As a chef, I know anyone can have an off night, so I normally choose not to write about a restaurant, rather than diss it based on a single meal. I do however, have a problem with the growing number of restaurants spearheaded, but not run by celebrity chefs – especially when it happens to be Gordon Ramsey who doesn’t hesitate to annihilate other chefs on a regular basis on Kitchen Nightmares, Hells Kitchen, and Masterchef.

Shades of the old grouchy Jewels return

I would expect his restaurants to be held to the standard he claims on his shows. Sadly, I’ve yet to find any of these celebrity chef restaurants that live up to the hype (or menu prices) when said chef is not on site, Gordon Ramsey at the London was no exception. Perhaps the chef got his London’s confused?

Gordon Ramsey at the London West Hollywood, $44.00 set price menu

Last week was Dine LA, presenting a prime opportunity for the public to enjoy set menus at 300 of the city’s top restaurants at a fraction of the normal cost. My friend Cynthia and I booked a table for 5PM, because a). natural light is always better for photographing food, and  b). we had to be on the west side by 7PM for a screening of the Ides of March and Q&A with writer, director, producer, and supporting actor, George Clooney afterwards. A fact we made the hostess aware of upon arrival, yet it did not dissuade her from seating us twenty minutes late in a nearly empty restaurant, with extremely polite, but absurdly slow service that continued throughout the meal.

Most appetizing half of my B&B test passed with flying colors

I must say, they sailed through my usual B&B test (bread and bathroom). My theory being that if the bread is stale, or the bathroom filthy, you might as well hightail it out of the place immediately. I’ll spare you the stalls, but check out this delightfully airy bread with a perfectly crisp crust.

 Endive Salad with Candied Walnut (singular not plural) seemed stingy even for a Scotsman

Now Chef Ramsey is known for turning inexpensive, normally less desirable cuts of meats and other ingredients into exquisite delicacies, but it takes his calibur of expertise to pull that off. The three course set menu, with three choices to choose from in each course, was still $44.00 – quite a hefty price for endive salad with candied walnuts – clearly a misprint since only one walnut was in evidence on the plate.

Definitely Charred Octopus Salad

The octopus salad was unfortunately charred beyond recognition, resembling shoe leather that fell apart into unappealing bits in my mouth. Not even the underwhelming mayonnaise could help slide it down my gullet. No wonder they did their best to hide it on the plate. Thankfully, the main course was considerably more satisfying, and stunningly plated.

Chanterelle Mushroom Risotto with Seared Scallops & Poached Quail Egg favorite

The  Chanterelle Mushroom Risotto with the expertly seared scallops and poached quail egg on top was by far and away my favorite, although I did have quite a giggle over the obvious use of white truffle oil. Just last season, a contestant on Masterchef was chided to tears for using truffle oil in her risotto, evidently considered a “cheap ploy by amateur chefs” in the world of fine dining establishments. Guess Chef Ramsey (or the chef actually cooking our meal) wasn’t listening to restaurateur Joe Bastianich’s tirade on the subject.

Braised American Wagyu Beef Brisket

My dining partner found the Braised American Wagyu Beef Brisket on the dry side. I scoffed mine down in bites laden with gravy and superbly creamy mashed potatoes with a hint of horseradish, or doused in the roasted red pepper sauce, and found it all quite tasty. Unfortunately, by the time dessert arrived we had to leave, so it was inhaled, and I’m not convinced it was worth the calories.

Millefeuille

With the Millefeuille, only the meringue delighted both of our palates. I felt the lemon curd could have done with a touch more tartness to balance the sweetness of everything else on the plate, and it was impossible to taste the various elements in one bite.

Valrohna Chocolate Fondant with Salted Caramel and Vanilla Ice Cream

I expected the Valrohna Chocolate Fondant with Salted Caramel to be the pièce de résistance of the evening, but sadly it was slightly over baked, and the caramel that should have oozed from the center barely dripped. The ice cream also lacked the custardy richness and fragrant potency of vanilla that was needed to further enhance it.

Julie Anne Rhodes and Cynthia Occelli

I was disappointed, because all of the elements were there to make this an exceptional dinner, it was just poorly executed. Chefs Ramsey’s menus and recipes are clearly deserving of respect, but unfortunately require his level of expertise to fulfill their promise. Exactly my experience with most restaurants not helmed by their celebrity chef creators. Moral of the story? Check to make sure it is not the chef’s night off (or in this case if he is even on the same continent) before booking a celebrity chef restaurant.

Easy Pumpkin-Pear Soup

Now this soup has absolutely nothing to do with today’s post – it is a request from a premium member specifically needed for before Halloween, but it’s perfect for any of the holidays this season, too. Presentation is really fun in a small, scooped out pumpkin. You can even serve with the lid on to keep the heat in, and let your guests discover the treat inside.

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 Bosc or Bartlett pear, peeled, cored and chopped
1 30 ounce can pumpkin puree
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh Italian parsley or cilantro, chopped for garnish (optional)
Pumpkin seeds, toasted for garnish (optional)

Directions:

1). Melt the butter a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the oil, onions and shallots, cook until softened, 6-8 minutes. Add curry powder and cumin, stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the sweet potato and stir to coat well. Stir in chicken or vegetable broth. Cover, bring to boil, lower heat to simmer, covered, 15-20 minutes, or until sweet potato is tender.

2). Stir in pear and pumpkin puree, season to taste, and simmer for an additional 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat.

3). Working carefully in batches (do not fill blender more than half full, and place a kitchen towel over the top for protection from the heat), or using a hand blender, puree the soup to a smooth, velvety consistency. If it is too thick, add some more broth or water to thin it out as desired.

4). Return to pan to heat through over medium-low heat, ladle into bowls (or cleaned out pumpkins), garnish as desired, and serve hot.

Note:

Carefully cut a wide circle around the top of the pumpkin, slicing at an angle as you go. Once you carefully remove the top, clean out the seeds (savings some for garnish if desired) and pulp. I like to use my grapefruit spoon on these little pumpkins, because I can manipulate it around inside easily and the serrated edge helps cut away the bits I no longer want.

Variations:

Play around with different herbs and spices to suit your taste and/or to compliment your main course.

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  • October 18, 2011
    6:46 am

    WOW – Now I always love watching Kitchen Nightmares but I never had the opportunity to see if Gordon Ramsay can actually walk the walk (he certainly can talk the talk).

    The risotto did look exquisite though, and I’m practically salivating!

    The price FAR outweighed what you received.

    My husband has a saying, “Even Michael Jordan misses sometimes.” Ok, so it’s a bit dated, but the point is the same…but it sounds like either Gordon Ramsay was having a horrendous off night or was in someone else’s restaurant ripping the owners in half for serving charred octopus salad and a singular walnut in their endive salad with candied walnuts.

    So sorry that you weren’t able to fully enjoy your meal. But – it sounds like you had something even more fun lined up for after the meal.

    Reply
    • October 18, 2011
      1:25 pm

      Luckily, I do know Gordon Ramsey can walk the walk, but leaving his menus, recipes, and name to someone else just does not work well.

      The film, and Mr. Clooney on the other hand did not disappoint in the slightest. He is hysterically funny and extremely intelligent. Enjoyed the film immensely too.

      Reply
  • October 18, 2011
    9:37 am

    Lane, I just nearly spit my water across my desk!!

    Reply
  • October 18, 2011
    9:35 am

    Aw! That would only have been fun if you’d been allowed to storm into the kitchen and call people bleeping donkeys.

    Reply
    • October 18, 2011
      1:26 pm

      Hahaha – that is probably exactly what the 20 year old Julie Anne would have done. Too bad you weren’t there with me to egg me on.

      Reply
  • October 18, 2011
    12:47 pm

    Well done, well written Julie Anne..I am Italian and I have a pretty down to earth approach to restaurants and to chefs, I can’t stand these star chefs like Ramsay, he’s just paid to bark to people who are paid to be barked at, I can’t stand A. Bourdain either, with that blasé attitude to food he just makes the poetry disappear froom food and cooking; unfortunately the format of these food shows has been imported also here in Italy

    Reply
  • October 18, 2011
    1:30 pm

    I don’t mind celebrity chefs, and I’m a huge fan of Bourdain simply because he is easy on the eyes and very amusing. My problem is when they design a menu and lend their name (which is what people are paying those prices for), then are not the to oversee the quality level is up to par. Just wrong in my book.

    Reply
  • October 18, 2011
    3:14 pm

    Wow – That sounds so disappointing. I have been wanting to try the afternoon tea there. Do you have a favorite place to go to high tea in L.A.? I too recently attended a screening of The Ides of March with Clooney et al…he was so charming and funny at the Q+A! Lastly, your soup recipe looks divine. I will make this soon for sure.

    Reply
    • October 18, 2011
      3:27 pm

      Hey Ange – The only place I’ve been in LA for high tea (other than those I have thrown) is the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, and it is divine.

      Reply
      • October 18, 2011
        3:40 pm

        Thank you!! I have heard some pretty amazing things about tea there so I better make a reservation now – moving out of L.A. in one month. I will try to squeeze it in :-)

  • October 19, 2011
    4:06 pm

    I burst out laughing at the line ” Endive Salad with Candied Walnut (singular not plural) seemed stingy even for a Scotsman”. What a shame though. On the positive side of things, the presentation of the desserts and risotto was stunning. He is absolutely BRILLIANT on The F Word…. LOVE that show. It shows how passionate he is about ingredients and preparation and he’s not going AS nuts on anyone. You’d think that he’d hire the best of the best to oversee his restaurants especially for when he is off premises. Maybe he has way too many things going on at once (which I think he does) and something has to give. I think out of anything the dessert being disappointing is always the biggest let down. It’s where you decide whether to splurge and complete the meal or leave wishing you had.

    What a great presentation with your soup! I can’t wait to try it and taste the pear and pumpkin combination! Very cool.

    Reply
  • October 19, 2011
    2:28 pm

    I can’t catch my breath because I’m laughing so hard! Go get them, Julie Anne! What an utter disappointment that must have been.

    Reply
  • October 22, 2011
    6:56 am

    Really funny! I’ve watched his show many times, but it appears he cannot practice what he preaches!

    Reply
  • October 22, 2011
    5:18 pm

    Looking at making your soup recipe soon! I would feel so badly about an experience such as yours at a restaurant riding on Ramsey’s name and talent. Maybe storming the kitchen was not in order, but a note to the management definitely would be. I find as I get older, I am more prone to letting establishments know when their service is lacking. I do it kindly, but feel it fair to let management know when their service is not up to par so that they have a chance to correct a problem. To be fair, I also let an establishment know when their staff have gone above and beyond to be of assistance and also let the staff member know that their special service was much appreciated.

    Reply
  • October 24, 2011
    12:29 am

    I have found the same in his restaurant in London. Its highly disappointing and I think a lot more emphasis and attention needs to be drawn to it. If a chef is going to set up an establishment that they acknowledge will be run without their presence half the time its THEIR responsibility to make sure the chefs are able to produce and maintain their standards otherwise patrons leave disgruntled, unimpressed and feeling like their money has been wasted and they. almost certainly, will not return. Thank you for this in depth review.

    Reply
  • October 24, 2011
    3:36 am

    I’ve never been intrigued by a pumpkin soup until I saw this one! It looks good!

    Reply
  • November 20, 2011
    9:33 pm

    Had a similar experience a few nights ago at Tom Collichio’s Craftsteak in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel. I was expecting something amazing and it turned out to be only mediocre. I have had better lamb shanks at the Elephant Bar restaurant. All of the salads and sides were only half eaten by our entire party of 8! I was so looking forward to a fine dining experience that would live up to his high standards & TV persona. I completely agree with your statements re:chefs in residence. Sure enjoy reading your honest critiques and posts.

    Reply

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