I was surprised when my beloved’s birthday destination of choice was Maze. I thought the Ramsay empire’s bubble had burst some time ago, but a glowing review from a foodie friend convinced him otherwise.
We sailed up the grand stairway to the entrance, basking in Mayfair’s glory in the way that only wid-eyed out-of-towners can. The restaurant’s décor has suitably swanky leanings and it’s littered with objets d’art that verge on the flashy side, but the crowd (albeit unanimously loaded) isn’t exclusively beautiful.
Lengthy introductions from not one, not two, but three waiters seemed to over-egg the service pudding somewhat, but each was well meaning and – oddly – the flurry imbued a sense of occasion. The over-zealous approach was certainly forgiven when my other half was presented with a birthday cake, complete with candle and flamboyantly iced greeting. (I’d craftily alluded to the occasion when booking in order to bag a decent table. It came as a surprise when the Maitre d’ very amiably clarified whose birthday it was upon our arrival, but it’s indicative of the attention to detail here).
The foodie concept is simple – pick around four small plates including one sweet (if you like), remembering that noone will judge you if you opt for a shameless parade of puds. Two can eat for £50 if you plump for the set lunch but we strayed to the a la carte menu, therefore inviting the inevitable credit card assault.
Ever the troublemaker, Gordon Ramsay shows no signs of shunning foie gras. It crops up all over the menu and – when incarnated as game terrine with hazelnuts and blood orange – I am reliably informed it’s a winner. My courgette flowers were next to arrive and looked punier than the wideloads served by Dehesa and the like, but it seems I was wrong to judge; crisp tempura batter was a tactile foil for silken Iberico ham, a keenly-seasoned quennel of ricotta and super-sweet petit pois. Presentation’s pretty, considered and precise too.
Having been embroiled in a love affair with Bar Shu, I was in rapture having spotted sichuan peppercorn taking centre stage alongside pork belly and caramelised pear on the menu. So too was my other half, who ordered a salad of crab, mango and wasabi for his own hit of spice. While the pork was butter-soft and beautifully cooked (with the exception of tantalising shards of toffee-like crackling), I spotted a solitary sichuan peppercorn and experienced none of the tongue-numbing sensation that makes the curious little buds so addictive. The wasabi was also a no-show, which was disappointing.
Next were lobster dumplings bobbing about in an aromatic broth laced with zingy kaffir lime, which offered a welcome break from the belt-loosening. Featherblade of beef was outrageously tender, although it takes cahunas to charge £12.50 for a forgotten cut that’s cheap as chips; at £12.50, it’s bang in the middle of the price range per dish at Maze. Suffice to say, you can hear the till positively singing as you dine.
With such a muddle of flavours to contend with, wine could so easily be a puzzle. We were conscious that it’d be a bold move to plump for a single bottle that could jar with the succession of dishes, but equally that we’d be sozzled from matching each course glass for glass. We’d highly recommend ordering the flight containing the sommelier’s pick of three glasses; it’s an economical and tactical triumph. In our case, the trio included a plummy Medoc and a fragrant, floral white that were served on the elegant equivalent of a Lazy Susan. Having each glass on hand (bar the stickie, which arrived in a frosted glass along with our pud) meant we could dabble at will, which worked surprisingly well with such a rowdy mob of ingredients. And at £20 per head, it’s a rare chance to be frugal – or at least canny – with your ordering, and keep the damage in check.
Ah yes, the bill. There’s no doubting it was huge, but I didn’t begrudge it. We’d had a special meal to celebrate an occasion, were stuffed to the point of contentment rather than nausea, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The service and surroundings are slick and stylish, each striving to deliver and dropping few bum notes. I see no reason to bash this branch of Ramsay Enterprises: it is what is, that being a destination restaurant for high flyers and those who gaze at the stars.