| Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver Are Out to Get You: Richard Vines
||[Feb. 25th, 2008|11:08 am]
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Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver are taking the battle for our hearts and stomachs to the people, with both chefs planning chains of eateries across the U.K.
The first Jamie's Italian is scheduled to open in Oxford in May, followed by Bath in July and Brighton after that. Meanwhile, Ramsay opened his first Foxtrot Oscar in January and now, right behind it, comes his third pub, the Warrington, in Maida Vale.
(Ramsay has also bought the York and Albany in London's Camden Town, where Angela Hartnett will be in charge. Opening is scheduled for mid-May, though delays are common in the restaurant business. The Warrington was expected to open last year and the first Jamie's Italian was scheduled for next month.)
Ramsay says the aim of both his planned chains -- Foxtrot Oscar and the pubs -- is to provide fine British meals for about 30 pounds ($59) a head. (Just don't say ``gastropub,'' a term that is falling from favor on the grounds that pubs should serve good food, and those that do shouldn't be classed separately.)
If you've spent time in the U.K. provinces, you might agree that is an exciting prospect. In London, where there are plenty of acceptable midlevel eateries, it's less of a thrill, except for those who have seen Ramsay on TV and hope to kiss the ring.
The Warrington is my fourth midprice Ramsay eatery in a year, and the second in a month, so forgive me if I'm a little short of adjectives and enthusiasm about the menu. The venue itself is intriguing, however. It was built in the 1850s and, according to http://www.pubs.com , was then rumored to operate as a brothel on the side. The rich and lavish design helped lend it respectability.
When Foxtrot Oscar opened last month, critics lined up to bemoan the fact that the place wasn't what it was before Ramsay got hold of it. I've no idea if such nostalgia will afflict the Warrington, but I can say the downstairs bar looks magnificent, while the restaurant's decor is more restrained and a bit dull. You wouldn't want much more than a short time there.
The high, molded ceiling looks great and there are attractive stained glass windows at one end of the room. But the color of the wallpaper is an inoffensive green you might describe as moss or mold, depending on your view. The warmth of the greeting from smiling staff members raises the spirits, and this is a hallmark of Ramsay operations that other operators might emulate.
The menu features popular starters such as steak tartare and unusual options such as Dorset snails with parsley butter. The dressed Cornish crab was beautifully fresh and well-seasoned, while the white onion and Montgomery cheddar soup could have used more punch, and the beignets on the side were as chewy as if they had been microwaved. Potted Goosnargh duck, sourdough toast, was wonderfully fatty and rich, the steak tartare just spicy enough.
On my first of three visits, my guest ordered the steak and kidney pie, only to cancel when she saw the monster that arrived at the next table. Roasted guinea fowl, by contrast, was a delicate thing, small and perfectly formed. But it battled with its bed of puy lentils and bacon, which tasted vinegary.
Whole lemon sole -- the joint top-priced main, along with a dozen Purfleet rock oysters -- was a winner at 19.50 pounds. You can have it grilled or meuniere. Sides such as fries were fine. Roasted baby chicken was full of flavor, though not quite as much as the braised Gloucester pig cheeks which one of my guests ordered. These came with turnip puree and are an acquired taste.
The desserts are retro and sound like fun, though they are a mixed bunch. Steamed stem ginger pudding reminded me of canned concoctions I ate as a child, only this one was chewy and dense. Knickerbocker glory was fun and tasted good, but it was just ice cream, cream, raspberry sauce and three or four raspberries on top, with a wafer. I recall elaborate sundaes packed with fruit. Rhubarb and apple pie came with good custard flecked with vanilla.
The wine list is quite moderately priced, though I'm such a fan of English whites that I never got beyond the 2005 Bacchus Reserve, Tenterden Estate, Chapel Down, at 22.50 pounds. It's crisp, well-made and refreshing. The 2006 English Rose, Chapel Down, is also drinkable and a bargain at 20 pounds. I'd like to see more wines by the glass, or serving wines by the carafe.
The Warrington has much going for it, but lacks the views of the Narrow, a Ramsay pub beside the Thames, and the personality of Foxtrot Oscar, where the former owner Michael Proudlock lends the place a louche charm at odds with the suburban decor. Ramsay's midpriced venues are good. If the chef could just be cloned to give them a bit more excitement, we all might get excited.
The Warrington, 93 Warrington Crescent, London, W9 1EH. Telephone +44-20-7286-2929 or click on http://www.gordonramsay.com/thewarrington/ .
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? About 30 pounds a head, plus wine.
Sound level? Murmurs of content.
Date place? Yes.
Inside tip? Try for a window table.
Special feature? Famously shouty TV chef.
Private room? Yes.
Will I be back? Yes, if in the area.
What the Stars Mean
**** Incomparable food, service, ambience.
*** First-class of its kind.
** Good, reliable.
(no stars) Poor.
(Richard Vines is London food critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)