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Maze*, London [Restaurant Review]

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

Warning: long review ahead.

We have been waiting to eat at Maze for a few months now, ever since my cousins had eaten the set lunch and gave it a thumbs-up. Not only that, some of the foodie news around London was that Maze was one of the “to-eat” places serving modern French food and, being part of the ever-spreading Gordon Ramsay chain, was comparatively cheaper than some of his more upmarket restaurants. In other words, there was a fair bit of hype, and it had me baited. Oh, and it has also held a Michelin star since its opening in 2005.

As befitting its owner, Maze was in a fairly posh bit of Central London, near a square of embassies. It was two minutes from Oxford Street but still in a quiet location and parking was readily available on a beautifully sunny Saturday (you know you’ve been staying in England too long when you’re a Malaysian who gets happy seeing the sun). The exterior was quite discreet, but upon entering, two smiling receptionists confirmed our reservation and we were quickly shown to the table.

We walked past a rather long and quite well-equipped looking bar, complete with quite appealingly comfortable looking seating. It was quite a large restaurant as well and was quite decorated in a modern chic fashion; I quite liked the circular bit in the middle of a large room, breaking up the monotony. The tables are also surprisingly large in size for a Central London restaurant, no bumping elbows with our fellow diners here, and the tables are quite well separated so we didn’t have to make uncomfortable eye contact with other hungry people.


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The bread came soon after we made our orders. Only two types here; a brown multi-grain bread and a white mini-baguette. Both were still warm and fresh, but nothing to write home about and the same goes for the butter.


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We had chosen to order from the Tasting Menu, which was the same concept as from
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon whereby the dishes were the same as the main a la carte menu, only smaller in size so as to allow you to sample more dishes; definitely the choice for greedy people like us who like to try many things. As a side note, the set lunches seemed pretty good value for money; four courses for £30 and six courses for £40 but the choices didn’t look as appealing to us. The waitress recommended getting two starters and two mains for a balance.


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The starters came quite soon after we made our requests and this continued for most of the meal. The Assiette of sandwiches, ‘BLT’ and croque monsieur was confusing at first, my French and foodie language being insufficient to interpret it. What arrived was a martini glass containing tomato jelly, a mysterious layer forgotten to us and topped with little bacon pieces and drizzled with lettuce sauce accompanied by a little piece of toast with bacon. It sounds (and looks) odd, but worked really well. My only complaint is that the toast was quite oily.


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In any restaurants serving European cuisine, my first instinct is to scan the menu for any foie gras on it. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to note down the name of the choice we had, but it was something along the lines of Foie gras pate with brioche, but with extra fancy words. Anyway for a pate, it was very good, very smooth like the finest butter and the richness of the foie gras is strongly evident too. The brioche unfortunately was far too oily for me.


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Crab salad, pickled mooli, apple jelly, Bloody Mary sorbet was one of my choices and it was a bit so-so. The Bloody Mary sorbet was interesting, the apple jelly got lost somewhere and the crab was a bit disappointing as the meat was not sweet at all (disclaimer: crabs in Malaysia tend to be quite sweet, maybe British crabs are different?). Overall: disappointing.


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The London cured salmon confit, saturated apple, pickled English vegetables, celeriac remoulade and salsa verde paste was a good recommendation by the waitress, the salmon being barely cured and nearly resembling sashimi but with a slightly salted preserved taste. The pickles went a treat with it, providing a nice crunchy contrast to the soft salmon.


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Three out of the four of us ordered the Roasted sea scallops with textures of apples, butterscotch and bacon (I didn’t order as I could share the PigPig’s, otherwise I would probably have ordered one as well) and it got quite mixed opinions. All four of us felt it was a bit overcooked and the bacon was unnecessary as it was salty enough. The PigPig and I quite liked the combination of the scallop, apple and butterscotch as we felt the apple brought out the inherent scallop tastes quite well; however, the other two felt the other bits overshadowed the scallops. Conclusion: you can never satisfy everybody.


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Now, onwards to the mains. A nice touch of this restaurant was the waiters serving the plates first, then pouring the sauces over your dish on the table itself, a nice elegant method of not allowing the contents to sit for too long in the sauce so it still maintained its own distinct taste.

Perhaps the most anticipated amongst the ones chosen was the Chinese style pork belly, braised pig’s head, crackling, jasmine tea with roasted langoustine. It was quite a generous slice of pork belly and was served drenched in a sauce as well. Anyway, as it was “Chinese style”, we were expecting something similar to the roasted pork belly we were used to (Google Image “siew yoke”). However, the pork belly bore no resemblance to our mind’s imagination, we didn’t feel any hint of Chinese herbs or spices, and I have no idea where the jasmine tea was. On the other hand, the pork belly itself was actually pretty tasty. My friend, the Suckling Pig, complained that it wasn’t as good as one he had in Michael Moore recently, but his was considerably leaner than mine. The PigPig felt that the sauce was too mild in flavour and texture to make a difference to the dish.


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The pork belly also came with a small side of mash potato. Although not as good as Joel Robuchon’s (see review), it was still very creamy and smooth. Unfortunately, it was a bit on the runny side which was a bit odd for mash for us.


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The Roasted Anjou pigeon, 70% chocolate ganache, blueberries, red wine and celeriac sounded like an interesting option and something worth trying. A leg and breast of the bird was given (I didn’t make the same mistake before and ate half of each the leg and breast this time); while I found the leg juicy and tender, I felt the breast meat a bit tough. I also wasn’t a fan of the chocolate. My other half however found the combination of the dark chocolate and gamey pigeon meat a sensation. She would have licked the plate clean if it was a socially acceptable form of dining.


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My female friend accompanying us today had seafood for all her choices, and the first of her two fish mains was Roasted hake in Parma ham, chorizo and pimento purée, squid paint. My experience of fish is a bit limited as I prefer to eat more substantial meat, but hake is a meatier fish and it wasn’t surprising for me to find this a little bit tougher and dryer than usual from other fish dishes. It was not bad, and the pimento puree made the dish more interesting.


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She then had the Slow cooked organic Shetland cod with baked clam, smoked prawn butter and samphire. The cod itself was quite fresh, with good texture and still remains in the flakes when torn apart but the taste of the cod itself was a bit on the mild side.


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Both the Suckling Pig and I ordered the Cornish lamb and tongue, salt marsh mutton shepherd’s pie, spring cabbage and mint jelly, partly because it sounded good and also because the waitress recommended it. The Suckling Pig was a bit apprehensive at eating tongue (he likens it to French-kissing the dead animal). To be fair though he had a small bite of it then passed the rest over to me which I devoured – I though it was delicately seasoned but still had the original meaty taste and was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The lamb was cooked medium rare and was still juicy and pink in the middle. Unfortunately, the moment we started cutting into the meat, we were made abundantly aware that it was strangely tougher than the previous lamb cutlets recently (perhaps we were just being spoilt). The mint jelly (again poured at the table) was more of a sauce and was very good, not too minty or sour.


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The shepherd’s pie used the same mash potato from before and had a layer of mince mutton and other vegetables below it. Whilst the mash was undeniably good, the mince mutton was nothing special and could have been any other meat for all I knew.


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For me, the Dish of the Day award goes to the Irish ox ‘tongue ‘n’ cheek’, caper raisin and ginger carrots, horseradish pomme purée. Firstly, the cheek was amazingly tender; the slightest touch of the knife on it and the meat just parted away at the fibres. Not only that, but it was still vibrantly strong and beefy and the sauce provided only enhanced the dining pleasure. The tongue was also pretty good (side note: for people who have yet to try eating tongue, go to Selfridge’s and order the salted tongue sandwich, you will be a convert).


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Unfortunately, I forgot that this mash potato had horseradish in it; I had assumed it to be the same as previous mash so I was in no particular rush to try it. The amount of horseradish added was just right to give you the tingle and taste of it but not to blow your head off. If, like me, you are a fan of mustard with your beef, you would have found the combination a very good match.

For the desserts, we ordered three and shared amongst us (I was feeling quite full at this point). The Pliable chocolate ganache with dehydrated lime curd and walnut ice cream was a very strong dark chocolate, with some salt and mint leaves sprinkled on top. We weren’t amazed with it and I disliked the salt.


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To be fair though, the thunder was stolen by the Peanut butter and cherry jam sandwich, tonka bean cream and dehydrated cherries. It was essentially peanut butter ice cream in between two thin peanut biscuits and a very generous pouring of cherry jam/sauce – good stuff! The tonka cream tasted odd and I was happy to ignore it (according to Wikipedia, the use of tonka is banned is the US and UK!!).


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The Suckling Pig was now being boring and opted for some sorbets – mango, cherry and lemon. The lemon was eye-wrenchingly sour but admittedly did leave a refreshingly clean palate afterwards, which was the result he wanted. Oddly though, the mango was also quite sharp and sour.


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Complimentary petit fours were provided at the end of the meal. I forgot what they were now, but they were all very good. One of the better petit fours we've had.


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The bill for all that (two starters and mains each from the Tasting Menu) and two cups of coffee came to £240 or £60 each.

Food - 5.0
Service - 5.0
Atmosphere - 6.0
Value - 3.0


The service was pretty good, attentive most of the time and usually accompanied with a smile. I quite liked the décor and particularly loved the extra space, but the Suckling Pig felt it was a bit impersonal and established (he’s quite hard to please).

Overall, the food had its delicate touches, very detailed presentations and good quality ingredients, yet the sum total was more "Decent" than "Good". All the dishes had something going for it, but most of them had a minor issue or two that prevented it from achieving true dining greatness. On the other hand, we had been eating a fair amount of posh French food lately (far more than what I'm accustomed to says my expanding belly) so perhaps this is all a bit blase to us now, yet I honestly do feel let down from this experience.

Would I eat here again? No.

Maze
15 Grosvenor Sq
Mayfair,
W1K 6JP
Official website
Tel: +44(0)207495 2211

Maze on Urbanspoon


20 oink oinks...:

Kavey said...

Interesting review!
My sister and I went to Maze last year and the menu choices on the tasting menu were substantially different. Many of the ones you've described don't appeal to me as much, even from the menu description, let alone from your very useful more detailed descriptions that follow.
I'd definitely go again as we were very pleased with the majority of our dishes (we went for 2 starters, 2 mains and 2 desserts each and shared all 12 as we have very similar tastes).

email2me said...

I am dying to dine in any of Gordon Ramsay's restaurant chain. If only he open one in south east asia.

lisaiscooking said...

How did you get such great photos in a restaurant? This looks like an incredible meal. The salmon and scallops look amazing.

♥peachkins♥ said...

The meal looks elegant and amazing!!

Pearl said...

the photos look so elegant and pretty, but sorry to hear that the food was only so-so!

maris said...

What a beautiful restaurant! I am dying to go to London and now, try this restaurant!

Natashya said...

A very pretty space, and intriguing menu. You guys do a wonderful review.

Marta said...

What a thorough review! You guys should definitely market yourselves as critics, because you do a fantastic job!

Bunny said...

Everything looks absolutely divine!

Donna-FFW said...

A Gordon Ramsey restaurant.. how fun!! Your pictures are gorgeous, as always. Love your reviews and the honesty of them.

zerrin said...

Everything looks heavenly! All these pictures are work of art!

Jo said...

It's no wonder you've given this a rating of 7.5. Just by looking at the pictures I would too even without having a taste. Great review and pics.

syrie said...

And interesting and candid review. A great read!

5 Star Foodie said...

Sounds like the execution of the dishes could have been slightly better here. The concepts are all very nice though and your pictures are gorgeous! Excellent review as always!

Christelle said...

Your photos are great. i really enjoy your reviews very much.
I understand fully your latest statement, At that price and level of cuisine, it needs to be perfect. It is harsh, but that's exactly what makes the difference really...

Wild Boar said...

Kavey:
I wouldn't be surprised that lots of people would disagree with my experience where I didn't fully enjoy myself, there has to be a reason why its so highly rated. Anyway I'm glad you enjoyed your meal there.

email2me:
At the rate he's going (he opened a store in USA recently), I'm sure Gordon Ramsey in SEA isn't an impossibility.

lisaiscooking:
Its all about the DSLR and slapping away the hands of hungry people itching to eat their food.

Pearl:
The presentation is certainly superb!

Natashya / Marta:
Thanks! Although I think my knowledge isn't really comparable to a professional food critic.

Donna-FFW:
Well, its not like they're paying me or anything, so I'll much rather give my honest opinion for anybody who happens to read it.

syrie:
Thanks.

5 Star Foodie:
Yeah I do think the food was generally pretty decent, but had one or two little niggles. To be honest my two friends had even worse things to say about the food!

Christelle:
When its twice the price of an average meal in a decent/good restaurant, I certainly think so!

Big Boys Oven said...

this is such an awesome taste exploration! Just purely gastronomic!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Thorough review and some great pics! It looks sublime. One of the many things that I miss from London restaurants is the complimentary petit fours. They only come if you order coffee here. Some of those look like little pebbles!

Chef E said...

Hands down your photography rocks...my restaurant photos always look like a yellow moon was hanging over me...that food looks right up my gourmet loving alley!

Wild Boar said...

Big Boys Oven:
Lol cheers.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella:
Oh we didn't order any coffee but still got the petit fours anyway haha. The little pebbles were some yoghurt thingy, quite nice. I had to rush to get to the car before my ticket ran out so I couldn't pay much attention.

Chef E:
Thanks! Is it because of the yellow light from the restaurant?

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