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Gordon Ramsay - New York

Its a celebrity-gossip stalwart: What on earth do they talk about, the Beckhams and the Ramsays? I met someone recently who knew parties involved in this mystifying quartet of famous friends. Apparently, sometimes they get really drunk, stay up really late and have a really good laugh. Well, theres a vivid image: I see LA minimalism, a fire burning in a grate despite the 80F heat, and then the four of them stumbling around dancing, perhaps, and VB going, Stop it, stop it! Im gonna wet me self.

To emphasise here how famous Ramsay is would be obtuse. He has broken America in a way Robbie Williams and Oasis never did, and is rumoured to be appearing in The Simpsons. For a moment he, along with Alain Ducasse, had more Michelin stars than any other chef in the world, until Joel Robuchon, with the publication of the latest Michelin guide to Japan, picked up an epic 17 stars.

Ive met Ramsay a few times, once when I was enjoying a predictably poor meal with my old boss of the sloane rangers favourite bistro, Foxtrot Oscar. When I waitressed there 18 years ago, Antony Worrall Thompson (then a very important chef and not a silly telly bonce) and Pierre Koffman (who, at the time, had the citys sole three stars in neighbouring La Tante Claire; now, as Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, still Londons only three stars) used to come in with their families. It always amazed me that top chefs would eat at Foxtrot Oscar, as the food was rubbish. And it amazed me this time when Ramsay strode in, all bare, muscly arms and gigantic presence, drinking a can of incredibly gay diet coke. He was friendly, ebullient and charming; actually, I liked him. He has taken over Foxtrot Oscar now. Hell change it from the endearing smelly old hole it is: they wont serve tepid herring roe on soggy, sliced brown toast any more. It will be reliably good, just like the other countless pubs, fine dining rooms and posh tapas joints Ramsay has waved his perfectionists wand over. There are rumours he may open a place with the Beckhams in LA, and I expect, laughable prospect as it is, that will be a tidy sort of perfection, too.

The second time I met him was when I appeared on the critics table in the first series of Hells Kitchen UK. Giles Coren, Charles Campion and I sat in the scruffy green room waiting for the big fella to come and brief us, which he did those two in great detail. Me? I just got a glance and a Hello. The third time, I was sat with a bunch of big executive types (no, I don�t know why I was there either) at the eerily silent chefs table at Maze. Towards the end, the big fella came in and gave us some mein host action. We all got signed copies of whichever book he had out then, and all the executives went weak at the knees and trembly and awkward, as if he was Brad Pitt. Pull yourself together, guys, I thought. Ramsay acknowledged me in a delightfully patronising way, and I rather hoped Id never have to meet him again. A chef I knew who worked there sneaked over from the kitchen and admitted he hated working there. Its like a factory, he said. And this is how Ramsay manages consistency from Prague to Dublin to The Warrington pub up the road from my house to Gordon Ramsay at The London in New York.

But when you walk into one of Ramsays restaurants, it is easy to put all this chaos of gossip and experience behind you, in a way that it isnt always when you see Pitt in a film. Because with food, unlike films, you do not need to suspend disbelief, you just need to taste it and you know. Is it any good?

Gordon Ramsay at The London is good. David Collins has created a shimmery, sexy space. He is just plain excellent at his job: he could create sexy in a dumper truck. In the main fine-dining area a smallish room with little in the way of windows Collins has done his best with cleverly angled mirrors and opalescent celadon panels. But nothing can hide the fact that the room only has one window overlooking a light well in the middle of the building.

For an essentially posh French restaurant, the staff are warm, efficient and relaxingly mellow. To me, anal, old-style service feels frigid and out of place pretty much everywhere: stiff, excessive manners feel ironically rude these days.

We chose the la carte, at $90 for three courses, and the wine pairing, another $55 with the exchange rate as it is, we were talking about £75 a head. I said: Even if its average, its still a bargain. My NY-dwelling friend, Harriet, said: Hmmn, for you maybe.

H wearing a very now body-con dress, wrapped round a new, improved Manhattan hardbody kept coming over all Sex and the City and spinning around in the foxy sea-green shagreen swivel chairs and flashing some ankle. She spends her life expensing her way around NYCs hot spots, and said: Its the same price, but a cut above Le Cirque.

A couple of prestarters were bomblets of moussey perfection. Something with veal was a pure explosion of smooth richness. Yet another amuse-bouche arrived, the first of many truffly delights, this one a sip of intense mushroom consomme, followed by a truffle froth and little truffle brioche tuiles on the side. Everything was delicate and beautifully crafted, if somewhat consistently in shades of brown and beige.

A starter of sauted scallops saw attention to every detail, coming classically with cauliflower puree, a sherry caramel and the subtlest of spices. Crisped rice added crackle and crunch to otherwise baby-soft textures. A plump pillow of roasted Hudson Valley foie gras with caramelised plums and preserved black walnuts had a light texture, but lacked an ideal level of sharpness to offset both the richness and the sweetness.

Were we concentrating too hard? Because overall, we were extremely happy, much happier than most of the other guests, who were either iron-haired lady lunchers or families, all drinking Coke with their meals. The wines were spot-on and, to an extent, unusual. A soft and fruity Foradori 2005 came with Hes roast loin of sucking pig, with braised belly, confit leg and shoulder. She started Mmming, and didnt stop till the last scrap of savoy cabbage and speck of (yes, more) truffle had left her plate. �One of the loveliest things I have eaten in a long time, she purred.

I had braised halibut with Kumamoto oysters, white asparagus and caviar (wild American, at that). It was cooked well, of course, but better, it was transportative: with the gentle help of fish veloute, it all combined to be a fresh, fishy, briney, sparkling essence of the sea. It was more than a dish: it was a feeling. Its so clever when chefs can do that.

Gleefully, we dived into pudding, our favourite being slow-baked quince with creme catalan and a Pedro Ximinez sherry gelee. More beige. But as far as beige goes, it doesnt get much better than this rich, date-like sherry and the silky, eggy, slightly citrus creme catalan. The bonbon cart was a grown-up sweetie shop of delights. The salty caramels werent as good as the ones at Petrus, but if I could, Id buy the chocolate honeycomb and lemon fudge by the sackload.

Everything here is beautifully executed, but nobody is breaking any new ground. Its a safe bet for lovely food and, with the fine-dining prices, perhaps thats what most people who choose to eat here want. Still, I am surprised Josh Emett received two stars for this; I would have thought one had to call on a wider colour palate than a Kelly Hoppen-style homage to neutrals, browns and beiges. Is Ramsay, in trying to keep perfection consistent across his impressive empire, denying us some of the fireworks he and his chefs are certainly capable of?

151 West 54th Street, New York; 00 1 212 468 8888 .
Lunch, Thu-Fri, noon-2.30pm; dinner, every day, 5.30pm-10.30pm

Rating guide: 5 stars: Flash Gordon; 4 stars: Gordon Ramsay; 3 stars: Gordon�s gin; 2 stars: Gordon Brown; 1 star: Gordon Bennett

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