The Ritz dining room’s Louis XVI-inspired decor, with its pink marble, gilt ornamentation and rows of chandeliers, is unforgettable. Champagne is almost de rigueur as part of the overall experience, but we resisted – even a modest half-bottle of wine makes a serious dent in the wallet. Without it, though, we found the amuse-bouches surprisingly lacklustre. The set lunch menu is no bargain at £47 for three courses; mains on the carte hover around the £40 mark.
The provenance and freshness of ingredients seems impeccable – from St Malo butter, via Var salmon, to heritage carrots – but all too often we encountered a dull blandness, despite some precision cooking. The more inventive compilations generally fared better: a fruit sliver shell surrounding flaked crab; citrus jelly cubes and a gloriously sea-fresh oyster mayonnaise with halibut steak; light textured biscuit-sand and delicate white chocolate hoops in deconstructed raspberry cheesecake.
Oddly, there was no way of anticipating which choices stuck to the classic cannon and which gave freer rein to the clearly capable chef John Williams. Aside from the glorious gilt, what you are buying in the Ritz dining room is a conservative formula, complete with coat-tailed service of correctly distant politesse, china plate-domes, tinkling piano renditions of familiar film themes and a general reassurance that all is unruffled in the privileged world you have briefly dipped into.