In the UK, the Christmas and New Year holiday is quite a long stretch. We have 3 public holidays [4 in Scotland, I believe] – 25/26 Dec and 1 Jan. Many people take 3 days annual leave between to make a long break. This year, the calendar permitted the bridging of 2 weekends, so we could easily have a 10 day break.
Personally, I am not a big fan of Christmas, as it seems to have become a time of excess: too much food, too much drink and, for many, too much debt. However, I do rather like the concept of New Year being a new start – a clean sheet to write on and other such clichés. Once this is over, there is often a feeling of anticlimax, but I have the benefit that Libby, my Other Half, has her birthday on 2 Jan. This year we celebrated in an interesting way …
I asked Libby what she wanted to do to mark the day and she told me about an interesting restaurant in London that she would like to visit. Although I am no fan of big cities, I was very happy to make the trip [it takes about 90 minutes by car/train from my house – not that bad] and I was very glad that we did. We made quite an early start, arrived in London and, after coffee and a little shopping in the sales, headed off to find the restaurant.
The place is called “maze” and it is owned by the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey, who is very well-known here – not sure how far afield his fame has spread. It is located in a very smart part of London – Grosvenor Square, which is near all the foreign embassies – and is so low key that you could walk past it and not know that there was a restaurant there at all. I imagine that they do not really look for passing trade as they have a strict reservation policy.
The concept of the restaurant is that they offer “tastings” – small portions of very sophisticated [IMHO] recipes. The menu lists 10 options – 7 savoury and 3 sweet – and each guest can elect to have 4, 5 or 6 items. We asked to have all 10 – 5 items each, but to share. They were mostly delivered in pairs, which worked very well. The service was attentive and nicely paced – never intrusive. The atmosphere was calm and sophisticated, and very comfortable.
About halfway through the meal, I noticed a rather causally dressed guy stroll in and start talking with some of the staff. I immediately suggested to Libby that she might like to look behind her. It was Gordon himself. It was an additional treat to see the Great Man in person and know that he keeps the staff on their toes.
Libby mentioned to one of the staff, when they asked if we had been there before, that this was her birthday treat. We were surprised, at the end of the meal, when an additional course arrived: a piece of chocolate cake, with a candle and “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate on the plate. Low key, in keeping with the ambiance, but a very thoughtful touch.
I expected to be hungry at the end of the meal, having had such small portions. I was not – I felt pleasantly full. I would recommend the place to anyone who enjoys good, interesting food. It is not cheap, but not riotously expensive either; good value in my view. Just one suggestion if you go there: ask to retain a menu during the meal so that you can have a clear explanation of each dish; they are explained, but it is easy to be so distracted by the appearance of the food and not really listen to the server. Do let me know, by email or comment, if you go there and give me your opinion.