Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Restaurant Spy

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Restaurant Spy

Article excerpt


The sight of me sent the staff at BOXWOOD CAFE into a complete tizzy fan of Gordon Ramsay. In an age in which masculinity has gone out of fashion, he stands out as an unapologetic alpha male.

He makes no bones about the fact that, when it comes to fine dining in London, he wants to be top dog. And, indeed, he is. With the recent opening of La Noisette, he now has nine restaurants in the capital and between them they have six Michelin stars. That's an achievement that any restaurateur would be proud of.

Needless to say, Gordon Ramsay has no intention of resting on his laurels - and therein lies the problem. Having conquered the top end of the market, he now has his eye firmly on the middle.

Last year he announced that he'd be opening a restaurant in Heathrow Terminal 5 and, more recently, he disclosed plans for a string of gastropubs.

Can he maintain his reputation for quality and consistency if he spreads himself so thinly?

Is the Ramsay brand strong enough to sustain a diffusion line?

One way of answering this question is to pay a visit to Boxwood Cafe. Even though it's situated in Belgravia - in the basement of The Berkeley hotel, to be precise - it's undoubtedly the least glamorous of Ramsay's London restaurants. When he opened it three years ago, with chef Stuart Gillies, he said it would be the kind of restaurant he'd be happy to take his children to. It would offer fine dining with a New York twist.

Burgers and onion rings would be on the menu, alongside roasted monkfish cheeks and air-dried ham.

The entrance to Boxwood Cafe is on Knightsbridge and, in order to get to the door, you have to descend a flight of steps. Once inside, the restaurant seems to extend down an endless series of descending levels, and you can immediately tell how important the manager thinks you are according to which level he seats you on. Paradoxically, the top level is for the bridge and tunnel crowd, while the bottom level is for VIPs. I was seated on the lowest level, but only because Ramsay's ultra-sophisticated computerised booking system immediately flashed up 'Restaurant Critic' when the reservations clerk took down my mobile phone number.

As luck would have it, I was dining with another restaurant critic - a much more famous one than me - and the sight of the two of us sitting at the same table sent the staff into a complete tizzy. We literally couldn't take a sip of water without our glasses being refilled immediately.

The main benefit of this was that Boxwood's other patrons - a fairly ropey, after-work crowd - kept craning their necks to try to work out who we were. They were clearly unimpressed by two people they didn't recognise from Adam.

My companion started with half a dozen fried oysters, a dish for which he had nothing but praise, while I had the potted salt beef. …

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