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The London Bar

151 West 54th Street, nr. 7th Ave.
(212)468-8889

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TYPE: Asian-inflected French
VIBE:
Modern elegance
OCCASION:
A mature date or civilized family affair
DON’T MISS DISH:  White onion veloute with duck ragout
DON’T BOTHER DISH: Peekytoe crab with avocado & sweetcorn sorbet
DRINK SPECIALTY: An extensive wine list & classic cocktails.
PRICE: $70 & up
HOURS: Breakfast, lunch & dinner, 365 days a year, 6AM – 11PM in the London Bar.  High tea served every afternoon at 4 PM.  Dinner only in Gordon Ramsay at the London, beginning at 5:30 PM.
RESERVATIONS: Reservations are recommended, especially for dinner.  Be prepared to dial two months before you actually care to dine.
 

RESTAURANT GIRL RATES (1-10):
  6 (pretty good)
FINAL WORD: A royal mess – The London Bar was wildly inconsistent on opening night. Still, it’s well worth a visit if only to catch a glimpse of Gordon Ramsay, strutting his celebrity chef stuff in his very first NYC lair.

With two successsful restaurants in London (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay & Maze), not to mention a reality tv show that’s gained him temper tantrum notoriety, Gordon Ramsay sets his sights on NYC’s London Hotel (formerly the Righa Royal).  The London Hotel is officially now home to two Gordon Ramsay restaurants: Gordon Ramsay at the London, a 45-seat formal fine dining affair, and a more casual small plates experience in The London Bar, with seating for 80.  Ramsay has put chef de cuisine, Neil Ferguson, in charge of overseeing both menus as well as a three-floor kitchen with 80 cooks.

As if I was passing through the gates of Buckingham Palace, I made my way through the well-guarded doors of The London Bar, surrounded by an army of hosts and doormen.  An exercise in art deco elegance, The London Bar, is trimmed in silver, blue and wood hues with posh accents – a white marble bar, hammered silver wall panels, limed oak floors and powder blue banquettes – all the work of designer David Collins.

I was escorted to a table in The London Bar, in close proximity to the entrance for Ramsay’s apparent better half, Gordon Ramsay at The London.  As I eyed the opaque glass door, watching expats and a well-dressed bunch shuffle in and out, I couldn’t help but feel like I was staring at the wrong side of the first class curtain on an airplane.    After waiting over thirty minutes for a wine list and signs of waiter life on Planet Ramsay, I finally flagged down a server and begged her for a London Gimlet.  While anxiously awaiting my cocktail and a damn menu, I was happily distracted by the sight of Gordon Ramsay, parading around the room in his white chef’s jacket.

While the waitress explained the menu to be French with an Asian bent, there were notable Middle Eastern influences at play, many dishes seasoned with Moroccan spices, raisins, prunes and curry.  I couldn’t even humor the cliche appearance of scallops, prepared with golden raisins & cauliflower, a dish running rampant on every new restaurant menu this fall.  Like the scallops, many of the dishes seemed to have that “been there, done that” familarity.

We began with a carpaccio of tuna and swordfish; paper-thin slivers of raw tuna and swordfish, delicately washed in a lime and cucumber marinade, and a gently sweet soya dressing.  I even ate the bright pansies, which decorated the well-executed offering.  Though I equally enjoyed the presentation of a peekytoe crab mayonnaise with avocado and sweetcorn sorbet, served in a tall martini glass, I should’ve been content to admire it from afar.

The mayonnaise overwhelmed the crab, which was perhaps a good thing, seeing as the crab itself, was alarmingly fishy, and the sweet corn sorbet, too cold a complement for this disastrous dish.  We quickly pushed it aside to concentrate on a warm onion veloute, a luscious buttery foam, topped with savory nibbles of duck ragout and fragrant shavings of Perigord truffle.

Next came the marinated beetroot, sandwiching a soft cloud of ricotta, then elegantly doused with pine nuts and a Cabernet Sauvignon dressing.  The native lobster risotto, perfectly cooked, was nicely inflected with lemongrass and Thai basil.  It would’ve been a lovely endeavor, if only it hadn’t been topped by a gilthead bream, that like most of the fish I experienced here, was overly salty.  Though the artic char suffered the same fishy fate, an accompanying strip of wonderfully flavorful pork belly, escaped unscathed.

Despite warnings from a New York Times interview, which quoted Ramsay saying, “any patrons trying to take pictures of it (the food) would be banned”, I felt compelled to document an uninspired
lamb cutlet with braised neck.  Still, I kept waiting for Ramsay to dart out from the kitchen to snatch my camera.

I finished my evening in “Hell’s Kitchen” with a warm Valrhona chocolate fondant, laced with green cardamom and caramel.  Sadly, a side of almond ice cream, was overpowered by bitter chunks of sea salt.  It was a rocky opening night for Ramsay, but hopefully the kinks will be quickly worked out and Ramsay will be as critical of his own food as he was of the young chefs on his FOX reality show.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl

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