10 – 13 Grosvenor Square
London W1K 6JP
Tel: 020 7107 0000
Food type: French (with Asian influences)
Food rating: 6/10
Nearest tube: Bond Street
Jason Atherton is probably one of the hottest celebrity chefs at the moment, no thanks to his appearance on season 3 of the Great British Menu. Atherton’s starter of Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato with Truffled Croque Monsieur and main course of Dexter Beef Fillet, Ox Cheek, Smoked Potato Puree and Marrow Bone won the public vote to be the dishes served in a banquet hosted by Heston Blumenthal at the Gherkin. One of the judges, Prue Leith remarked that she would have been happy to eat his beef main course 365 days a year.
Born in Sheffield, Atherton was the son of a Skegness hotelier. He received his culinary training at Boston College, Licolnshire before embarking on a career which would see him working under heavyweights such as Pierre Koffmann, Nico Ladenis, Marco Pierre white and of course, his well documented stint with Ferran Adrià at his 3 Michelin starred restaurant, El Bulli. Despite a failed venture with the restaurant L’Anis, Atherton’s talent was noticed by Gordon Ramsay and he subsequently joined team Ramsay in 2002 working as executive chef in the much admired restaurant Verre and Glasshouse in Dubai. In particular, Ramsay mentions that Atherton was very good at deconstructing dishes, a skill which allows him to reinvent the dish in many different ways and is reflected in his style of cooking. Fast forward three years later, Atherton was given free reign to open his own restaurant (under Gordon Ramsay Holdings) called Maze bringing his creative vision of modern day tapas to the dining table. His contemporary mixture of French cuisine with Spanish and Asian influences was an instant winner, garnering an instantaneous Michelin star within the first year of opening and sprouting branches in New York and Prague. Another branch is rumored to be opening in Australia later this year.
Maze restaurant is located behind the Marriott hotel in Grosvenor Square. The street around the restaurant is dimly lit, making the restaurant easily miss-able especially on the foggy day when we visited. A common reception area is shared by Maze restaurant and Maze Grill (Atherton’s take on the New York steak house). Upon entering the restaurant proper, there is a trendy bar area where diners can also eat at if they so choose to. Opposite the bar area is a lounge area with woolly sofas where customers can (and are often-time ushered) to enjoy their after dinner coffee at. The main dining area is relatively large although tables can be spaced quite closely together.
An interesting thing worth mentioning is the quite ridiculous cutlery stand where your spoon, knife and fork are carefully balanced on their tip. While this concept make look cool initially, this can become farcical during the course of the dinner when cutlery have to be replaced after each course and the balancing act itself is tricky to begin with.
As alluded to earlier, the menu at Maze is more like a ‘Create your own tasting menu’ where you order from a selection of starters, slightly larger sized (and pricier) main course and desserts. Our very informative waiter advised us to order 4 dishes – 2 each from the starters section and 2 from the main course section. Items are priced at £9 – £10.50 for starters, £9.50 – £12.50 for mains and £6 – £7.50 for desserts. Of course, a very convenient 7 course ‘Chef’s Menu’ (really a fancy name for their version of a tasting menu) is available at £60, along with options for a few of the courses. I personally think that their tasting a menu is a good idea since, when dining as a couple, you can try a wide variety of the dishes available, and so we did. For those who must have their staple 3 course meal, an a la carte menu is also available on request.
One thing worth a mention here is their wine list. While you would expect good growers and the usual mark-ups (ie. ridiculous) in Ramsay’s restaurants, diners can also choose individual wine flights. A trio of 125ml glasses are chosen based on a theme, either grape variety, country or vintage. For example, you can choose a wine flight of 3 Burgundy wines or 3 New World Pinot Noir.
Bread is brought to you at the start of the meal in a tin and consists of a thin, long white bread or granary. Clearly they don’t want you to fill up on bread because the quality of bread here is one of the poorest I have ever encountered in a Michelin starred restaurant. Served cold, both types of bread were hard, rubbery and chewy lacking in salt. Breaking the bread proved to be a challenge in itself. I think J summed it up pretty well when she took a bite out of her granary bread and politely left the rest on the plate. (0/10) Butter was of the unsalted, unpasteurized variety and was of good quality.
Iron Bark Pumpkin Latte with Braised Duck, Black Truffle syrup and Cep Brioche
Our meal began with a fanciful starter of pumpkin soup and duck ragout served with a brioche, obviously a play on soup and bread. A small bowl of foam hiding the braised duck very well was brought to the table before the pumpkin veloute was poured into it. A small bottle containing the black truffle syrup was then presented to us before a few drops of the precious syrup were dotted on top of the foam. The soup had good depth of flavour with the sweetness of the pumpkin a good match for the gamey duck. Disappointingly though, the black truffle syrup did not add much other than the faintest of smell right at the beginning. All this after being warned by our waiter that it is very strong and as such he was only going to administer a few drops only. Technically speaking, the execution of foam was brilliant – holding its shape perfectly from when it left the kitchen, when the soup was poured and of course when it was photographed. The small miniature brioche accompanying this dish was intriguingly shaped like a button mushroom and accompanied with a small cylindrical knob of cep butter. Unfortunately, this component didn’t seem to add anything to the dish, and the brioche itself was not as light, airy and sinfully buttery as some of the best brioche I have tasted. (6/10)
Marinated Beetroot, Sairass Cheese, Pine Nuts and Cabernet Sauvignon Dressing
The combination of beetroot, goat’s cheese, nuts and vinegar is almost as classical as beans and toast. I’ve had similar renditions of this dish at the Ledbury and the Square so I already have in my head a rough yardstick for this dish. Here, thin, crispy layers of marinated beetroot sandwiched a piping of whipped Sairass cheese before being topped with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts, shoots and a cabernet sauvignon vinegar dressing. For those like me who don’t know, Sairass is an Italian goats cheese originating from Piedmont, or so I’m told by the very helpful waiter. The word Sairass itself means ‘ricotta’ in Piedmont dialect and was traditionally wrapped in hay to preserve its freshness. Unfortunately for me, this dish was a complete shocker. The commis chef preparing this dish should be taken to the back and shot for being allowed to drizzle the vinegar dressing with reckless abandon. The acidity coming from the dressing was so overwhelming that everything else on the plate was murdered by it. J being the ever-so-polite lady that she is remarked ‘I think this dish is ok, but I don’t think I would ever want to eat it again.’ (0/10)
Pressed Marinated Foie Gras, Lincolnshire Smoked Eel, Baked Potato Foam and Dill
Bouncing straight back however was the beautiful terrine of foie gras, smoked eel and potato. The carefully de-veined foie gras was silky smooth, with good liver taste without being sickeningly rich – a problem that commonly occurs with foie gras. Additionally, the smoked eel was kept at a sensible level so that you get the gentlest of smoky perfume with each bite. The middle layer of the terrine consisted of a slice of baked potato which added some texture to the dish. Again, technique was spot on with the execution of the potato foam was spot on and unlike many restaurants with pointless foams, the potato foam added a different type of creaminess to the whole composition of the dish. The aforementioned marinated beetroot made another appearance and were actually pleasant, confirming my views that there was a heavy hand involved in the production of the previous dish. (7/10)
Assiette of Sandwiches, ‘BLT’ and Croque Monsieur
Perhaps the most hyped dish here is the BLT ‘sandwich’ (short for Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato) and I’m sure the restaurant has been milking the success of this dish after its winning performance on the Great British Menu. As such I feel this is worth talking in length about. What you are presented with is a cocktail glass filled with tomato consomme jelly, onion and bacon cream, crispy onion rings, pancetta lardons topped off with a lettuce veloute poured at tableside. While this dish may sound like it has come out of the brain of some deranged lunatic, let me be the first to reassure you that it works. Taking a huge spoonful of this, I couldn’t help but let out a laugh of joy at how this dish absolutely captures the essence of what a BLT sandwich tastes like. Less interesting however was the croque monsieur – a ham and cheese toastie of French origins. The sandwich was constructed using the utterly butterly brioche (sorry about the pun), bechamel sauce and proscuitto. However, despite all the ‘posh’ ingredients this was still to me, a ham and cheese toastie.
In my opinion, I think that the BLT component is very good, inventive and humorous dish. Whether the dish as a WHOLE deserves all the praise to the point of all three judges creaming themselves on TV is up for debate. As a whole however, I think Michel Roux Jr. himself summed it up pretty well – the dish feels incomplete, as if it is still ‘work in progress’. Perhaps Atherton himself is fully aware of the fact that the Croque Monsieur component was the weak link and therefore tried to spice up the dish during the GBM competition by adding sliced truffles to it. Personally, I think the dish could and should do without the croque monsieur and let the BLT itself shine, maybe as an amuse bouche even. But hey, why give something as good as this away for free when you can charge money for it. (8/10 for the BLT, 7/10 for the dish as a whole)
Slow Cooked Quail, Marinated Foie Gras, Raisin and Saffron Puree, Marinated Pear and Vinegar
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the quail. Tender, juicy and packed full of flavour, it was pretty evident that the quail was cooked sous-vide. The combination of quail and foie gras is pretty tried and tested but here there was a twist in terms of pairing the warm quail with the cold foie gras. The small dot of raisin and saffron puree was potent and concentrated, tasting almost like honey – a perfect foil for both the quail and the foie gras. (8/10)
Pan-fried Halibut with Black Pudding, Celeriac and Sauce Diable
A simple dish of pan-fried halibut served with black pudding, celeriac puree and sauce diable had correctly cooked fish but failed to excite in every other aspect. It seemed that all the components in the dish were agreeable but the dish itself did not come together as a whole. (5/10) By the way, sauce diable is made from minced shallots, dry white wine, herbs and cayenne pepper to give it heat. Recipes vary of course with other ingredients such as tomato puree, mustard and lemon also added. The word diable is French for devil or fiendish, obviously a reference the sauce which is hot.
Roasted Hake in Parma Ham, Chorizo and Pimento Puree, Squid Paint
Hake in Parma ham was a let down. Admittedly hake isn’t on top of my list of favourites but the fish itself was overcooked and dry. This was exacerbated by the lack of any sauce. In all honesty, there was a split second where I was contemplating ‘this seems to taste a bit like plane food.’ Ok, that comment is unmerited because the chorizo and pimento puree themselves was well made, with just a piquant hint of the chorizo coming through the pepper, and the mash accompanying was quite decent. (3/10)
Confit Rare Breed Sussex Pork Belly, Pigs Head, Quince Confiture, Parsnips
Pork belly was pleasant served with a bit of pigs ear crackling. The pork was moist and tender and the ubiquitous apple sauce is replaced with quince instead. A small bowl of parsnip puree which accompanied the dish was fine. Again, my criticism of this dish is that while it was a nice dish, there was nothing truly remarkable about it. (5/10)
Roasted Rack of Lamb, Winter Vegetable Puree, Hispi Cabbage, Salt Marsh Mutton Shepherd’s Pie
A singular lamb cutlet was cooked pink served with a thyme infused lamb jus and topped with the hispi cabbage. A miniature shepherd’s pie made from salt marsh mutton had again good quality mash although the mutton was a touch overseasoned. (5/10)
To be completely blunt, none of the main course dishes can be faulted (except for the hake which was overcooked) but at the same time I felt myself going through the motions working through the dishes. When I dine out, I want to be challenged, I want to be impressed, I want to be wowed when I eat. What I don’t want is a dish I feel I could cook at home. I don’t want to be bored to death. Like the rack of lamb for example which I cooked for a couple of friends just a few days ago. I personally feel that there is a lot of restraint shown with the mains and is perhaps because of a directive from the big boss himself who apparently likes to keep a close tabs on all his restaurants. While reading Ramsay’s 3* chef cookbook, he mentions that he likes to keep things simples for mains and tries to mess with them as little as possible which probably explain why the mains felt so mundane.
Apple and Caramel Trifle, Cider Granite, Apple Cinnamon Doughnut
Pre-dessert of apple and caramel ‘trifle’ saw the invention cranked back up a notch. The trifle, served in a shot glass, was constructed using three separate layers of green apple puree, caramel mousse and vanilla cream before being topped with cider soaked granita. I was initially wary of the cider granita bearing in mind the catastrophe that was the cabernet sauvignon dressing, but it is clear that the pastry chef knew what he was doing – the granita having just a small, sweet and sour hint of the cider. the trifle itself was very enjoyable, with each layer having its own clear and distinct flavour, but also combining well to make one harmonious dish. The apple cinnamon doughnut on the side had good, light fluffy texture although it could have done with with just a touch more apple flavour to it. (6/10)
Floating Island, ‘Pink Praline’, Pear and Caramel Sorbet
Floating island is a girly dessert with marshmallows sprinkled with hot pink praline making up the islands. Custard is then poured around the marshmallows to represent the sea. Individual components of the dish were well made with the light, airy marshmallows, custard which had good vanilla flavour and the refreshing and cleansing pear sorbet. This dessert was more fun than it actually tasted. After all it is essentially marshmallows, custard and ice cream. (5/10)
Coconut Panna Cotta with Black Olive Caramel, White Chocolate Granite
Coconut panna cotta came with a squeezy tip containing a black olive caramel. Said caramel tasted a bit like palm sugar and when combined with the coconut panna cotta, resulted in a ‘cendol’ like flavour. The olives in essence created a salted caramel! A bit of mango complemented the dessert well – the mango flavour coming through the combination of sweet, salty, creamy and nutty panna cotta and olive caramel mixture. (6/10)
Iced Pineapple & Marshmallow Lollipop, Salted Chocolate, White Chocolate Pistachio & Raspberry, Rosewater Jelly ‘Turkish Delight’
Petit fours were pleasant with a very fine rosewater jelly although one of the iced pineapple & marshmallow lollipop was literally falling apart when it was brought to us. Overall 5/10 for petit fours.
Service was pleasant although it felt quite business-like. The staff were like well-trained, well-oiled robots although lacking perhaps the care and attention or genuine warmth that I have experienced from some of the best services. A nice touch was when we were invited to have a tour of the kitchen at the end of our meal.
At its best, the food at Maze, is inventive, interesting, challenging, humourous and above all FUN. You don’t often say that about most restaurants these days. Unfortunately, because of its association with Ramsay Inc. the main courses were unfortunately dull and boring. Don’t get me wrong – they were well cooked, capable dishes but they failed to excite me. A real shame because it is evident from some of the dishes that Jason Atherton is a brilliant cook in his own merit shackled by the big boss. It would indeed be interesting to see how good he can be if he had full creative control of all the food leaving the kitchen. The question is whether it a dissociation of Marcus Wareing proportions has to take place before we can see what Atherton can really do.