Six years ago, I flew to England with the express purpose of getting thrown out of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant on Royal Hospital Road, which with its three Michelin stars was officially the best restaurant in London. Even then, before he had established his television empire, Ramsay was famous for his temper, and getting tossed from his dining room had become a mark of distinction, something every self-respecting restaurant critic had to do at least once. Unfortunately, Ramsay was rather pleasant both times I ran into him there, even when I made snarky comments about England’s World Cup team, his overuse of truffle oil and the quality of English lamb. Ejecting gastronomic tourists with working American Express cards was apparently not on his agenda that week.
But what surprised me about the restaurant was its staid, ladylike cuisine, impersonal, orthodox French food that owed nothing to the vibrancy of the London restaurant scene at the time or to the city’s humming multicultural energy. The consommé, the turbot, the lamb with leeks – Ramsay might as well have been cooking in a dreary provincial city like Dieppe or Clermont-Ferrand.
Having taken over half the luxury-hotel restaurants in London and become a television star in both England and the United States, Ramsay expanded his brand to New York and now to Los Angeles, where his new restaurant occupies the space once home to the Russian restaurant Diaghilev. The interior, fitted out with brass and mirrors, is kind of a steam-punk take on a ’70s disco lounge, and the menu, at least at opening, is a riff on the small-plates style of restaurant, a long succession of courses molded into perfect circles or neat rectangles, big enough to share and priced relatively gently for this level of dining room at $14-$22.
The pig’s head is very good, crackly skin and fat formed into something resembling a Mars bar. The foie gras custard garnished with fried ducks’ tongues worked well as a Lucullan conceit. I admired a broiled black cod frosted with a funky pig-tail marmalade, although the cod itself was overcooked. But most of Ramsay’s food is not just timid but timid in a specifically Californian way, as if he were convinced that Angelenos were incapable of facing a meal without half a dozen raw-fish preparations seemingly inspired by an off-night at Koi, that the presence of the Jean-Georges Vongerichten–style dish of scallops with cauliflower at a handful of local restaurants means that he has to take a stab at it too, that half-hearted swipes at Mediterranean dishes (rabbit with tomato and basil, seafood stew with tortellini and chickpeas) and pan-Asian fare (Arctic char with dashi, honey- and soy-lacquered quail) were just what Californians have been pining for. (At least he’s paying attention.) The restaurant is in its opening days, and the workings of the kitchen are obviously going to improve, but as the mastermind behind Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay might want to take a look at what’s happening in the restaurant that bears his name. 1020 N. San Vicente Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 358-7788 or https://www.thelondonwesthollywood.com/
Also, click here for what British newspaper The Independent said about “California's most feared food critic.”