It's difficult to give a generalised overview of the three places we've been to: York & Albany in Camden, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's, clearly at the Claridge's, and the Savoy Grill...again, at the Savoy (maybe a general overview is that Gordon Ramsay is quite lazy when it comes to naming his restaurants). These are three different breeds of eateries with different dynamics. I'll start first with the dynamics I didn't like - York & Albany.
York&Albany is a bar, a British restaurant, a pizzeria and a hotel thrown into one establishment. It's confusing as a concept, and it fails in its delivery of high quality food and services promised by the Ramsay brand. The first time I went there was for a couple of drinks with friends. The bar was relatively quiet compared to other pubs in the area, and it had nice big comfy chairs. We had little complaint - the service was sufficiently good, and the bar atmosphere was warm, lively and classy. The drinks, however, were on the steep side, even for London. And when you add 12.5% service charge on top (because it's compulsory table service), the bill became rather pricey.
I think the pricing is the thing they've got wrong at York & Albany. With mains hovering around £20 ballpark for ala carte menu, it holds itself out as being in the same league as the rest of Ramsay's restaurants, but in reality, it's no Petrus, or Savoy Grill, or even Maze. Admittedly the pizzas were good and wallet-friendly. But the dinner we had was nothing special, yet the price tag was quite special. I also object to the £4 cover charge per person if you sit in the restaurant area, then 12.5% service charge on top of that. I didn't mind much about the cover charge at the Claridge's, but that's because at the Claridge's you expect to pay £4 just to step into the foyer. In sum I wasn't impressed.
Our next Ramsay encounter flared better. Gordon Ramsay at the Claridge's has always been that special place where every table seems to be celebrating something (shame it's about to close). The dining room was beautiful.
We ordered 3 courses from ala carte menu, they gave us about 4 extra little courses, starting from these canapes: salmon sandwiches and arancini balls. Nice little touches.
Followed by soup with truffle oil (sorry I forgot what type of soup it was) - chef's complement. Lovely and warming, except it was not exceptional.
My starter: scallops with ham hog sausage. It was nice but didn't wow me. Lacked depth of flavours.
Husband's starter was much better. The pigeon breast was perfectly cooked, the little delicate tortellini filled with leg meat was tasty and the pasta superbly thin. The hero of the dish was the sauce, with such depth of flavours. It brought the whole dish together. Probably the best dish of the meal.
For our main, we ordered the same thing: roast duck breast with foie gras. The duck was fantastically soft, pink and juicy - properly medium rare. The jus was not as deep as in the pigeon dish, but I think it was right, because otherwise the dish would have been too rich with that slab of foie gras. The 'miniture' veg, however, was almost laughable. For all that protein, we got one tiny turnip each, and another small piece of carrot I think, plus the crispy potato chips on top. Balance of the dish could have been better.
The main was followed by palette cleanser - some sort of lemon jelly, cream and foam. For dessert, I had raspberry suffle which was slightly eggy on top, but perfect towards the bottom. Husband couldn't remember what dessert he had, so probably not worth mentioning.
Even after all this sugar, they brought us two little macaroons and chocolate truffles. No complaints here, the more sugar the better!
Overall, in terms of food, it was certainly of high standard. But I guess my expectation was slightly higher. Some of the courses were near perfect, but others fell a little short here and there. If the meal were a bit cheaper (we paid just over £200 for two for lunch, with 2 glasses of wine from the cheaper end of the menu), I would have said great, fantastic. But at this price tag I expected every course to be near-faultless. Not sure if I am asking too much. I still think the whole experience was very nice, and the service was extremely friendly (albeit slightly forced at various points - you know, when they smile a bit too much you're pretty sure they're forcing it). I would definitely go again in a heartbeat, if someone else pays.
(End of Part I. Continue in Part II with the Savoy Grills).