During John Williams’s 14 years as executive chef at the Ritz London, cooking styles and dining experiences have generally been simplified and become more informal.
Not so at the Ritz, which continues to pride itself on serving the finest food in the most splendid surroundings. With its swathes of gold leaf and marble, alongside soaring floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Green Park, this has been the location in the capital for the past 112 years to celebrate a special occasion for everyone from royalty to presidents. My husband and I toasted our 30th wedding anniversary here and it was brilliant in every respect.
Williams describes his food as haute cuisine because it “epitomises true gastronomy and purity” and involves constant refinement to accomplish the very best. Rooted in the writings of Auguste Escoffier, a consultant chef at the Ritz in the early years after the hotel’s opening in 1906, Williams’ style is firmly classical, while at the same time constantly evolving.
The recipes in this book, which reflect the four seasons, frequently appear with a Williams’ twist, as in the case of a starter of fillet of turbot, leeks and morels, served with a Champagne sauce. Dover sole à la meunière is a dish that has been a long-term and hugely popular Ritz dish, while tomato elixir with Parmesan foam and carpaccio of scallops, avocado, crisp crudités and citrus are more recent inventions.
A book of Ritz recipes would not be complete without afternoon tea dishes. The hotel is one of London’s busiest afternoon tea venues, serving 5,000 finger sandwiches and 1,000 scones daily, and here the reader can find out how to make exotic mousse with mango, alongside custard mousse with rhubarb and ginger.
Co-written with journalist James Steen and with photography by John Carey, this book is a real tour de force. The style of food is not necessarily what every chef will want to replicate today, but an understanding of the methods will boost the repertoire of anyone with a serious interest in the craft of cooking and is definitely the stand-out recipe book of the year for me.
The Ritz London: The Cookbook by John Williams (Mitchell Beazley, £30)