Eating out with TOM PARKER-BOWLES: The Ritz reveres the past

TOM PARKER-BOWLES on The Ritz: It reveres the past and celebrates the present, with flawless cooking. I am impressed

To walk into The Ritz Restaurant is to abandon the real world and disappear into a heady rococo riot of naked nymphs, gilded sea gods and lasciviously ruched drapes. Opulence drips like rare honey from overly ornate chandeliers, as waiters glide by in pristine tails. 

At night, all is bathed in the richest and lushest of crimson glows, a shade that both flatters and intoxicates. Hushed yet slyly sexy, it’s an atmosphere that whispers breathy sweet nothings into one’s ear. The serenade of the resident chanteuse is yet more pink piping on this deliciously oversweet gateau.

A room, then, built for secret trysts and international intrigue, frequented by dukes, despots, courtesans and stern maiden aunts. It’s also a place to eat some of the finest high-end cooking in Europe. Because behind that magnificently gaudy exterior is a kitchen whose skill, art and precision are hewn from Japanese steel. Run by John Williams, one of the very best, The Ritz Restaurant also has one of the last great old-fashioned brigades. Escoffier would approve.

Service runs like a Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime. Smooth. Immaculate. Handsomely theatrical. The five-course tasting menu is something I’d usually swim raging rivers to avoid, but every part is beautifully judged, from the first chew of warm bread, slathered with the creamiest of butter, to the last mouthful of tartly bracing lemon and honey meringue.

To walk into The Ritz Restaurant (pictured) is to abandon the real world and disappear into a heady rococo riot of naked nymphs, gilded sea gods and lasciviously ruched drapes

There’s a tiny crab tart, gone in one crisp, glorious bite, the white meat exhilaratingly pure, with a whisper of oyster and lemon. And a mouthful of beef tartare, louchely rich, topped with a good half-inch of exceptional oscietra caviar. Crème fraîche adds a lavishly lactic bite. 

An Isle of Mull scallop, quiveringly fresh and winsomely sweet, wears a delicate rice wine jelly, gently sharp and scented with bergamot. Potatoes, tasting of salt and seaweed, are served with champagne-poached oysters, all wallowing in a white wine and kombu sauce.

 Here, the past is hallowed but the present embraced; classic French technique meets superlative produce. Asian ingredients abound. The precision and presentation of the cookery is breathtaking, as is the startling purity of flavour.

Be warned, though. Ties are mandatory. And prices are as exalted as the cooking. But it is pure, unabashed luxury, with a kitchen at the very haute of its cuisine. It currently has one Michelin star. Quite why it doesn’t have all three remains one of Europe’s great mysteries.

About £190 per head, without drinks. The Ritz, 150 Piccadilly, London W1;

DRINKS: Charlotte’s luxurious libations  

A luxury wine, in my view, is one that has been carefully crafted in the vineyard and in the winery, possessing concentration and complexity in the glass, and leaves you contemplative and yearning for another sip. I’ve encountered fine wines in UK shops priced at a jaw-dropping £40,000! But I believe there are plenty of remarkable luxury choices in the £30-£50 bracket. Let’s explore…

Moreau-Naudet Chablis 2020 (13%), £31.40,

With its textural depth, ripe citrus and racy acidity, this lip-smacking premium Chablis cries out to be served with a dozen freshly shucked oysters or caviar on ice.

Langham Culver Classic Cuvée Dorset NV (12%), £30.95,

An exciting English winery, led by 27-year-old winemaker Tommy Grimshaw, makes world-class, champagne-style bubbles: opulent yet fresh.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (13.5%), £46.50*, 

This elegant red tastes of rich fruit, espresso and tobacco – serve with dishes such as venison with a blackberry jus. 

Alheit Vineyards Cartology, Western Cape 2020 (13.5%), £36, 

From a top Cape producer, this Chenin-led South African white packs irresistible flavours – among them grilled peach and ginger. 

Schubert Marion’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Wairarapa Valley 2020 (13.5%), £44, 

This alluring, poised Pinot straddles new world New Zealand and old world Burgundy styles, its strawberry fruit offset by savoury undertones. 

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