Jimi Famurewa reviews The Ritz restaurant: Old-school razzmatazz with an intense approach to deliciousness

<p>A Liberace-designed fallout shelter: the dining room in the Ritz</p> (The Ritz)

A Liberace-designed fallout shelter: the dining room in the Ritz

(The Ritz)

It’s hard to fully pin down why I was a little wary of my planned end-of-year festive blowout at The Ritz. Maybe it is a general aversion to that table-scraping, head-bowing mode of clinically extortionate hotel fine dining. Or perhaps it’s the mythic dress code (jacket and tie for men) that, rather than being a mark of timeless sophistication, always puts me in mind of dry ice-choked UK garage clubs where a vindictive bouncer’s interpretation of the ‘shoes and shirts’ policy could sink your entire weekend (but not before a friend had haplessly attempted to push some Base London loafers through a toilet window).

Well, whatever it was, it doesn’t matter any more. Because now — after a truly mesmerising debut lunch there — I realise that The Ritz, parodic synonym for grandiosity that it is, is absolutely worth the fuss and surprisingly cross-generational awe. Yes, it is unconscionably expensive. But it is also an enterprise with an almost manic devotion to superior hospitality, old-school razzmatazz and an intense, oddly forward-thinking approach to deliciousness.

It didn’t take it long to get its tinselled hooks into us. ‘Wow, it’s like we’re shut away from all that rubbish outside,’ said my mum, referring to the pandemic, as we planted ourselves (and two-fifths of our family bubble) among the dolled-up couples and one-per-center families in the ruby-gold glow of the lavishly frescoed main dining room. It’s a sentiment that just about nails the alluring, careful dance of opulent escapism and scrupulous Covid-security that places like The Ritz do so well. The vibe, in short, is very much that of a Liberace-designed fallout shelter. Or a gilded cage with a blanket gratefully thrown over it.

There is safety of a sort on longstanding chef John Williams’ menu, too; a multi-speed hymn to French classicism where the exorbitant bits of performance-art pricing nuzzle beside a £55 three-course set menu that represents pretty exceptional value for Michelin-starred food in a singular setting. Mum — who had been googling Ritz etiquette and chided me for attempting to clink glasses — couldn’t be swayed to have a starter but my à la carte, hay-smoked veal sweetbread jerked me to attention. It was an ethereally soft, butter-fried cloud with the faintest offal twang and a sweet, dark, truffled jus that brought to mind sticky barbecue glaze. Our shared whole Bresse duck — served first as a very rare, peppercorn-scattered breast carved beside the table; then, as a gorgeously tender, breadcrumbed confit leg — had the same gleeful tickle of richness and mildly primal indulgence.

As I duly put away a double-flambéed, breathalyser-troubling crêpe suzette, it was hard to not feel anything but immense gratefulness

I could have done with a more satisfying side dish than pomme soufflé: those technically fiendish orbs of puffed potato that, heretical as this may sound, really do feel like someone has mislaid a bowl of mediocre crisps on the table. And though the wines we nursed with our mains were fantastic (particularly a relatively bargainous, warmly fruity Chateau Le Puy Emilien, 2014) the fact that a circa-£300 bill was fattened by the old price-obscured-glass-of-champagne-on-arrival trick left a slightly bad taste.

But, look, as mum lost herself in the mystical weightlessness of her chocolate soufflé, and I duly put away a double-flambéed, breathalyser-troubling crêpe suzette, it was hard to not feel anything but immense gratefulness. We were not talking to each other on a screen. Well-oiled groups were laughing and eating too much nearby. And for a few hours, in a year that has necessarily prioritised survival and caution and compromise, we gloried in the act of a meal that was about nothing more than delirious, Christmassy enjoyment. The Ritz is sublime, ridiculous and inessential. And that is exactly what makes it feel so vital.

The Ritz

1 Veal sweetbread£27

1 Shared Bresse duck 'Arts De La Table’ £94

2 Glasses of Chateau Le Puy Emilien £36

1 Glass of Lacoste Borie£22

1Crêpe suzette£19

1 Chocolate soufflé£19

1 Glass of Pol Roger Rosé£32

1 Glass of Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs £26

Tip £40

Total £315

150 Piccadilly, W1 (020 7300 2370; theritzlondon.com)