our tasting menu. Even better, he hung around our table to let us bend his ear about Sonoma wines and verjus. When he finally asked for my card, I hesitated a bit. All I had was my blog card — the one with our motto: A Yank. A Brit. Two Terriers. A Vineyard and a Dream. When I gave it to him, his face lit up: “Ah, terroir!” I had to explain: “Er, no, terriers. Uh, arf, arf. Small dogs.” I’m not sure he got the connection. But he was gracious enough to invite us into the wine cellar to view Gordon’s stash. Surprisingly, it wasn’t much bigger than our wine cellar. Except that Gordon’s is stacked full and ours is barely one quarter filled (and that’s including our wine!)
Still, we left with the glow imbued by incredible food and wonderful wine. In the past, our fantasy has always been to walk into a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and have the great man himself in attendance. He would walk to our table — and perhaps, if he is anything like his TV persona — insult us and call us wankers. Now we have a different dream. To walk into a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and have exactly the same wonderful staff we had tonight.