London SW1X 7RL
Tel: 020 7235 1010
Food type: British
Food rating: 4/10
Nearest tube: Knightsbridge
Website: Boxwood Cafe
The Gordon Ramsay PR machine continues to spin at a terrifying pace. With no less than 9 restaurants and 3 pubs in London, new ones popping up all over the globe (the latest one located in Los Angeles) and projected revenue of about £100 mil by 2010 despite the ongoing credit crunch, Gordon Ramsay Holdings is certainly in rude health. Of course his commitment to numerous TV shows (Kitchen Nightmares, Hell’s Kitchen, Cookalong Live but to name a few…) chef Ramsay rarely if ever cooks at his restaurants, even his 3 Michelin Star Royal Hospital Road one. Many of my friends are huge fans of Ramsay, in no part thanks to his regular appearance on TV but I personally am of the opinion that many of his restaurants ride on the publicity tidalwave. Still, it is unfair to judge a restaurant without having first visiting it.
Boxwood cafe is located at the Berkeley hotel which also houses Marcus Wareing (formerly known as Petrus which was part of Gordon Ramsay Holdings). Head chef Stuart Gillies is best known for his appearance on Season 2 of the Great British Menu as well as Saturday Kitchen. Boxwood Cafe is supposed to capture look and feel of a smart New York eatery where kids and adults are welcomed.
You enter Boxwood cafe via a seperate entrance. The main dining area is actually located at the basement of the hotel. The dining room is spacious and the atmosphere is generally relaxed. Nevertheless, most of the diners here were your usual suits and businessmen.
The menu was printed out a simple cardboard with starters priced between £7.50 – £16.00, mains between £16.00 – £35.00 and desserts at £7-8. There was a tasting menu (a taste of boxwood) priced at £55 for 6 courses. Tea infusions were a pricey £5.00.
Bread was brought to us in a basket and consisted of white and multi-grain roll. This was served with salted butter was well as a taramosalata – a Greek meze made of salted cod roe blended together with olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar. Bread was decent (5/10) although to my chargrin was a one time offer only with no top-ups. This is a first in my experience as most restaurants were at the ready to offer us more bread without us asking.
I had great hopes for my starter of Crisp Pig’s Trotter and Ham Hock with Braised Lentils, Runner Bean Salad. There is nothing better I like than using a cheap cut of meat – in this case pig’s trotter and creating something breathtaking out of it. In addition, pig’s trotters has been marketed for its rejuvenating properties as it contains a high gelatinous content. Well leaving the vanity issues aside, the dish arrived bearing very little resemblance to an actual trotter. Instead, the meat was reformed into individual patties before being breaded and deep fried. This was served with some lovely braised lentils and a green bean salad to top it off. Unfortunately, the trotter patty was oversalted by a wide margin wrecking havoc to the balance of the dish. By itself, the lentils were very good, but it simply could not compete with the trotter. (2/10)
J’s starter of Baked Orkney Scallops with Sea Urchin Butter, Watercress and Apple was also a dish which I felt lacked balance. While a big fan of sea urchin, the use of its roe here overpowered the sweet delicate scallop. (3/10)
Both of us also shared an additional starter of Roasted Foie Gras with Poached Spiced Black Fig, Pickled Ginger and Hazelnuts. The combination of fig and foie gras is a classic one and here it does not stray far from the tried and true. 2 generous escalopes of foie gras were served with a poached fig, tuile and a side serving of pickled ginger and hazelnut salad. The foie gras was passable, but could have done with slightly more seasoning to bring out its flavour. In addition, the liver did not have that oh-so-perfect molten interior I was craving for. The hazelnut and pickled ginger salad seemed more of an afterthought. (4/10)
My mains was one of the daily specials – Roast Breast of Red Leg Partridge, Braised Leg, Ceps, Bitter Greens and Black Pepper Jus. This was a dish I enjoyed with the contrasting textures and flavours of the breast and leg. All this went well with the bitter greens and the earthiness of the mushrooms. There were certainly some Chinese influences in this dish as the leg was braised in a way similar to how the Chinese would braise their duck. If there was a slight detraction to the dish, it is again that the breast was again slightly oversalted but was not overbearing like the aforementioned trotters. (4/10)
J’s Grilled Native Lobster, Garlic Butter, Chips and Herb Salad was certainly one of the more expensive item on the menu but at least an entire lobster was served here. I personally feel that grilling a nice fresh lobster is a complete waste as most of the time the lobster will turn out dry and tough. Here, the lobster was nicely cooked and was given a lift by the garlic butter. Still, there was a lot of wrestling involved to caress all the meat out of the orange crustacean. However, I can’t understand why they are serving those skinny shoe-string chips when we are in England. Certainly this calls for a nice portion of fat chunky chips. (4/10)
We shared a plate of British Cheese which came garnished with a few slices of apple and walnuts. The cheese included some very ordinary cheddar and some pretty good waterloo and stinking bishop (if I’m not mistaken). The cheese were served with a basket containing a variety of bread and crackers. Overall a capable 5/10 for the cheese although slighty more effort could have been put into the accompaniments.
A English Apple Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Ice cream was enjoyable although the apples could have been cooked down a touch more. The puff pastry was slightly soggy. In addition, the vanilla ice cream while good was none too remarkable. (4/10)
J finished off with a Warm Chocolate Fondant, Salt Caramel, Mint Chocolate Ice Cream which was made from some very good quality Valhorna chocolate. (5/10)
Service was attentive although food, in particular our mains, were slow to be delivered (although not as long as the travesty at Pied a Terre). There were one or two minor slip ups. For example, they decided to lay out the cutlery for our desserts as well as the cheese course at the same time but the maître d’ cleared all our cutlery away after we finished our cheese course only to relay them again afterwards. Going to Boxwood cafe, my expectations weren’t high as its cuisine is admittedly not as refined as that of other Ramsay eateries such as Claridges or Royal Hospital Road. The kitchen as such has kept things pretty safe without much adventure aiming to focus on clean simple flavours. Even with such allowances, there were many minor slip-ups with the cooking particularly when it comes to seasoning. My main grieve was simply the pricing of the food. I felt that the food was severely overpriced for the level of cooking demonstrated especially as no extras such as amuse bouche, pre-desserts or even petit fours were included. Perhaps the restaurant is able to get away with such pricing as it is riding on the Gordon Ramsay franchise but judging the restaurant on its own merits, Boxwood Cafe is very ordinary.