Not up to expectations
It was quite clear that most of the customers in the dining room were there either because they were staying in the hotel or because this was The Ritz and not because they were looking for a fine dining experience worthy of the ratings it has. This must present the chef with something of a problem when it comes to compiling the menu - logically he must stay within certain traditional boundaries imposed by the expectations of the clientele while keeping up with the ever improving visions of the UK restaurant scene. If you have a grand dining room preserved in its original state, waiting staff wearing tailcoats, cloches used to present one or two of the dishes, a vocalist and string quartet accompanying your meal and you are not permitted to have any idea of the sequence of dishes on the Menu Surprise (because otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise!), you do start to wonder. Happily our table was not too close to the live music, and initially the almost exclusively Italian front of house staff seemed up to the task. However, from the point when I consulted the wine waiter on which half bottles would best suit the tasting menu, got no real advice, chose anyway from the singularly overpriced list and received no information about the suitability of my choices, things seemed to go downhill. The menu was well-balanced but we found it very much on the safe side, with no surprises and not a single dish that we could express any real enthusiasm about. It was obvious that John Williams is competent but perhaps having to work within limits. For the record the Menu Surprise consisted of some good canapés, sweet lemon meringue with salmon, a duck liver cigar - crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and a parmesan biscuit sandwich, then a consommé of dehydrated heritage tomato with a lemon verbena sauce, parmesan espuma and elderflower head, followed by a duck liver terrine with port, cherries, cherry and port purée, crême fraîche, and toast. This was followed by girolle agnolotti with a red wine sauce and a slice of pecorino, and then the first course that actually suited our white wine, Cornish turbot with a good butter finish but slightly too firm for our taste, accompanied by braised leeks sitting on top of the fish, cauliflower purée and chervil. The meat course was loin and cutlet of new season lamb with a basil and tomato sauce. Disappointingly I found some bone in my serving of loin. A cheese course of Tunworth with Australian truffle, candied walnuts, poached pear and herbs was curiously the most enjoyable of all the dishes we had. The two desserts were peach sorbet with almond crumbs on an almond tartlet, and what was designated milk chocolate with hazelnuts and ice cream, but the hazelnut fudge and caramel rather dominated.