PERFECT restaurants don’t exist.
No matter how fancy or passionate the place, staff will always make mistakes, chefs will always cock up; there will always be off-days. However, the best restaurants have it in their DNA to recover from inevitable bloopers in a way that not only revives your expectations, but exceeds them.
On our visit, Gordon Ramsay at Powerscourt seemed determined to prove this point. Arriving down the sweeping marble staircase at the heart of the Ritz Carlton, we found nobody at the desk to greet us. The first member of staff to see us glided on by with barely a hello.
When we were seated at our table, I asked the waitress taking our order where the cured organic salmon starter was sourced from. “Ireland,” she replied. Yes, but where in Ireland?
Ramsay’s menu has just been revamped with a tantalising emphasis on local and seasonal Irish produce. Surely staff know what they’re serving?
“I don’t know,” the waitress replied. “I’ll have to check with the chef.” She didn’t move. I had to prompt her to go ahead and do this. A few moments later, she returned from the kitchen to say the salmon was “from the southwest”. Bah.
In a lesser restaurant you might let something like this go. But this is not a lesser restaurant. This is a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. The revamp brings a lightness-of-touch, the amuse bouches have been dropped, but you’ll still pay €5 for a side of carrots. The Ritz-Carlton is still a five-star hotel.
That was only the beginning. Despite informing staff taking our reservation that my wife is coeliac and requires gluten-free options, and reiterating this on the night, Lynnea’s Castletownbere crab (€15) arrived with two thin slices of regular toast neatly stacked on top.
Later, a side of sprouting broccoli (€5) arrived wilted and watery.
Thankfully, the recovery began with the food on the plates, which was very good indeed. Lynnea’s crab starter, served with a mix of tomato, wood sorrel and on a base of avocado, was light and fresh with a surprising dash of apple. My salmon (€14) was soft and succulent and beautifully presented alongside some tart cucumber and fluffy blinis on a curved white plate.
Main courses included several à la carte options — steamed halibut with samphire, brown shrimp and shellfish sauce (€32) for instance, or a roasted Carbury chicken for two (€48) — as well as four choices from the grill. We went for the latter, with Lynnea ordering a rib-eye steak (€34) and me the Wicklow lamb chops (€34), both of which arrived on wooden chopping boards.
The new-look room and menu are clearly inspired by Ramsay’s other recent renovation, the Savoy Grill in London. You still have white linen and silver cutlery, but the rugs and curtains are gone, muted whites and blacks predominate, you can eat on the terrace year-round, and there’s a swanky new wine bar too. Views of the Sugar Loaf, thankfully, have not been tinkered with.
Of course, Ramsay himself doesn’t cook. That’s fine, as long as the food is up to his standards — and ours emphatically was. The rib-eye came with a rich, tangy red wine and shallot sauce, and the chubby medallions of lamb glistened with a grilly burnish, barely resisting the knife, they were so tender. Both arrived bloodier than requested, but that didn’t bother us.
The service improved as the night went on. When we pointed out that the broccoli was overcooked (we also had very good sides of carrots and triple-cooked chips), it was not only replaced, but a senior staff member thanked us for the feedback and hoped it would improve their product.
When we remarked on the paucity of gluten-free options for dessert (of seven items, excluding the cheeses, Lynnea could only eat the marinated strawberries), the staff put together a special plate of sorbets and macaroons. They also brought us on a tour of the kitchen and served gluten-free petit fours with our coffee, without charge.
As recoveries go, it was pretty impressive. Nowhere close to perfection, but by the end of the night I’d even discovered the origin of my salmon: Clare Island, Co Mayo.