Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ramsay's II

I'm a fan of food-based television, although I'm not sure I can really explain why. Even a shallow analysis reveals that watching someone else cook on TV isn't the best way to spend my time, and I don't even get to taste the result. I suppose there is an educational argument for watching cooking shows, and I'm sure I've picked up some techniques here and there, but then I never find myself writing down recipes. For me, much of the appeal of cooking shows comes from watching someone do something way better than I can (e.g., Jacques Pépin chopping onions at light speed, or Lidia Bastianich making something look impossibly tasty with minimal effort); however a lot of popular TV chefs today seem to lack a lot of the raw talent and rely more on personality, flashy production, and extreme tooth whitening.

The celebrity chef phenomenon is not endemic to the US. The recent popularity of the Food Network and the explosion of multiple Rachael Rays and Bobby Flays in the US was mirrored here in the UK by the popularity (with nearly equal amount of mockery) of Jamie OIiver, Nigella Lawson, and the notably foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsay.

Gordon Ramsay in one of his lighter moods

Gordon Ramsay is mostly known in the US for his "reality" show Hell's Kitchen, supposedly a cooking competition, but mostly a venue for his amusingly nasty personality. In the UK, he is remarkably over-exposed, with several concurrent TV programs, multiple books, and his big noggin plastered on billboards for Gordon's gin. All of this largely overshadows his real culinary achievements, which include 12 Michelin stars (tied for the most stars held by one chef) and a restaurant empire of around 14 restaurants in the UK and the US that range from casual pubs to absurdly high-end eateries.

While we celebrated Maggie's recent birthday on our visit to California, we wanted to go out to a nice dinner back in the UK when we returned, so we booked a reservation at a nearby Gordon Ramsay riverside pub The Narrow. By total coincidence, a friend from the US visited this last week and wanted to check out a Gordon Ramsay restaurant during his visit, so we also went to the more upscale Boxwood Café. Unfortunately, Gordon Ramsay doesn't do much cooking these days, and is so busy that he rarely sets foot in most of his restaurants, so my fantasy of him emerging from the kitchen and telling me that I'm rubbish was highly unlikely to come true.

The Narrow in Limehouse

We had a very fun dinner at The Narrow, which has amazing river views over the Thames and really nice versions of classic pub food at reasonable prices (for London). The real highlight of The Narrow turned out to be the desserts - if we had left pre-pudding, we would have had only a ho-hum impression of the food, but the desserts (a bread and butter pudding with vanilla custard, and a tangerine-cranberry crumble with vanilla ice cream) were so ridiculously good that we almost considered ordering seconds. Boxwood Café was a much fancier affair, and we had a truly memorable and mildly gluttonous meal (full menu-gloating details upon request), although we still left slight dismayed that we had passed up the amazing looking (but calorically over-the-top) British cheese course. It was great to see that Gordon Ramsay's TV bluster is backed up by some honestly great restaurants. In his defense, he doesn't have white enough teeth for me to have doubted him in the first place.

Lonely, unloved cheese


Cabby said...

Of course we want a culinary play by play, why else do I follow your blog with cult-like loyalty, if I'm not trying to live vicariously through you two! God forbid that stops at the scrumptious menu!!!

Andy M. said...

Okay, Cab asked for it, so here is the blow-by-blow of the tasting menu we had at Boxwood Café:

Course 1: Jerusalem artichoke soup, roasted shallots and foie gras [sorry geese, but you taste really good]

Course 2: Ceviche of Irish organic salmon and Cornish crab with chilli, lime, coriander and grapefruit [yummmmm]

Course 3: Baby beetroot, barrel aged feta, pear and pine nut salad [very good, but a bit of a cop-out for a decadent tasting menu]

Course 4: Seared loin of yellow fin tuna with fennel, red onion, quail’s egg and black pepper sauce [amazing - tuna that tasted like steak]

Course 5: Red wine braised shoulder of Dedham Vale beef with curly kale and black truffle, truffled mashed potatoes [best potatoes ever]

Course 6: Valrhona hot chocolate fondue, marshmallows, biscotti and fruit kebabs [should have had the cheese instead]

cabby said...

Ahhhhh, food! Now was that so hard? I'm not sure anyone can authenticate that any salmon is organic, but it sounds fab!