Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Gordon Ramsay at the Ritz-Carlton, Co Wicklow
I've never been a fan of celebrity-chef-branded restaurants. They're the ones that have the name of a celebrity chef emblazoned on the door, but don't have the eponymous chef in the kitchen.
A case in point is Gordon Ramsay at the Ritz-Carlton. As I understand it, the Ritz- Carlton pays Mr Ramsay a significant amount of money every year to have his name on the restaurant. The question is, does his name pull in enough customers to justify the annual fee? Frankly, I suspect it may put off as many people as it entices.
He does make the very occasional appearance; I was present a few months ago when a few journalists were invited to meet him and have a meal there, after watching Ramsay demonstrate cooking scallops.
Up to then, my experience of Gordon Ramsay at the Ritz-Carlton had been uneven. A good lunch shortly after it opened, a disaster of a dinner with three friends a few months later, then an excellent meal at the chef's table cooked by the last head chef.
But always, at the back of mind, I had a reservation and it was this: can you open a restaurant from scratch and begin by charging more than restaurants that have a Michelin star? Surely you need a track record to justify high prices.
Restaurants such as Patrick Guilbaud's have earned the right to charge high prices because they've produced exquisite food consistently for 30 years. Respect for restaurants is measured in euros, and respect needs to be earned.
So with these thoughts in mind, I went again this week with friends Frank and Deborah Coughlan. They live in Bray and I live in Annamoe, so Enniskerry made a perfect halfway-house meeting place.
I will say that the hotel itself is not my idea of architectural beauty, being an odd mixture of styles. But the interior has clearly had plenty of money spent on it, and to some it may even look plush and glitzy. The dining room itself has had a makeover since it was first styled and is now a pleasing room with a large outdoor terrace and a limited view of the Sugar Loaf Mountain.
What you notice at once is that there's plenty of space between the tables; the napery, cutlery and glassware are all high quality; and the service is both professional and charming.
This is by any standards fine dining, so you won't find an early-bird menu, just an Ã la carte.
Roughly speaking, the starters run from €10 to €15 and the mains are all around €30, to which you add side orders at €5 each.
The wine list is long, broad in scope and a minefield. Just suppose you wanted to spend a lot of money on wine. You could have a ChÃ¢teau Mouton 1982 for €2,200, which retails at around €800.
On the other hand, you could have a Rom-anée-Conti 1993 for €8,400, which is a couple of hundred euros less than the retail. If you plan to spend thousands on wine, bring a reference book.
We just wanted a glass each, so from a whole page of wines by the glass we got an Australian Chardonnay, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and an Italian Nero d'Avola, which came to €26.
So to the food. The first thing that arrived was a demitasse of soup as an amuse-bouche -- butternut squash with a little banana and a touch of cinnamon -- which was delicious.
For starters, we had pan-roasted quail, an onion tart and a foie-gras parfait with smoked chicken.
Even if I hadn't known that the new head chef was Peter Byrne, ex of Chapter One, the quail would have been a clue. Presented exactly as in Chapter One, the legs and wings had a French trim, so that you could eat them like a lollipop.
These were three excellent starters, beautifully presented and expertly done.
For mains, we'd chosen a dish of hake, a mixed plate of outdoor raised pork and a cèpe mushroom risotto.
As side dishes, we had new potatoes and two different mashed potatoes -- one smoked, the other not. You read that right, smoked mashed potato. It turns out the butter in it was smoked, but the result was really good; an unusual and very tasty way of doing mash.
I got a taste of all three of these dishes and they were all good. The risotto was properly cooked and not al dente, as some Irish chefs seem to think is right; the hake was cooked Ã point and the pork was probably the star dish.
There were several elements on the plate -- apart from the ubiquitous belly, the loin was served sliced and, unusually, was not dry, and the white pudding, more like a boudin blanc, was superb.
As well as Peter Byrne as head chef, the Ritz-Carlton also has a gifted pastry chef called Ludovic Lantier, whose creations have impressed me before. Clearly, we were not going to give the desserts a miss.
Between us we had a nougat, some profiteroles and a mixed plate of ice creams and sorbets. The profiteroles had an unusual texture, more like honey crisp than standard choux pastry, and they came with a classic rum-and-raisin ice cream.
The sorbets were served on slate -- not the most practical receptacle as they began to melt -- and the nougat came with a delicious raspberry ice cream.
Probably Ireland's most expensive coffees finished the meal at €5.30 each, and they brought our bill to €226.90.
Expensive, yes, but in line with the quality of the food and the service.
So what's in a name? If this restaurant had been called Peter Byrne at the Ritz-Carlton, our meal would have tasted exactly the same. But perhaps for dedicated fans of Gordon Ramsay, his name alone might add some culinary cachet.
at the Ritz-Carlton
Tel: 01 274 8888
VALUE FOR MONEY 7/10