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 Mediterranean Cruise 2008 - 10/15 - London

Cruise Pictures
     

10/15 - London
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It was the last day of the trip for most of the group. My sister and I woke up at 5AM so we could get ready and pack. Then we caught a taxi to our parents' hotel where the whole group boarded a shuttle bus to the airport. We arrived 2 hours early to quell the worries of some nervous Asian travellers. I checked in and the British Airways representative let me check both of my bags all the way to Chicago, despite having a 20 hour layover in London (the policy is not to store luggage over 3 hours in London, if you remember my luggage fiasco two weeks earlier). After we were all checked in, our family camped out at Gloria Jean's for coffee and to eat some of the many baklava treats we had collected.

When it was time to head to the gate we left my sister at Gloria Jean's since her flight didn't leave for another 4 hours. The rest of us proceeded to the gate and had an uneventful British Air flight to London Heathrow's Terminal 5. There the whole group went through security to transfer to Terminal 4 where AA is located. I followed them, only to discover that it is extremely difficult to exit the departure area of Terminal 4!

I asked one airport employee how to get out to the city and they had me walking all over Terminal 4 before I found out I had to go backwards through security to return to Terminal 5 and then follow a different route to go through immigration and customs. Finally I got to the Tube (a route I remembered well due to my luggage fiasco two weeks earlier) and made it to my Hilton hotel.

After Gloria Jean's and snacks on the plane, I wasn't really hungry even though it was noon (3pm in Turkey) but I had a 1:00 reservation for Afternoon Tea at The Promenade in The Dorchester hotel, just down the street from my Hilton. It had gotten a good 20 degrees colder in London in the two weeks since I had been there so it was a brisk, but refreshing 5 minute walk. The Dorchester is a beautiful classically decorated hotel and makes you feel a bit regal when sitting in The Promenade, a long hallway full of couches and chairs for lounging and for Afternoon Tea.

Afternoon Tea proved to be quite nice and is much more elaborate than just tea. There was champagne, amuse bouche, finger sandwiches, a main course, dessert, pastries and finally a small pot of tea. Since I wasn't really hungry when I started, I ended up quite full, which did not bode well for my dinner plans.

I had two other things to do before dinner and I hoped that a decent amount of walking would let me build up an appetite before my 10:00pm reservation. First, I walked to the Green Park Tube which took me to Bond Street (one stop). I walked north to find La Fromagerie, a highly reviewed cheese and gourmet food shop. I took a few pictures of the area to help people locate it (see below). They have a a nice selection of locally produced foods from yogurts to cured meats to fresh vegetables to fruit preserves. They also have a small dining area for cheese flights and sandwiches. Of course, the main attraction is their temperature and humidity controlled, glass walled cheese room.

A small sign sets forth some rules, the most notable ones being: keep the door closed, maximum of 6 persons in the room (2 of which are the cheese mongers) and no pictures allowed without permission. I asked to try some smoked cheese and ended up buying a half pound of smoked cheddar. I also asked for any aged cheeses but since they tend to buy locally, there were no aged italian parmesans. The oldest thing they had was a 1.5 year aged Gruyere which was quite tasty and had lots of really tasty salt crystals in it so I bought a half pound of that as well. I also asked for permission to take photos, which they allowed after a couple seconds of contemplation.

After that I had to go clothes shopping because BA had unexpectedly allowed me to check both my big bags and I did not have any dress pants for dinner. I walked south to Marks & Spencer to buy some cheap khakis (cheap meaning 15 GBP, about $30) and since it was in the same direction as my hotel, I went ahead and walked all the way back. It was still a bit early so I took a nap for an hour before getting ready.

When 9:30 rolled around, I was still not hungry, but when you have a reservation at a three Michelin Star restaurant, you go anyway. I jumped in a cab and told him I was going to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road. After 10 minutes of driving and listening to his phone conversation with his wife, he dropped me off and I walked in. I immediately knew that I was in the wrong place. I was actually at Claridge's, one of Ramsay's one Michelin Star restaurants. It is another restaurant worth trying, but not where my reservation was. The hostess kindly called ahead to RGR to inform them I was on my way and I hopped into another cab.

I finally arrived at RGR where they promptly seated me in a corner overlooking the rest of the dining room. I was the only person eating alone and I think they took pity on me and were a little extra attentive, though you could potentially mark that as a sign of service. After ordering a Pilsner Urquell, I briefly perused the menu even though I knew I was going to order the Prestige Chef's Menu.

While I did so, I noticed the Maitre'D walking from table to table with a wooden box. When it was my turn, he approached my table and opened it. The top of the inside had a polished brass plaque lining it, which created a golden glow, just like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. In the center of the box, sitting on a layer of Arborio rice, were three lumps. The Maitre'd explained that they were whole white truffles from Alba, Italy, the most expensive type and available just one month a year. I could have them shaved over a mushroom risotto for 25GBP ($50) a la carte or for 16GBP ($32) as a substitution for an appetizer on the Chef's Menu.

Personally, I think black truffles are a bit over rated and are a bit too earthy for my tastes, but the smell from these white truffles was heavenly. I thought to myself, "Hey, I'm at Gordon Ramsay's three star restaurant in London and I have an opportunity to try white truffles. How often does that happen?" I figured I was already spending an arm and a leg on the meal so I went ahead and ordered it.

You can read about the individual dishes below, but as I was eating, I was writing notes and taking pictures. The Maitre'D noticed of course and asked if I was a chef. I told him I was an aspiring cook, but not a chef. He asked if I'd like to see Ramsay's book about the restaurant. I knew the book he was referring to and gladly accepted the offer. He brought the autographed oversized silver book, "Gordon Ramsay: Three Star Chef" to my table and and indicated it was the restaurants only copy. I wish I could get a copy of my own but it's been out of print and sold-out for a while.

A couple courses later, I overheard the couple next to me talking about me taking photos, after which the gentleman leaned toward me and asked if I was taking pictures for a blog. We had a brief conversation about why I was in London and how I was enjoying my trip, and then the cheese cart came. I wanted to try some cheese (an additional 12GPB, $24) but I was way too full so I passed. Next were the dessert courses; of which there were quite a few. There were about as many pre-dessert, dessert and post-dessert courses as there were other courses on the tasting menu, but I'm fully in favor that!

In the end, the RGR meal was excellent and definitely one of my favorite meals of all time. It was a more traditional french 6-7 course meal instead of the over-the-top 10-20 course meals popping up in America and I like that. It's too bad the exchange rate was so bad, making my 160 GBP meal cost a whopping $331.29.

I returned to the hotel and watched an interesting documentary about how British Airlines has dropped in the rankings. BA now has the 3rd most cancelled flights in the world. BA also loses the most baggage in the world and that doesn't mean temporarily delayed or mis-routed, that means luggage that is straight up lost and never recovered or identified. In fact, they have an entire warehouse full of hundreds of thousands of unclaimed and unidentified luggage that they sell at auction after one year. Apparently the opening of Heathrow Terminal 5 was supposed to fix some of these problems but it ended up being a giant cluster. Apparently, BA is now becoming famous for UN-friendly customer service and policies. I can understand that given the issues I had in Athens...

Shortly after that, I fell asleep for the last night of my trip.

10/15 pictures are here.
Posted 02/09/2009 11:04 PM in Food, Pictures, Restaurants, Reviews, Travel, United Kingdom | Total Comments: (2)
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Waiting at the airport, we lounged at Gloria Jean's Coffee, which has made some decent headway into Turkey. I ordered a caramel version of what is essentially a Frappaccino.   A Full English (breakfast) on my British Airways flight. The hot dishes were mediocre (was disappointed by the roasted tomato which wasn't very tasty) though the yogurt was nice and tangy.   The Dorchester, a fancy hotel with a long history.

     
The Promenade at The Dorchester, a long luxurious hallway where they serve their award winning Afternoon Tea.   A brief history of Afternoon Tea   A couple different Afternoon Tea choices. I selected the Dorchester High Tea

     
A glass of Laurent Perrier Rose champagne - crisp, lightly effervescent, semi fruity, semi dry.   Amuse Bouche - seared scallop with grean pea mash   Five finger sandwiches - Cucumber with Cream Cheese on Caraway Seed Bread, Smoked Salmon on Granary Bread, Egg Mayonnaise with Shiso Cress on White Bread, Chicken with Wholegrain Mustard Mayonnaise on Basil Bread and their special of the day, a Salmon Creme. All were excellent.

     
Entree - Chicken and wild mushroom canneloni with confit tomatoes and cheese sauce. This was crispy but not dry with the tomatoes and cheese sauce complimenting the chicken and microgreen salad.   Intermezzo - Orange cream topped with vanilla bean ice cream sprinkled with a lemon crumble. The orange cream was smooth with good citrus flavor but the crumble was the stand out component.   Loose leaf Earl Grey Tea was steeped in a tea pot. A metal tea filter was provided to catch any stray leaves when poured.   Selection of French Pastries - Counter Clockwise from bottom Lemon Poundcake with a Raspberry Marshmallow, Caramel Eclair, Chocolate Marzipan Cake, Caramel Treacle Mille Feuille, French Coffee Napolean and a Custard Tart with Danish Cookie Crust in the center. These were all exellent but my favorite things were the raspberry marshmallow and treacle mille feuille

     
Some of the decor around The Promenade   Next up was La Fromagerie, a well reputed cheese shop at 2-4 Moxon street. To help people locate it I snapped a picture of the nearby intersection of Moxon Street and Marylebone High Street

     
The temperature and humidity controlled cheese room with walls full of local cheeses.

       
The smoked cheddar I picked. Even though Ireland has cheddars, it seems Britain isn't that big on them compared to America.   Selection of cured meats   Selection of yogurts and pots de creme.    

       
If you remember, I had much difficulty in finding The Golden Hind at 73 Marylebone lane when I was in London two weeks ago. One reason is because I was looking for it at night and I think it was closed. Another reason is that Marylebone Lane is different from Marylebone High Street. Also, Marylebone High Street is also called Thayer (or James) in this area. I found it here and decided to take pics to help anyone else looking for it. It is located at the intersection of Thayer/Marylebone High and Marylebone Lane, opposite from George Street. Of course, after high tea and cheese tasting, I had no room for fish and chips, especially since my next destination (after a nap) would be the thee Michelin starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road.

     
To start - Corniche with Avocado, Lobster and Peppers. Light and crisp cones with a smooth creamy filing with lumps of lobster.   Crisp Potato wafers with cheese and basil - perfectly flat, fried, crunchy thin potato slices with a cheese spread and a line of basil paste.   Amuse Bouche - Scallops Tartare with Ossetra Caviar over warm broccoli puree. The puree was quite tasty and the fresh scallops melted in my mouth.   Appetizer - Lobster Ravioli with Langoustines and Salmon, a tomato ragout and basil, lemongrass and chervil veloute. This is a classic that has been on Ramsay's menu for years (he rotated it off one year and received so many complaints that it is now a perpetual offering). This single ravioli is bursting with more lobster and fish than most entire lobster ravioli entrees at other restaurants.

     
Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic   Special Appetizer - Mushroom Risotto with White Alba Truffles from Italy (available one month per year). Absolutely delicious, perfecly cooked risotto. The white truffles melted and provided a wonderfully light earthy flavor. It did cost an additional 13 GBP though...   First Entree - Turbot served with mushrooms and black truffles in a mushroom langostine sauce. The fish was well cooked and the sauce was the essence of mushroom. The linguine was very tasty but I wish there had been more.   Second Entree - Roast Pigeon Breast and Pigeon Wing Confit with Pork Belly and Cheese Polenta in a Date Sauce. The rare breast, was tender and deep red (the breast is dark meat in flying birds) giving it a slightly gamey and rich flavor. The confit wing was deliciously tender. The pork belly was good but not quite as tasty as others I've had but it also had less fat than many others. The polenta was firm but not hard and had a hint of parmesan.

     
Nice glass lamp on the table.   Rosemary Olive bread served with whipped butter. The bread was very tasty, but for a French restaurant I was a bit disappointed that they didn't have a few varieties.   Cheese Course - For 16 GBP you can partake of any cheeses you desire but I was way too stuffed to enjoy.   More Earl Grey Tea.

     
Pre-Dessert - Mango-Passion Fruit Smoothie with Coconut Cream. Served with a glass straw, I thought this was okay, but nothing special, until I sucked up a pop rock! The pop rock turned this from a run of the mill smoothie into a delicious surprise.   Pre-Desset - Pear Creme Brulee w/ cardemom and cocoa. The custard based was delicous and the pear compote at the very bottom was a nice bonus, but I was disappointed that the brulee on top was not crunchy at all!   Dessert - Bitter Chocolate with Ginger Cream, Cherry Granite, Hazelnut and Vanilla Ice Cream. The cup was made of a thin ribbon of chocolate, then filled with the hazelnut ganache, topped with the cream and granite. I'm not a huge chocoalte fan so I thought this was ok, until I discoved the tastiest, crispiest, carameliest clumps of puffed rice hidden within that made this the smoothest, most decadent Krackle ever. The cherry sauce, lined by solidified chocolate painted on the plate was quite nice as well.   This decoration was placed on the table with little explanation. These turned out to be chocolate truffles coated in sugar and a silver dust to look like a decoration. But as I said, I'm not a huge chocolate person so I had a few and that was it.

     
The somelier recommended this French desesrt wine but I did not catch the name. It was full bodies but smooth, extremely sweeet and fruity with a deep golden color.   Strawberry Ice Cream spheres coated with white chocolate and served in a smoking bowl (using dry ice). Because they were so cold you could pick them up with your hands and eat them without making a mess.   Finally, Rose Turkish Delight - Very tender and soft with the perfect amount of rose flavoring and minus the messy powdered sugar and corn starch found in most Turkish Delight. Better than what I had in Turkey? Hard to say, it's a different style, but it terms of simplicity and balanced flavoring, it's the best rose Turkish delight I had.

 

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