My descent into Hell's Kitchen

It was an evening of glamour, celebrity and Peter Stringfellow. <i><b>Deborah Ross</b></i> dined at Gordon Ramsay's and lived to tell the tale
Click to follow
The Independent Online

So, off to Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen, "the glamorous top-flight restaurant to the stars" as Angus Deayton had put it on telly the night before. We shall see. The restaurant is on Brick Lane, in east London, in a converted warehouse, which, inside, is wonderfully weird and showy: lampshades the size of cars; a stunning chandelier, grounded, and displayed at an angle in a plastic box; vast Bacchanalian art works; and this ultra-weird thing you think is some kind of Cheestring wearing a mullety wig and faux leopard skin jacket until you work out it is Peter Stringfellow.

So, off to Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen, "the glamorous top-flight restaurant to the stars" as Angus Deayton had put it on telly the night before. We shall see. The restaurant is on Brick Lane, in east London, in a converted warehouse, which, inside, is wonderfully weird and showy: lampshades the size of cars; a stunning chandelier, grounded, and displayed at an angle in a plastic box; vast Bacchanalian art works; and this ultra-weird thing you think is some kind of Cheestring wearing a mullety wig and faux leopard skin jacket until you work out it is Peter Stringfellow.

I am seated at my table (No 16) and offered champagne. Well, if I must, I suppose. Hey, leave the bottle on the table! This is my first visit to a glamorous, invitation-only top-flight restaurant to the stars and I am eager to glamour and star spot. It's not as easy as hoped.

There's Peter Stringfellow and his companion for this evening, a Professor of Women's Studies at Birkbeck College, judging by the shapeless dungarees and all round serious, dreary look of her. Ok. Maybe not. She's all mini-dress with chains for straps. She's all hair straighteners and fake orange tan, not that I have anything against women who are all hair straighteners and fake orange tans. (I may, frankly, be the most notable example. I've been so straightened and faked for this evening of top-flight glamour I might never be bendy and a non-scary colour again). I am told by the ITV press officer that "Lisa, who used to be in Steps, is here with her boyfriend, who used to be in Hear'say." Good-O.

Tommy Vance, "the world renowned DJ" who quit the show as a participant has returned for a meal tonight and is accompanied by a girl in teeny pink tutu and a T-shirt with the following spelt out in diamante: "If it ain't stiff it ain't worth a fuck." Now, if that isn't class, I don't know what is. Apparently, Guy Ritchie's mum and dad are here too. I don't know if they asked if they could bring their daughter-in-law but am guessing that if they did they were told absolutely not, this is a 'top-flight restaurant to the stars,' so don't push your luck. Some people can be so cheeky. Give them an inch.

Alas, my table is quite far from the kitchen itself, so I can't properly make out the contestants, can only see blue and red hats bobbing and the unmissable shape of Gordon, whom I once described as part bulked-up Patrick Swayze and part ventriloquist dummy, a description I have never wavered from or stopped repeating because it's the only good description I've ever come up with in my fake orange life.

You have to hand it to him, though. He's gone from so wonderfully dismissing all celebrity chefs as "Ready Steady Prats" ("I'm a real cook") to practically being British TV. True, the format for this particular programme is a little confused. Is it a team competition? An individual popularity contest? A cooking programme? Plus, on occasion it reads like a weak novel or airport thriller: too much plot, not enough attention paid to whatever personal journeys the participants might or might not be making. But, what the hell, it is Gordon, and this is essentially a format for him, I think. Gordon is like the big spider in the zoo, the one you don't want to look at but can't not.

The best moments so far have been pure Gordon moments: Vic Reeves and the fried egg incident; Linda Bellingham going tit over arse and Gordon demanding security throw her out. Great stuff. But can the kitchen actually produce food you might want to eat?

Thus far, the disasters have come quicker than Amanda Barrie's tears, or Belinda Carlisle's, which is saying something. (For goodness sake, ladies, get a grip. It's only a soufflé that hasn't risen. Your child is not on fire.)

The group of ITV bosses on the next table ask if I've bought my own sandwiches, ha, ha, because the previous night 38 guests had not been served with any food at all. Of course, they are not unhappy about this. The worst things get the better telly it makes. A perfectly pleasant evening with no hitches and no blubbing from The Blubbing Sisters (soon to go on tour) really would be a disaster. I did feel sorry for Dwain Chambers, though, who quit when he realised that not only did he have nothing left in life, he had nothing left and was appearing on a show like this. I think I would feel sorry for "world renowned DJ" Tommy Vance if only I knew who he was.

Our table decides to order from the red menu (Al Murray, Abi Titmuss and The Blubbing Sisters) for reasons I can't now recall. For my starter, I order the Caesar salad with croutons, soft poached eggs and pancetta. Would I, meanwhile, like a nice bottle of a particularly delicious Shiraz? Oh, if I must. Hey, leave the bottle on the table! The cameras are now circulating, as is Deayton. I don't think I've seen anyone more uncomfortable on telly since Will Young did World Idol. The only thing he is getting to eat here is humble pie, followed by humble pie and, for desert, a good-sized slice of humble pie.

He pauses to interview Englebert Humperdink, who may be even oranger than me, if you can believe it. "I hear you are only allowed to live in Britain for 90 days a year," says Angus. "That's three months," says Englebert. I'm not entirely sure this constitutes repartee. How one sort of longs for the simple joie de vivre of Ant and Dec, even though it is said that their own mothers can not tell them apart and have had to sew labels onto the back of their heads.

I pop to the ladies where I chance upon an actress from EastEnders with a friend. "I love your necklace," the friend says to me. I am well chuffed. "It's a bit like mine," she continues, dangling hers under my nose, "only mine is so much bigger!"

The starters arrive in a perfectly reasonable amount of time. My salad is nicely assembled and the poached egg is absolutely perfect: the white is set beautifully without being hard while the yolk is warm and runny and yummy. The rest of the salad is fine. Not great - perhaps underdressed, and the croutons are hard, crunchy work - but not awful either. One of my fellow diners complains that her starter, ravioli of Scottish lobster, is over-salted and wet. Is Amanda on starters, dousing everything with the salty broth of her tears? It turns out she is. But, hang on, my starter was great. Amanda, next time you feel those tears pricking your lovely huge Carry On Cleo/Alma eyes, think of the egg. That egg was something to be proud of. OK? Next, I have the beef wellington with mashed potato, braised carrot and red wine jus. The meat is pink and tender, the pastry melt-in-the-mouth and a part of the dish rather than a supplementary wedge of stodge. My only niggle is that the single carrot, while matching my skin perfectly, looks a little sad and past it. It may be the Angus Deayton of carrots.

Now, pudding, and my raspberry soufflé which arrives looking terrific, as high as a top hat. Magnificent. A triumph. Until I try it. Oh, dear. Worse, even, than 'oh dear.' It actually makes me gag. The taste is only vaguely raspberry-ish. It's the vague raspberry taste of the so-called raspberry flavoured worm powders I used to have to take as a child. Worse, it's delivered via something with the texture of cold, old, scrambled egg. I send it back, as I would in a normal restaurant rather than a top flight one for free-loaders such as myself. The Maitre d', Jean Philippe, comes over to apologise. "Gordon agree wiz you," he says. "Eez not nice. Eez not nice at all." The cameras race over. Why didn't I like the soufflé? As I don't particularly wish to say anything about my childhood worm problems on national TV, I say it tasted like an old egg that had once met a raspberry in 1971 and now can't remember much about the liaison.

That seems to send them off happy. I am given a slice of tart tatin instead. It is good and plump with a wonderful caramel flavour. Belinda, it turns out, is on sweets tonight. I don't know if she gets a Ramsay bollocking, but I do know she will take it well.

All in all, not a bad night. On balance (and if we take the soufflé out the equation) it's a meal I'd have happily paid for in a middle-range restaurant, although not a Gordon Ramsay one. A few more veggies for that. And little tasty things served with the coffee. Still, it's been fun, but now it's time to go. So it's out past the artwork, the grounded chandelier, and this ultra-weird thing with yards of synthetic hair that you think might be My Little Pony until you work out it is Toyah Wilcox. Of course.

Hell's Kitchen, ITV, 9pm.

Comments