A maze is a network of paths and hedges designed as a puzzle through which one has to find a way. It therefore resembles the law. It can also mean a confusing mass of information, which is, sadly, often the raw material with which lawyers have to work when provided with what are politely called the client's "instructions". Gordon Ramsay's Maze restaurant may therefore be considered the perfect rendezvous for lawyers.
It was in that spirit of accord that I met my daughter to have dinner there. She is a trainee at Slaughter & May and I am what might be at best called "an old hand" at Herbert Smith and so we thought that we would between us be able to fairly represent the varying age spans and genders within our noble profession. We would also be able to bring the credentials of the leading transactional and disputes firms from within the City to bear on Mr Ramsay's handiwork.
We were invited to sit at the Chef's table, which is a booth which is set inside the kitchen providing a full view of the remarkable amount of activity and shouting which goes into the preparation of the carefully crafted dishes which end up in front of the diners at restaurants such as this. The table therefore provides an evening of theatre as well as gastronomy. At certain stages in the evening you are also invited to take part in the actual preparation of your dishes. It therefore suits anyone who is a genuine foodie and fancies themselves as an artist in the field. Their creations will be judged by the sous chef against fellow members of your table as well as against his own efforts. It therefore suits the competitive instinct of lawyers admirably. Happily, there is no punishment for coming second.
As members of the chef's table one is treated as special guests of the restaurant for the evening and a remarkable array of people from the kitchen come over to introduce themselves as the evening unfolds. We met at least 5 during our visit, and, in addition, had our personal butler (no mere waiter is good enough for the chef's table) and our own sommelier to explain the provenance and qualities of the many and various wines which accompany the 11 courses which you will be invited to enjoy during the course of your four hour Maze-athon. If I give you a simple list of some of those courses you will have an idea of how the restaurant lives up to its name: Butternut Squash soup with wild mushrooms and toasted pumpkin seeds; Seared and marinated yellow fin tuna, compressed apple, coriander, ponzu dressing and horseradish crème fraiche; Pressed comfit chicken and foe gras, spiced pear Carpaccio, green tea caramel; Orkney hand-dived scallops, braised pork cheeks, pork quavers, sweet corn, beurr noisette; Devon duck breast, Moroccan style cereal, beetroot, orange and sesame crispy duck leg; Cannon of lamb, braised shoulder, whiter aubergine puree, garden mint; cheese board; Apple and Blackberry crumble (but not like one you will have ever had before); Lemon refresher, lemon tart, comfit lemons, jersey triple ice-cream; Peanut butter and jam sandwich, autumn berry sorbet, crystallised peanuts; Coffee and petit fours.
By the end of everything you will feel as if you have eaten every known animal, mineral and vegetable known to man, but as the portions are designed to entice rather than to engulf, and the flavours are intense yet entirely complimentary, the overall effect is one of simple a-Maze-ment. The amazement would run the risk of passing into befuddlement unless a tight reign is kept by the diner on his alcohol intake whilst this feast is proceeding. I thought I was pretty good on unusual grape varieties until this meal but I was surprised by at least three of the wines which were served. I find it a great service for a restaurant to take the trouble not only to work out which wine would best accompany its food but also to provide someone as knowledgeable as our sommelier to talk through the background to the particular vineyard and vintage from which each wine was chosen. As readers will be well aware their bodies can process one or two units of alcohol an hour and so despite getting through close to a bottle and a half of wine by the end of this little session you will be able to emerge with your mind sufficiently clear to take any emergency client call which may have arisen during your rather extended dinner.
The Chef's table would be a perfect venue for a team celebration of a Court victory: the table can seat up to seven and so the host partner could ensure that as well as allowing junior and senior counsel to attend, his own core team (including, most importantly, his trainee and his secretary) could be included in the party. It would not be quite big enough for the rather larger post completion parties which follow the successful conclusion of a transaction, but perhaps the solution for that would be to take one of the larger tables in the main restaurant, where the same food is available, but the theatricality of the kitchen would not be visible.
The top end of London dining is a crowded market, and a far cry from when I started in the law in 1977, when the choice was between Le Gavroche and its younger cousin in the City, Le Poulbout. In Maze, Mr Ramsay has raised the bar yet again and, when combined with its wonderful location overlooking Grosvenor Square, Maze has all the ingredients that one could want for that once in a recession night to remember.
Christopher Rees, Herbert Smith LLP
Maze, 10-13 Grosvenor Square, London, W1k 6JP - www.gordonramsay.com/maze
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