It is hard to avoid Gordon Ramsay. He’s either being snapped triathlon-training on a Malibu beach getting in and out of his wetsuit, or on our TV screens shouting at hapless (and hopeless) restaurateurs.
Only last week tabloid readers were treated to the revelation from his daughter that he apparently likes to run round his house in the nude. So it was with some trepidation that I arrived at his recently-opened Heddon Street Kitchen. Would the great man himself be streaking through the kitchens? And what would health and safety (not to mention hygiene) inspectors have to say about that?
Thankfully there were no naked chefs in sight in Heddon Street itself – that little pedestrianised offshoot of Regent Street which has become a restaurant enclave – and the Heddon Street Kitchen looked very inviting, with outside tables, lots of pot plants and big windows through which the lights shone out into the cold February night.
Inside it was also very pleasant: a large space saved from turning cavernous with the use of some thoughtful room design, the brown floorboards and furniture made less gloomy by well-placed lighting, and even the heavy presence of 80s-style exposed pipes in the ceiling couldn’t detract from a calm and relaxing atmosphere.
As the occasion was a bloggers’ dinner rather than a more typical meal for two, no sooner had we sat down when cocktails then food started arriving: it was a whistle-stop tour through the menu.
A plate of salami, ham and cheese sticks wrapped in Parma ham arrived with olives and nuts – it was fine, but pretty standard and not especially memorable – and then a selection of rather more exciting food: spicy tuna tartare, fried rock oysters and Californian maki rolls with snow crab and avocado.
The tuna and the crab rolls were very nice, particularly the tuna – but while the oysters were perfectly well presented, by being fried had lost all their trace of oyster-ness and could have been anything.
Meanwhile the cocktails were winning out over the food: the Brits Spritz of Kamm & Sons, elderflower cordial and prosecco was popular around the table, and I really enjoyed the ‘Love Potion No.9’ in spite of its daft name: Croft pink port topped with Champagne – it was served in little coupe glasses and hinted at the sense of fun and style HSK needed but so far hadn’t shown much of.
The meat starters began arriving: tamarind spiced chicken wings, roasted veal carpaccio and and potted salt beef brisket with buckwheat crackers. The brisket was very tasty indeed but lacked somewhat in presentation – it was just a round, beefy pile – and would have been better served in smaller portions or in a more imaginative way. The veal looked more appetising but lacked much flavour of its own so was drenched in dressing.
Meanwhile the cocktails kept arriving and again showed much more verve and originality than the food: there was Lady Regent, with Hendricks gin and the new-to-me Rinquinquin peach liqueur, and the signature drink Heddon St Grog which came in a silver tankard and contained Bacardi Oakheart and Innis & Gunn beer.
It was time to meet the meat: slow-roasted Saddleback pork belly, spiced apple sauce and Herdwick lamb cutlets: the lamb was the better of the two but was incredibly plain and could have done with pepping up with a touch of anchovy or salsa verde, or anything to give it the hit of herbs or spices it really needed.
Again the spiced plaice with chorizo sounded exciting but was pretty underwhelming, the spices having been lost somewhere, and the macaroni cheese with garlic roasted crumbs wasn’t a patch on mac and cheeses I’ve tasted recently: not very cheesy, not very macaroni and hardly tasting of anything.
The meal was saved with the high point of the chocolate fondant which was finally a dish where everyone went ‘wow!’ and went back for more: light sponge, rich dark gloopy chocolate: it was a dish that showed a lot of thought and attention. The pineapple carpaccio with passionfruit looked odd but was inventive and fun, while the warm pear tart with crème fraîche ice-cream was on the stodgy side although the ice-cream was nice. Not on the menu but on our plates was a mini creme brulee which was suitably cracky on top but not light or smooth enough inside.
It had been a very pleasant evening meeting other food bloggers – some of whom whipped out unfeasibily large cameras to snap the dishes – but while the atmosphere, location and service were all good, the food really lacked that extra magic which you’d expect from having the Gordon Ramsay name attached. I’d recommend getting whoever is in charge of the cocktails to try and instill his or her sense of fun and adventure to whoever is in charge of the food; only then will the restaurant be worthy of its fiery (and hopefully fully-clothed) owner.
3–9 Heddon Street, W1 (020 7592 1212, gordonramsay.com/heddon-street). Open Mon-Fri noon-11pm, Sat 11.30am-11pm. Sun 11.30am-9pm. A meal for two with wine, about £150 including 12.5 per cent service