Gordon Ramsay Plane Food at Terminal 5, Heathrow
Gordon Ramsay Plane Food – 2/5
Hopes aren’t exactly sky-high as I trundle my suitcase into Plane Food. For one thing, it’s difficult to be sure where the restaurant starts and the terminal, er, terminates. For another, when you have finally entered, you’re hit by a tinny whine of piped music. Pink Floyd, how 2008! Tables – almost all empty – are sturdy cuboids with yellowish calf leather chairs. It isn’t a particularly pleasant or relaxing dining room, but at least it’s light, and it’s fun to watch the big planes go past.
Ramsay, of course, spends much of his life in airports, hurtling around his ‘empire’, as it’s invariably called. And given that he must pass by fairly frequently, you might expect Plane Food to receive rather a lot of attention. It is, after all, the biggest opportunity he has to sell his brand, and the place most people will experience his cooking (nominally, anyway) for the first time.
But look at the menu. This is mid-August, a lush, gourd-swollen time, but from these dishes, it could be the depths of March. Veal with lemon and capers. Bream with broccoli and white wine. Steak is £19.00, chips are £2.95 on top, and carrots and spinach are the only vegetables – extra, of course. What about all that seasonal English veg he likes to ballyhoo on his innumerable, potty-mouthed TV slots? Perhaps it’s easier just to siphon some of that kerosene-fresh cargo from Kenya, Israel or Thailand.
It’s a sticky evening, and I’m thirsty. Could I have a jug of tap water? ‘We don’t do jugs. Would you like a bottle of still or sparkling water?’ The cheek! No thanks. What about two glasses of water? ‘I will bring you four.’ Come again? ‘You are thirsty. I will bring you four glasses.’
And like something out of a nightmare, four glasses of water materialise in front of me, each with a floating wedge of lemon. I hear the roar of the jumbos taking off around me, and I’m beginning to wish I was on one of them.
Still, I am going on holiday. A glass of champagne, then. It’s possibly the most miserly thing I’ve ever been served, a sample-size of second-rate pop swirling thinly at the bottom of the glass. I’m not surprised it’s half-flat: the bottle could stay open for weeks at this rate. It’s been served from a pipette. My lips are barely wet, and it - and £7.50 - is gone. Next: parfait of foie gras and chicken liver, with Sauternes jelly. The fridge-cold parfait (high on chicken, low on duck, limbo-dancing on Sauternes) has the cloying, gasping texture of shaving foam, and is an unhappy beige, like cat food. Four tidbits of dry, cold toast turn up much later. Red onions have been slowly sautéed into a sweet and delicious marmalade, and baby cornichons have a pleasant crunch. But what’s gone so wrong that these adjuncts, these afterthoughts, should be the best parts?
Celeriac risotto is quite wonderful, and the only saving grace. Difficult for a restaurant at the best of times, the rice is al dente; the principal vegetable stands proud within it and the crunchy dice of sweet, caramelised celeriac add textural depth. There are peas and lemon for freshness, verdant strands of young, peppery watercress and outstanding toasted pine nuts. Slivers of Parmesan veil the dish, which goes beautifully with a carafe of fine English white. I like being able to choose a smaller portion (£8.00 rather than £12.00), which is more than enough after the thick, moussy parfait.
It’s so good, in fact, I think I’ll order pudding. But nothing too heavy before the flight. There’s a selection of three sorbets or three ice creams: don’t mix them, mind! What flavours are there? ‘Ice cream, we got lime, passion fruit, peggan–’ Sorry? ‘Peggan.’ Pigeon? ‘Peggan.’ What’s that? ‘Er… one moment.’ Away she goes, and back: ‘Peccan’. Oh, pecan. ‘And cinnamon sorbet.’ Oh heavens, just the bill, please.
In fairness to the waitress, it’s only her second week, and it’s easy enough to confuse ice creams and sorbets during your first few days. But the name stamped on every surface in this restaurant is Gordon Ramsay’s, the man who would be Ducasse! While the machine is spinning out my bill, I ask the waitress if she enjoys her new job. She responds by griping that the company didn’t refund her expenses when she travelled into London for training. Discounting the fact that she evidently hasn’t had any training, it says a lot about the attitude of Ramsay (who, according to Forbes, earned £4m last year) towards his staff, not to mention customers. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, given his on-screen persona. But it adds to a rising sense that this restaurant is cynically, systematically designed to wheedle as much cash as possible from its conveniently transient clientele.
Brave name, Plane Food. Almost foolhardy. At one level, it’s a complacent smirk that this, mais bien sûr, is miles better than plane food, and ‘plain’ too, unfussy. But it explicitly invites comparisons with real plane food, and when these are made, the similarities are all too obvious: from the weird, dollhouse cutlery to the catch-all menu, blind to the seasons. Ramsay had the chance to do something truly uplifting here. This restaurant remains grounded on the tarmac.
Gordon Ramsay Plane Food, Heathrow Terminal 5, Middlesex.
Tel. +44 (0)20 8897 4545
Dinner for one, excluding drinks and service, costs £19.50.
Wines: Glass of Ayala Brut Majeur NV (£7.50), 375ml carafe of Bacchus Reserve, Chapel Down, Kent, 2005 (£11.50)