Seldom does something ever exceed the way it is envisioned in one’s mind, but when it does, the circumstances of its uniqueness, and quality, often haunt you with eternal wanting, hoping to duplicate the experiences which never does happen again. That’s what happened to my wife and I along with my oldest daughter and my son-in-law after celebrating my wife’s birthday at the Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, London. It was an experience well beyond celebrity that deserves quite a discussion so please do sit down dear reader and take a bit of a literary journey, because it will be worth it. I promise.
It was a few weeks before Thanksgiving 2016 in the United States and my wife and I were watching several recorded Chef Ramsay shows on our DVR, which we had to catch up on due to the recent election which took a higher priority—and we were feeling good about things for the first time in a long time. So we were in a celebratory mood and started talking about her upcoming birthday—still many months off at that point—but the discussion arose and she revealed that if she could do anything in the world, she wanted to go to a Chef Ramsay restaurant. Of course we discussed going to one of them in Las Vegas, or New York but neither of those options sounded good to her. She wanted to go back to where his whole media empire started and taste the food from what is considered to be the best of his best restaurants—the tiny little thing he started in first which has maintained his three star Michelan-rating for almost two decades now. After all, there are only three such restaurants in all of London making the Restaurant Gordon Ramsay one of the best restaurant’s in all of Europe—which is saying a lot considering how much emphasis food and wine are to the birthplace of western culture. That was after all why my wife and I watch Chef Ramsay together I like his management style—she likes his playful domestic manner and creativity in the kitchen—so his many television shows are something we enjoy as a couple. So not surprising when I posed the question—where would you like to go on your birthday—no matter where in the world—what would it be, and she flatly stated she would like to go to the Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. From there I found ways and reasons to make it happen and now that much is history. We made reservations exactly 90 days in advance and booked our travel arrangements immediately. The Restaurant Gordon Ramsay is the kind of place that penalizes you if you cancel so we understood that we were making a commitment to something half a world away that demanded we be there at a certain specific time and in a manner of dress—a “smart dress code.” Once we made that reservation for us, there was no going back.
Fast forward to a bumpy plane ride across the Atlantic, a train ride from Canterbury where it is my daughter’s second home and a long walk from Charing Cross station way up in Westminster, London. We intended to walk to Chelsea and see the sites along the way dressed formally. We knew the walk would be long so we gave ourselves an hour and a half to get to the restaurant and as it turned out, we barely made it by our 1 PM reservation. My wife had brought walking shoes for the hike, and had to literally change into her high heeled boots once we arrived with three minutes to spare in front of the Restaurant Gordon Ramsay with three minutes to spare and sweat running down our faces from an unusually warm February afternoon. It was from there that we were launched on a culinary journey which started down a long narrow hall that to me was quite purposeful, the entrance was very artistic in that it kept visitors from seeing the dining room until one entered the heart of the restaurant almost like the journey down a birth canal into a resurrection at the reception area.
My curiosity about the place which persisted well into our meal was that for Chef Ramsay, who is a major star on the Fox television network in the United States—this restaurant in Chelsea for all its reputation is very, very small. It was all he could afford as a young 33-year-old entrepreneur trying to make it big in London for the first time after being taught in the high-pressure wringer of French society and the delicacies of being a top tier chef and among the best of the best. You would think there would be large neon signs pointing to this little treasure—or that they’d move the location to someplace more spectacular. Yet the little restaurant was situated along Royal Hospital Road just a few blocks up from the River Themes. It was in a residential neighborhood hidden literally from the world with only a little autographed sign by the door to reveal what was hidden to the world inside. Yet this little place that could barely hold 50 people was filled to the brim on a Friday afternoon and it stayed that way for our entire 3-hour culinary journey which never stopped trying to impress us even at the very end when we were given a tour of the kitchen by the maître d’hôtel which I thought was highly unusual. Yes, it was extraordinarily expensive as should be expected but it’s the kind of place that you don’t go unless you are prepared for that kind of thing, where a bill can easily run up over $1000 dollars US for a table of four. Most people dining with us at lunch looked to average about 375 GBD ($465 US) per person at a table especially those who ordered off the Prestige menu or took advantage of the A la carte menu which allowed visitors to really dive down deep into the culinary experience. By the time you added a few bottles of wine such as the Chateau d’ Esclans ‘Garrus’ Cotes de Provence, the costs of the meal naturally escalated into the figures mentioned. But you really don’t go to a restaurant like this thinking about the money. You come to these places with disposable income and you don’t think about the bill otherwise you’ve defeated the experience.
With that in mind we ordered off the lunch menu which was more than sophisticated enough for us. I ordered a three-course meal which started with a Dexter beef tartare complete with nasturtiums and Manni olive oil, a Jerusalem artichoke, a Roast venison with Jerusalem artichoke, alliums, and elderberry ketchup followed finally by a Custard tart with blood orange, mint, and mascarpone sorbet. That last bit of dessert was simply jaw dropping delicious. It all was, but the desert really impressed me. My family picked other items from the lunch menu and the diversity was too much for me to keep track of—and the chef was nice enough to throw in extra surprises as they called them—almost a whole new meal worth—and my wife was treated with a small chocolate dessert with a simple candle on it for her birthday that looked like it was art on a plate. As we were asked how our meal had been I had told them that it was to die for—which the maître d’hôtel responded, “but don’t die yet—for we have more for you.” That is when the staff would bring out little extra bits for us to try to swoon over until we realized that we had been eating for over three hours—which was the longest dinning experience I had ever had.
So how do they keep that valuable three-Michelan star rating—well, they were not short on staff. Even though the dining room was extremely small—as I said—it would be lucky to hold 50 people, they had literally enough staff to nearly fill that restaurant if you combined all the behind the line staff with the front of house. My son-in-law went to the restroom at one point and his napkin fell on the floor. My daughter picked it up to put it back in his chair thinking that it hadn’t violated the “5 second rule.” But one of the dining room workers had swept in to gather it up and replace it with a clean one, and we didn’t even know anybody was watching us. There was always someone there to pull out one of our chairs to let us up, or tuck us back in after returning to our table, to keep our tables free of used dishes or even to pluck up bread crumbs that had fallen away while eating bread samples. One thing for sure, Chef Ramsay might have been in Hollywood most of the time now working on his television shows after getting this little restaurant in Chelsea off the ground with three intense years of hard work personally put forth by him as the foundation—but he wasn’t taking any chances with this place.
I watched the way they seated the dining room, which is why they were so strict on their reservations. To their benefit the Restaurant Chef Ramsay had built their business around guaranteed customers that would come in at specific times allowing the kitchen to work each table to maximum effect. They knew each day how many tables they would have and how to provide their works of culinary art to the specifics of each table. If the restaurant had been any bigger that would have been much more difficult—and this kept the kitchen from being overwhelmed by unpredictable walk-ins. Ramsay had taken his reputation and marketed it in a way of extreme quality so that uniquely the kitchen paced the flow of work—not the spontaneity of the visiting public. It was very smart and truly was one of the best restaurants in Europe—and it knew it. It had a swagger about it that was undeniable.
At the end the maître d’hôtel of course asked how everything was, and I replied that now we could all die happy. He was an Italian who knew how to work the room, but over the last three hours we had come to some understandings about each other and he seemed to really enjoy our company, and our naiveté about the diversity of food they served there. After all we had come so far to have dinner and had anticipated it for such a long time—and we were already fans of Chef Ramsay and wanted to like everything. We had walked many miles in formal attire to get there through the streets of London on a tight deadline—so we were very open to a good experience and his staff obviously recognized that and enjoyed serving us—because of the positive feedback when they came to our table. So he said to me, “Well, don’t die, but simply come back and do it again.” Then he invited us into the kitchen for a look behind the scenes which for me was what I really wanted to do. I had watched Gordon Ramsay in that very same kitchen on television trying to earn his first Michelin Star so I was very curious. The kitchen was spotless. The workers, very industries and attentive and it was quite impressive to see so much staff all working diligently toward a quest for perfection in the purest version of the word. It was a perfect example of the Metaphysis of Quality which I talk about often. Gordon Ramsay from a half a world away in Hollywood now is able to preserve his very first restaurant even from such a distance because he had established a very front of the train standard that now carries over into the culture of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay everyday by his staff who clearly understand the expectations.
So if you are ever in London and really want to eat in one of the finest restaurants on planet earth, then you must make the Restaurant Gordon Ramsay part of that quest. I’ve been to very nice restaurants in America and they weren’t like this—the people, the place, and the food were simply dedicated to the same objective as all the stained-glass windows served in Medieval Europe—to awe the public into grasping an everlasting divinity. The food at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay was meant to awaken in the people eating it a majestic achievement and to defy the laws of mundane compliance to the basic essence of dietary sustenance. The place itself was a rebellion against normalcy and a yearning to be more than just human. And yes, it was worth traveling over 4000 miles to visit. It was worth all expectation and everything it took to get there—and I would do it again—and likely will have a bigger group of family members with me the next time. It was an experience I’d want everyone to have if they could, and something that should be done at least once in a lifetime. It was simply that good.
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