Wednesday evening started off completely normal but turned out to be the most unexpectedly bizarre evening. Wrapping up work at 7pm, I headed out to meet my friend Ying at Amuse Bouche for a pre-dinner bubbly, and we were all on track to hit up Rosa’s in Soho for a good Thai meal and an even better catch up.
She was at Amuse Bouche with her cousin Aidah, who ever so casually asked if instead of Rosa’s, would we like to join her for dinner at The Ritz? THE RITZ. Like, only the most glamorous hotel in all of England, where I tried to go this one time? But I was wearing jeans? And was so very embarrassingly turned away.
We initially hesitated because um, yeah we were really looking forward to Rosa’s but a minor twist of the arm later and we were jeans-less and on our way to what could possibly be one of the most interesting (and definitely the most unexpected) evenings I’ve had in a while.
We arrive at The Ritz and we’re met by Aidah’s other half, Cheong. He takes us through the lobby and appears to lead us straight into a mirrored wall, but ah-HA. It was a secret mirrored wall, because he wasn’t just leading us into nothing. As if just being in The Ritz could get any more exclusive (sorry, I know I’m being a very gushy civilian right now), Cheong was actually leading us down into the most elite part of the business yet – The Ritz Club Casino, the hotel’s private members area.
image courtesy of The Ritz
We get to The Club (as it’s affectionately known) and we have to sign our lives away (or maybe just sign in and have our photo taken and all that) because I’m guessing that César Ritz, if he was still with us, did not want no hooligans running amock in his century old establishment. And in the bar I’m introduced to the man himself, Gary Rolfe, the Director of The Ritz Club Casino.
I guess things were still relatively normal at this point. I ordered myself a drink and expected to sink into the background of business discussions and you know, just enjoy my surroundings.
And then somebody goes “oh, you’re the food blogger!”
For some reason, Gary jumps all over this fact and starts asking me about food and blogging and food blogging. I’m completely happy to oblige, because if there’s one thing I like to talk about, it’s me! No, actually I don’t, but in all honesty? When someone is this interested? It’s actually a pleasure to talk about my blog.
We’re handed menus for The Restaurant, which specialises in not one, not two but five cuisines – Chinese, Thai, Indian, Lebanese and French – which are all cooked authentically, meaning no fusion crap. Gary invites me into the kitchen to meet the chefs. The kitchen is lead at the helm by Chef de Cuisine Philippe Vandewalle (who trained under Albert Roux at Le Gavroche way back in ’85), however they have on hand head chefs for every single cuisine. CRAZY.
Out in The Restaurant, we’re looked after by Manager Salvatore Cala-Lesina, who is utterly charming and lavished me with attention, mainly because Gary told lies about me being a world renowned critic 😀 Ah. Right. The room itself is grand, but what else would you expect?
We eventually settle into a table – with has a lazy susan, no less – and instead of ordering my own meal, I’ve let Gary recommend a number of dishes. Note that not everyone at the table needs to have the same cuisine. You can pick and choose what you feel like and potentially have wonton soup for a starter and a grilled lamb rump for a main. Totally awesome.
Gary suggests some hot and cold Lebanese mezzes to start. I might also state right now that the below starters were for only three people. Others on the table decided to go with Asian starters like wonton soup and hot & sour soup.
dolma – rice stuffed vine leaves
tabbouleh – bulgur, finely chopped parsley, mint, tomato, scallion, with lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning
hummus – made from cooked, mashed chick peas
mutabbal – mashed aubergine with seasoning
jawaneh – grilled chicken wings
meze plate with kibbeh, fatayer, sbeneekh, spicy sausages and falafel
served with labneh
Considering I’d had that burger for lunch, I was already full before we even commenced eating and to say I was about to explode after starters would be an understatement. But never one to let the team (or myself) down, we forged on. Gary suggested Thai for mains, which was completely appropriate seeing as Ying and I were meant to have Thai anyway, albeit much less lavishly.
Thai green curry with chicken
beef stir fried with shiitake mushrooms
pad thai with prawns
morning glory stir fried with chillies
The Thai food was delicious, especially the luxuriously tender beef, but now I’m properly bursting at the seams. Thank god I was wearing a loose-ish shift dress.
Throughout dinner, Gary and I talk about the blog (I’m not sure why he’s so interested? Maybe he has a secret blog!), about how I do it and why I do it. I also talked about my day job, but ever so fleetingly because there’s no food involved with that.
For dessert it was recommended that we have the soufflé, apparently a speciality of The Restaurant. We shared two – a pistachio soufflé (pictured at the top of this post) and a chocolate soufflé with a generous dollop of raspberry sauce.
The soufflés were delightful, not in the least because I have “rise envy” (much like my “feet envy” before I was able to make macarons with feet). They rose and fell with all the grace of a perfectly cooked soufflé and I probably could have had a whole one myself. We had to share though, and here is Gary being served some soufflé and contemplating the number of calories in his tiny portion.
I did tell him that as far as I know, they’re calorie free 😉
As if we weren’t pampered enough, the soufflés were followed by a taste of The Most Divine Wine I’ve Ever Had. A glass of 2003 Cristallo Vin de Fraise from Switzerland, made from 100% pure fermented strawberries, and it was OMGAMAZING. I want to say that it filled my nose with the scent of a bouquet of strawberries, but strawberries don’t come in bouquets. But you know what I mean.
And then there were the hand made petit fours. I nibbled on a strawberry truffle (still desperately clinging onto anything strawberry) and then at that point, I burst and splattered all over the floor.
Ok, I didn’t burst and splatter, that would have been messy but I did walk home (against the will of my lazy self, who so desperately wanted to catch a cab), a smart choice given that I think even my elasticated tights would have split should I have attempted to sit down.
What an evening that turned out to be, with such ordinary beginnings. Gary has implored me to share my blog with him so he could read all this, so uh Hi Gary! Thanks *so* very much for entertaining us, I had a brilliant time and enjoyed my first meal in a “casino restaurant”.
ps. Life membership to the Ritz Club Casino is £1000.
pps. And now I return to my very ordinary life.