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Big in Japan - expensive at Gordon's gaff

Published 8 June 2008
News Review
777th article



Let's start with a quiz to jolly up your Sunday. I recently had dinner at Gordon Ramsay's Maze Grill in Grosvenor Square. I was billed for a wagyu sirloin steak, medium size. I later spoke to Jeremy King, restaurateur supreme, who co-founded the Ivy, Le Caprice and J Sheekey in their present incarnation and now runs the massively successful Wolseley in Piccadilly.

"Are you a restaurateur, Jeremy?" I asked.

"I think so," he replied.

"How much was my wagyu/kobe steak at the Maze Grill?" I asked.

Jeremy thought about it. "Sixty pounds," he suggested.

"You're not a restaurateur," I responded.

You guess now. How much was it? If you said £20, you're wrong. Fifty pounds, you're wrong. A hundred pounds, you're wrong. I'll put you out of your agony. This steak, alone, not including veggies or plate decoration, was - wait for it - £123.75, including the 12.5% service charge. On the menu it said "market price". So £123.75 was market price that day. "It's a good job we weren't here yesterday," observed my guest, Sir Michael Caine.

Did I like it? Yes. Rather gristly. I got this horrendous bit of gristle and thought, "Shall I spit it out?" But I hate bits of removed food on the edge of the plate so I chewed relentlessly and swallowed.

The steak, when I avoided the gristle, was superb. But - and this is a big "but" - a few days later I received a letter from John Cowan, general manager of W G White, which normally supplies me with caviar. He offered American wagyu/kobe beef, the same as I'd had at Maze. A sirloin steak, identical size, cost me £20. I usually get 10% off so it could have been £18. Restaurateurs reckoned Gordon buys his wagyu/kobe steaks for £14. I grilled mine at home. So I missed the splendid company of Gordon and his excellent chef Jason Atherton.

Our Gord has said vociferously and at length that restaurants should serve locally produced food. I didn't see any Japanese cows (I'm told the wagyu/kobe steak comes from them) chomping the grass in Grosvenor Square. Nor did his New York strip steak from Creekstone in Kansas emanate from near the Maze. I was told Gordon's wagyu/kobe came from Australia. That's local to Grosvenor Square, innit?

Gordon explained they chargrilled the steak, then put it on the first American broiler in the UK. That cooks the meat at 1200 degrees (or 649C). Our Gord knows what he's talking about. Particularly when he said, with far greater accuracy than he showed in his ludicrous diatribe about local produce: "Michael Winner knows nothing about food," and: "Michael Winner has a palate like a cow's backside."

You may find it odd that in spite of Gord shooting his mouth off about anything that will get his name in print, I like him immensely. I consider him a friend. Some food critics I know are deeply offended by the vitriolic criticism Gordon aims at them. Come on, fellows. Who cares? Food critics are the lowest of the low anyway. No insult can be too great for them.

As for the Maze, I thought it was marvellous. No table clothes ("Saves a fortune on laundry," observed Michael Caine), wooden floor, bustling, full to overflowing. Who said there was a cash crisis?

Michael chose Gordon's "local" New York steak and declared it the best steak he'd ever had in England. His cost a mere £39.37. I like a cheap guest. Lady Shakira was presented with a whole sea bass, including the head and the tail.

I had two starters. The menu informed me they were tapas-size. I took that as meaning small. They were both enormous and absolutely terrific. One was pigs on toast, parmesan and rocket. That turned out to be chopped up pig's trotter. The other was confit tomatoes, chorizo, potatoes, bitter shallots.

I also tasted Geraldine's fried calamari - sensational. The french fries on the menu are bought in but the lobster chips served with the lobster are made on the premises. They're fried in duck fat. I had them with my £123.75 steak and some onion rings. All good. So was my dessert of red fruit Eton mess, mascarpone ice cream. I'd started with a delightful rossini. That's crushed strawberries and either prosecco or champagne. I couldn't tell the difference. How can you if your palate's like a cow's backside?

I noticed in Mayfair Gordon served his customers Evian water and Badoit. Not the horrific Tufa water he palms them off with at his terminal 5 restaurant. What's he got against air travellers? I suppose he thinks they too have palates like a cow's backside. This could well be true.



Michael's missives

At the Cafe Batavia, in Jakarta, the waiter brought a velvet-lined box full of reading glasses. On the menu it said: "Hearing aids also available." You'd have loved it!
Frank Kearns, Norfolk.

At Fortnum & Mason's Gallery restaurant the waiter recommended welsh rarebit, saying it was "piping hot" and the best thing on the menu, having been served for 30 years. Along came two pieces of cold muffin with the thinnest sprinkling of cheese imaginable. It was awful. I sent it back. A considerable comedown from what Fortnum's used to be.
Gemma Levine, Mayfair, London.

So you're leaving your house and teddy bears to the nation. I know a bear fan who, to spite his ex-wife, is leaving his assets to pay for a slap-up teddy bear's picnic. Your gesture is more generous.
Adam Osborn, Malaga, Spain.

We're worried about our favourite senior citizen. Last week he appeared to be losing his virility, had difficulty driving, arrived at the wrong restaurant and was unable to read the menu. He should go to Specsavers or better still audition for their next commercial.
Norman Ainslie, Tenterden, Kent.