As a fussy eater I’ve always steered clear of tasting menus. I love the idea of sampling the best that the chef has to offer, with multiple courses of exquisite small portions – but the problem is, I wouldn’t usually eat most of it. But a friend and I both had things to celebrate – we’d both recently bought houses and she had just gotten engaged, so we wanted something a bit special. She’s tried many different tasting menus and gave me a few ideas of places she wanted to go and I visited each website and looked at what was on the menu. I know, I know, I’m really fussy! There were some where I would be paying about £100 for an eight or nine course meal and would only eat two of the courses listed. There were others that were a little better – and I know you can ask to switch the named dishes as people might be allergic, and frankly if you are paying that much money you ought to be able to say ‘I don’t like that, can I have something else’ – but I couldn’t really do that for the entire menu!
At the same time, I felt like I might be missing out on something really good, so I continued looking at tasting menus until I found one where I liked almost everything that was listed (aside from a few accompaniments to the main dish, which I thought wouldn’t matter too much) so the decision was made – we were going to Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant.
It was surprisingly easy to get a booking for the date we wanted, though the restaurant itself was very hard to find. I came into Berkeley Square and without knowing which side of the square it was on, stood only a few metres down the street on the same side of the road. But as it was dark, I couldn’t see the small menu board outside the restaurant at street level, and as I was on the same side, I couldn’t see the steps that led up to the entrance with a doorman. It’s good that the restaurant doesn’t have a big garish sign announcing its presence but at the same time I was quite flustered – and late – when I got there!
I was so busy catching up with my friend and asking about her engagement and wedding plans that I think I would have been happier ordering from the main a la carte menu – as each dish from the seven course menu (eight if you include the amuse-bouche) came, I felt that the waiter was interrupting us! The service was excellent and the waiter explained each time what was in our dish as he put it down; he also checked at the start if either of us wanted to switch any dishes for something else, and my friend said she didn’t like venison so had duck for that course instead.
|yellow fin tuna with Iberico ham and avocado puree|
We started with a selection of what tasted like crispbreads and vegetable crisps and houmous though I can’t remember what any of them were – in fact I think I’d forgotten as soon as the waiter left our table! I’ve got the online menu to rely on to jog my memory for the other courses at least. The first was described as ‘English breakfast’, so I was expecting a cup of tea perhaps – instead it was an entire (mini) English breakfast inside an egg shell! It had baked beans, bacon, mushroom and scrambled egg I believe, all beautifully presented – but as I can’t stand baked beans or mushroom I let my friend have mine as well. So much for checking I liked everything on the menu! It was surrounded by a bed of dried noodles which I tried but they were a bit strange, I assume we were meant to eat them and they weren't just decoration but I wasn't really sure!
|Foie gras mousse with pain d’epices, pears and Sauternes gel|
The following courses were much more to my taste however. We had: yellow fin tuna with Iberico ham and avocado puree;
Foie gras mousse with pain d’epices (gingerbread), pears and Sauternes gel (a jelly made with a wine reduction) – the gingerbread and pear went really well together;
Halibut with truffles, burnt leeks, Jerusalem artichoke (I tried the artichoke, which I’d never eaten before, and it wasn’t something I was keen on but the halibut was lovely);
Venison haunch, with raspberry and celeriac;
|Halibut with truffles, burnt leeks, Jerusalem artichoke|
Sundae with blackberry, apple and custard;
Profiteroles with chocolate, Baileys gel and ginger – this was served with little chocolate balls which contained ice cream and almost exploded in our mouths as we bit in to them. This course was really indulgent and delicious though at this point I was very full!
Venison haunch, with raspberry and celeriac
Each plate was actually more substantial than I was expecting – I had anticipated very tiny portions and while they were smaller than if you had ordered one as a main course, I would say they were more like starter-size; so by the end of the seven courses I couldn’t eat another bite!
Sundae with blackberry, apple and custard
I really enjoyed the experience though it wasn’t cheap - £75 for the tasting menu, plus drinks and tip – there is no way I would have had the food with the wine pairings at £165 and actually preferred to drink water with the meal, after a cocktail to start. It was great to try so many unusual textures and flavour combinations. Maze has a Michelin star making this I think only the second or maybe third time I’ve dined at a restaurant with a Michelin star (the other was Galvin La Chapelle, and I think as a child taken by a wealthy friend of the family at a place called Howard’s House in Wiltshire) so it was certainly a memorable experience. Next time though I’d be tempted to pop next door to the Maze Grill for a really good steak!
|Profiteroles with chocolate, Baileys gel and ginger|