I've had a soft spot for Gordon Ramsay ever since my encounter with him at 35,000 feet. I was on board a British Airways Boeing 747, coming back from Los Angeles, when I spotted him in the galley that separates World Traveler Plus from Club. He was in his shirtsleeves, bent double over one of the stainless steel work surfaces, and looked, for all the world, like he'd just personally prepared 351 meals.
"Mr Ramsay," I said, marching up and tapping him on the shoulder. "I hate to have to say this, but both the chicken and the beef were an absolute disgrace."
As an avid viewer of Kitchen Nightmares, I was expecting a tirade of abuse, but instead he burst out laughing. I thought it was remarkably good-humoured of him, given that he must be harassed by annoying little ticks like me wherever he goes.
Maze, a new restaurant in Grosvenor Square, is the latest edition to Ramsay's ever-expanding restaurant empire, and a very fine one it is too. The head chef, Jason Atherton, is the only cook in Britain to be formally trained by Ferran Adria, the culinary genius behind Spain's legendary El Bulli, and the menu reflects this, offering such imaginative delicacies as sweet corn sorbet, Sarawak pepper jelly and sea salt and almond ice cream. Outside of the Fat Duck at Bray, Maze must boast the most innovative restaurant fare in Britain.
Customers enter through a suitably grand entrance on the north side of Grosvenor Square and step into a sumptuous, L-shaped room designed by David Rockwell. The restaurant is on two tiers, with the more exclusive tables on the upper deck, though it isn't as obviously divided between the A-list and the hoi poloi as the Wolseley, with its exclusive inner ring. That may be because, so far at least, it hasn't attracted a particularly fashionable crowd. On the two occasions I've been there, it's been full of Hedge Fund Boys and their dolly bird girlfriends, rather than the high-flying media types who usually frequent smart new restaurants. It's more Posh and Becks than Charles and Nigella.
After you're seated--and by my reckoning this is the hardest restaurant to get a table at in London--a waiter will appear to "explain" the menu. Ramsay describes the food as "modern tapas", meaning that customers can choose from a selection of small dishes ranging from £3.50 to £8.50, though there's also a more conventional menu available for those that want it. Since my wife and I had two guests, we decided to order everything on offer, something I've never done before. In total, we ploughed our way through 22 main courses and two puddings. Beat that, Mr Creosote!
The highpoints were the shellfish bisque, the Cornish crab, the spring lamb, the monkish tempura and the pork cheeks, though after the third helping of foie gras I began to lose track. This restuarant isn't for the faint-hearted. The wood fired squab, for instance, was accompanied by something described on the menu as a "bacon sandwich"--two slices of streaky bacon, one on top of the other, with a layer of date paste in between. Even my wife, who stuck to the vegetarian dishes, announced at the end that she was "all truffled out". Still, for those who enjoy an Epicurean blow out, Maze is hard to beat.
Very occasionally, cutting-edge food of this quality can contain some nasty surprises. For instance, the first time I went I made the mistake of tucking into the petit fours and ended up biting into a bacon-flavoured chocolate. At least, I thought it tasted of bacon. When I asked our waiter, he assured me that the flavour in question was Lapsang Souchong.
All in all, though, this is a really first-rate restaurant. If you can get a table, you won't be disappointed.