Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Article excerpt

WHEN Restaurant Gordon Ramsay Ramsay opened a year ago, I gave it an unreservedly rave review in my Daily Express restaurant column. Immoderate praise is not my natural metier, but dinner on Day 19 was exceptional. The furore surrounding the opening had been such that I had had to pull strings to get in; the only time I have reviewed a restaurant other than incognito. Even allowing for extra effort, though, the food was stupendous. There remains an intensity of pleasure in the tranquil recollection of a zingingly vanilla-sauced seabass that the mere memory of neither music nor poetry can match.

I said then that it couldn't last, and it hasn't. Which is not to say that Gordon Ramsay is not one of the most talented classical chefs in the world, because I think he is. He's just settled down to being an ordinary great chef, rather than a supernatural one. To me, culinary greatness means creating new tastes and textures which surpass those previously derived from the traditional array of ingredients and techniques; but this is not the fashionable view. One is supposed to sniff at such fancy-schmancy tomfoolery. (Which reminds me that the Greatest Living Yorkshireman, Frank Dobson, this week savagely denounced his journalistic detractors as 'clods'. Marvellous word. It follows his recent coruscating indictment of the same lowly order as 'fancy nancies' when they absurdly predicted that he would run for the London mayoralty. The Chuckling Uncle is fast becoming a national linguistic treasure, the only man left in public life [since the retirement of Chief Constable James Anderton] who speaks like one of Priestley's Good Companions. Let London reflect.)

Returning to tomfoolery, Ramsay's occasionally intricate, always delicate, cooking is the only true example in Britain of an idiom much misunderstood because of its selfdeprecating name. Since the back-to-basics rusticism of Joel Robuchon's cuisine grand'mere replaced nouvelle cuisine in the vanguard of French cooking, the 'grand'mere' element seems to have been taken ever more literally. From the peerless Roger Verge in Provence to the much lauded but still underrated Simon Hopkinson in London, a culinary vogue has developed which takes pride in buying well and cooking extremely simply but with love and aplomb. I find it tremendously attractive. Roger Verge's indispensable masterpiece, Vegetables, for instance, is as beloved as any cookbook I own. 1 would rather he cook my daily lunch than Gordon Ramsay.

But that does not make the two men equals. Ramsay, to put it baldly, is much more remarkable, as was Robuchon. I looked up an old menu from Jamin and was reminded of a subtlety, an artifice, that is often absent from the cooking of many who may consider themselves his inheritors. Ramsay, on the other hand, is a true child of the maestro, having trained at Jamin, and it shows. When he is not pushing forward the frontiers, then, yes, Ramsay's accent is on simplicity, clarity and refinement.

Most modem chefs claim to have moved away from the richness of cream sauces and intense reductions, but it's more true of some than of others and, anyway, it's not really the point. Lightness - of colour, consistency and flavour - is born of imagination and culinary 'touch', not technique. For example, my main course at Gordon Ramsay was fillet of veal braised in a brown chicken stock, served with saut6ed ceps, baby spinach and a truffle sauce. …

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