Sunday, April 6, 2014
Maze Grill (London, England)
I promised my wife that I wouldn't make our long-awaited UK vacation all about barbecue. When we discovered that world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsay had 'que on the menu at one of his London restaurants, she was kind enough to give me a hall pass for the day.
We often watch Chef Ramsay's televised exploits, particularly on MasterChef and Kitchen Nightmares. I knew Gordon wouldn't be preparing my food himself (more likely head chef Dean Baker or one of his sous chefs), but I was still eager to sample the barbecue that his restaurant churns out. Even though Maze Grill isn't one of his Michelin-starred restaurants, the menu offerings still sounded delicious.
A swarm of about eight staff members showed up to attend to us as soon as we opened the door. They took our coats and umbrellas, got our reservation, and seated us in their plush lounge area for cocktails while we waited. Scotch seemed quite appropriate in the UK, so I started with some Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks. I'm sure it's exactly the same as the JWB we have in the States, but it tasted fresh, like getting seafood at the coast.
The ambiance and decor at Maze Grill were both very inviting. Their spacious, modern dining room was classy and trendy without being overwhelming or pretentious. It felt like the dressy-casual establishments I'm accustomed to in Dallas. It seems a bit crude describing the restrooms, but they blew me away. What I found were individual restrooms. Not stalls, just tiny private restrooms. It felt quite luxurious all the way around.
As anxious as I was to eat Chef Ramsay's interpretation of barbecue, I couldn't help trying out an appetizer first. We decided to sample the Chilli and Garlic Prawns, which come on grilled sourdough. The terms "shrimp" and "prawns" are often interchangeable, though prawns tend to be larger (especially king prawns) and have slight physical differences. In my experience, prawns also taste a little sweeter and have a more succulent flavor.
The prawns were a little smaller than I was expecting, but were very tasty nonetheless. They definitely had some heat from the chili peppers, as well as a great sweet flavor. I also liked the bite from the garlic. The crispy grilled sourdough was the perfect vehicle for eating the prawns. This was a great way to warm up my palate.
Meat is clearly Maze Grill's focal point. Not only do they tell you about the different steak options available at Maze, they show you the actual steaks and describe the flavors and marbling in full glorious detail. I guess steak is more of a luxury in the UK, because their selections included a 12oz Wagyu ribeye for £130.00 (roughly $218.00). In Texas, I could probably buy a BBQ pit, a bag of charcoal, and four Angus ribeyes for the same price or less.
The waiter started telling us about the night's specials, casually asking if we were fans of barbecue-style cooking. I just smiled and nodded. The BBQ specials were a smoked and braised short rib, as well as a pulled pork burger. Short ribs are often mischaracterized as barbecue, and I didn't come here for a hamburger. I just stuck with my pre-planned entree selection and ordered the Smoked BBQ Pork Ribs, which also come with Chilli Pickled Cabbage. Since I didn't plan on more than a small tasting of the pickled cabbage, I also added a side of Mac & Cheese for good measure.
Their pickled cabbage seemed like the British version of coleslaw, neither of which typically agrees with my tastebuds. However, I would be remiss not to at least sample it. The cabbage was piled on top of the slab of ribs, so it came with its share of barbecue sauce. I found a nice crunch, as well as a pleasant acidic sweetness. The cabbage tasted fine, it's just not my favorite food in general.
The mac and cheese was delightfully creamy, and the crunchy topping added a good texture change. There was a good blend of cheeses, though I'm not sure what they were. The macaroni near the bottom started getting a tad bland, but frequent mixing fixed that nicely.
I assumed from the outset that my pork ribs would be baby backs, but these were larger than anticipated. There was a thick layer of sauce slathered on top, so that was sure to be the dominant flavor. The sweet barbecue sauce was ok, but I think some molasses would have made it better. The rib meat was very tender, though not falling off the bone by any means. I couldn't really taste any smoke, probably due to the sauce. I'm not completely opposed to barbecue sauce, but I'd rather see the meat shine on its own. Clearly Maze Grill didn't pick Texas-style barbecue to emulate. That being said, the ribs were still pretty tasty.
We couldn't leave without ordering one of Chef Ramsay's desserts. There were a lot of great options, but we settled on their interestingly-named Knickerbocker Glory. I tried to listen to the description, but through our waiter's thick Hungarian accent, all I caught was "meringue," "salted caramel ice cream," and "raspberry". Good enough for me.
This was by far one of the best desserts I've ever had. It was very complex: crunchy, nutty, creamy, chewy, sweet, salty, fruity, acidic, and chocolatey all at the same time. There were so many different flavors and textures going on, but they all somehow tied together perfectly. The Knickerbocker Glory was a really delicious way to end our first night in London.
At the conclusion of our meal, the manager came over and invited my wife and I into the back to see how a real Gordon Ramsay kitchen operates. The sweltering heat gave me much more of an appreciation for the work these guys do. It was really kind of them to give us a quick mini-tour, and it made the experience all the more memorable.
The vast majority of our food was absolutely amazing, as was the service, but I issue ratings based mainly on the barbecue. If I'd ordered a steak instead of ribs, I'm sure that Maze Grill would have been a five-star meal across the board. Regardless, it was really fun trying out some barbecue from across the pond.
10-13 Grosvenor Square
London, England W1K-6JP