Birthday Potterings + Restaurant Review: Maze, London

Yesterday was my birthday (and my sister’s too).

Lazy waking to kisses and cards from Pete and calls from sister. No plans for the morning, just catching up on some fun stuff such as helping my dad with the itinerary for the trip he and ma are making to Kenya next year (I do love planning trips), packing up and posting a photographic print sale, catching up on a little web surfing and starting to write up a review of the weekend trip to Cardiff. Oh and a lovely lunch at my local Italian, La Lotta, looked after by the lovely Bob and Eva.

In the afternoon I headed into Bloomsbury to meet a friend who shares my birthday. She’d read recommendations of an elegant cafe near her college where we enjoyed extremely good Valrhona hot chocolate and outrageously huge meringues.

Satiated, my friend headed off to class and I hopped on the tube to China Town where I enjoyed a relaxing massage in a China Town beauty salon. On this occasion I was treated by Emi, a slip of a girl from Japan who applied a little basic stretching and massage before hopping up onto my back with both feet. She used her full body weight (which was just heavy enough) to perform some very welcome stretching, pushing and manipulation before jumping back down and moving on to a regular oil-based deep-tissue massage of back, neck and shoulders. Oh, and feet too, that was good.

Feeling relaxed I splashed out on a black cab to Maze, one of the Gordon Ramsay stable of restaurants, run by head chef Jason Atherton. I sat in the bar with a mojito and my book until my sister arrived and we headed to our table. (For anyone left who doesn’t know, my sister is exactly 3 years and 5 minutes younger than me, yes, yes we do share the same birthday without being twins, how extraordinary! 😉

We opted for the Tasting Menu which was the reason (along with hearty recommendations from foodie friends) that I picked Maze: unlike most of the GR restaurants, the tasting menu isn’t a set list of about 7 courses but a menu of smaller dishes from which each guest is encouraged to pick 2 starters, 2 mains and 2 desserts. Price-wise, this comes to slightly less than the set tasting menus in the other restaurants and yet gives you a selection tailored to your own tastes!

The good thing is that sister and I have very similar tastes indeed so we picked 4 different starters, mains and desserts and shared all 12 dishes between us. The staff are clearly geared up for this judging by the way they present the dishes and crockery.

The food was absolutely amazing! We had:
Pressed marinated foie gras, Lincolnshire smoked eel, baked potato foam and dill
Cornish crab mayonnaise with avocado, sweet corn sorbet and Oscietra caviar
Roasted sea scallops, cauliflower puree, Muscatel vinegar dressing
Slow roasted prawns with butternut squash puree, rye croutons, crab bisque and vanilla oil
Roast rack of lamb, pea puree, marinated turnip and lamb navarin
Rare breed Sussex pork ‘Head to Toe’, apple puree and spiced lentils
Roasted squab, Peking leg, marinated turnip and date sauce
Roasted hake in Parma ham, chorizo and pimento puree and squid paint
Madagascan vanilla rice pudding, raspberry and lemon thyme jam, mascarpone and pecan ice cream
Pineapple carpaccio, coconut sorbet, seaweed croquette and Malibu lime jelly
Chocolate moelleux, pistachio sabayon with milk and honey ice cream
Coconut panna cotta with black olive caramel, white chocolate granite

There was no dish we didn’t think was fantastic, though neither of us liked the tiny, deep-fried bite of pig’s trotter that was a very small element of the rare breed Sussex pork dish.

Our favourites were:
All the starters were divine. My sister especially loved the foie gras, I really loved the scallops and the butternut squash puree that came with the prawns.
The mains were also all excellent but the pork and the squab/ peking leg were particularly delicious. Then again the lamb rack was so tender too, and the navarin stew so flavoursome!
Of the desserts the clear winner was the rice pudding, though again, all were good. My sister’s second choice was the panna cotta. Mine would be the pistachio sabayon that came with the moelleux (which was also very good).

By the end of the mains we were feeling satiated, by the end of the puddings, we were definitely feeling full.

And yet, when the bill came, we received some lollipop ice-creams, some “olives” in a slimline kilner-style jar and some chocolates and sweets on a tray. The ice-cream and the white sweets on the chocolate tray were the only two things I found actively unpleasant during the meal (I actually had to vigorously wash my mouth out straight away). I figured the “olives” couldn’t really be olives, even though they were, from the smell, clearly sitting in olive oil. They turned out to be marzipan, though I’d have preferred them without the strongly flavoured olive oil which I ended up draining and wiping off as much as possible.

Just when I thought they’d forgotten (or were simply unable to accommodate) my request (made on booking) for a brief tour of the kitchens the staff arrived with yet another dessert for each of us, a wonderful chocolate mousse cake, complete with gold foil, a burning candle and Happy Birthday piped onto each glass plate with chocolate! They said, if it wasn’t too late (about 11.30 pm), they’d be happy to show us into the kitchen once we’d finished.

We managed a few bites of the extra dessert (if I’d been somewhere less refined I’d probably have asked if I could take the rest home!), settled the bill and headed into the kitchen. Most of the areas had finished for the night and were clearing up, though a couple of departments were just plating up the last dishes to be sent out. We also saw the location of the chef’s table – I don’t think the position is very good in this kitchen as it seems to afford a view of the fish and meat counters only, though I’m sure it is still quite a show.

Our bill came to just under £180 including service and comprised £22 for our two bar drinks, £22 for my sister’s wine, £114.50 for the food and £20 for service (12.5%). Whilst it’s not the kind of money I’d drop for dinner on a regular basis I think it was very good value for the food and experience we had and I’d definitely like to visit again and would recommend it to others!

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