Caravan, Ftizrovia sits in a building that used to belong to Radio 1 donchyano. Well I do as I used to work just around the corner ... Read Feature
Nestled near the river end of Royal Hospital road, just a few doors up from his flagship venue, sits the most bijou example of Gordon Ramsey’s steak restaurants, Maze Grill. Once upon a time this was Foxtrot Oscar, a brasserie where Ramsay staff, and those of the Le Taunt Clair before them, would hang out amongst the other Chelsea bohemians, smoking thin continental cigarettes whilst cradling wine glasses the size of handbasins.
These days that bohemian edge has gone; this branch of Maze Grill would appear to be an example of one of Ramsay’s neighbourhood restaurants, with a relatively small dining room painted in colours so neutral I can’t actually recall what they were. I’m visiting with my friend The Captain, who still hasn’t experienced the birth of his second child or his 40th birthday and is trying to get in as much entertainment as possible before the first of these arrive.
Our table for two is in cruelty corner, conveniently located for drafts, the kitchen stairs and the single multi gendered toilet. The staff (and it would appear that Maze Grill employs a lot) seem to be constantly running up and down stairs to deal with some unspecified issue with the kitchen. A group of what look like 90 Chechen smugglers arrive for their dinner in what must be a Tardis like private room hidden from most people’s view.
After a few minutes we’re presented with menus which conspicuously don’t feature the Open Table special offer that we’ve booked under. Instead it’s an eclectic mixture of starters, including various seafoods, American classics, salads and sushi. The main courses are a mixture of steaks, grill favourites, and some seafood.
The larger steak cuts are sold by the 100 gram and are paraded beauty contest style in front of the better-heeled looking punters, as they are in places like the Gaucho and Hawksmoor. Seeing the porterhouses and ribeyes being displayed to customers like this seemed rather incongruous in such small surroundings.
In cruelty corner they’d already sized us up as non-worthy and had started serving the Captain the first of his courses featuring a large amount of bread, though to be fair this was the bread roll. To start he’d chosen the garlic and chilli prawns; whilst intrigued, I’d gone for the Buffalo chicken fillets.
My chicken fillets were OK, though nothing special. The coating on a couple of the fillets was broken or incomplete and the sauce only adequate. I’m actually not sure which would have come top had this dish had gone into a head to head with similar from Frankie and Benny’s. The Captain’s prawns came with a second portion of bread larger than the rest of the course. As with mine the sauce was disappointing, rendering the course something perhaps worse than bad…forgettable.
I’d allowed my companion to choose the wine, and he’d gone for a New Zealand Sauvignon, a solid mid table choice at £40. This was crisp and dry and so far, the highlight of the meal, though not what I would have chosen to go with the main courses.
Having not been upsold to the premium steaks, we’d both chosen from the grill section of the menu. The Captain, the short rib burger and the steak frites for me.
Both main courses arrived on the table several minutes before the arrival of the first serving of chips. A second serving had been ordered, but due to whatever was occurring in the kitchen never actually made it.
The burger had a bun of such size as to make the rather large patty seem somewhat inconsequential in comparison and did much to dilute the flavour of the beef. Though the Captain swore it was OK, to me it looked like the lettuce garnish had only recently escaped from the museum of ancient salad, probably with the help of similarly superannuated bun.
My steak frites were interesting. First there was the lack of frites, the Captain’s chips had arrived, which were good and chunky and at least twice if not triple cooked, but what they weren’t were frites. I’m certain that my frites were therefore missing in action.
The steak itself was like a vapid model, superficially attractive, photogenic and the proving lacking in substance. It certainly looked the part, the right size, colour and juiciness, but tasted bland enough to be cushion stuffing.
The bill when it came was about £114, not bad for a top-flight restaurant.
So why the lingering bad taste in my mouth? Firstly, the food was disappointing. Not awful as such, but once again bland, forgettable and missing some elements. Secondly, we had two courses plus a bottle of wine between us and spent over £100, and yet we were processed and back out on the street in under an hour. That simply isn’t good value. Lastly, this is yards from Ramsay’s flagship – surely more care would be taken.
So sorry to say two unsatisfactory reviews of marquee restaurants (see my recent review of The Wolseley,) hopefully next time will bring more joy (and something closer to NappyValley.)