JASON Atherton, the one-star chef at Maze - currently high on the London culinary 'hit list' - is chatty and amiable when he's not in the kitchen. It's a different matter during meal service, though.
At Maze, the food is prepared assembly-line style by a young and well-drilled kitchen team. No quarter is given, and none is expected by Atherton and his culinary troops. As a result, Maze, which features Asian-inspired, New French tapas, is one of the toughest reservations to secure. It's worth the effort, though - Atherton's small-dish approach to dining, which was created in conjunction with his mentor Gordon Ramsay, has earned him culinary kudos from all corners of the culinary world.
The Zagat Food Guide, for example, says diners have been wowed by a 'dazzling kaleidoscope of tastes', and it is hard to disagree with that assessment. The dishes are served in a tastefully-designed contemporary space that features counter-style dining as well as conventional tables - plus a very comfortable chef's table within the S$3-million kitchen.
Marinated beetroot with goat's cheese (top) and delightful desserts
'I want to offer world-class food in an environment that doesn't scare young people,' says Atherton, who in addition to working with Ramsay, spent a year with Ferran Adria at El Bulli ('when he started with all the foams'). At Maze, Atherton says 'the concept is for you to eat as many courses you like, in any order you like, and you can ask for wine flights from an extensive global wine list - I just want people to have a good time.'
Diners will get to choose from about 20 dishes, such as marinated beetroot with goat's cheese, and carpaccio of tuna and swordfish with lime and cucumber marinade. There's also avocado puree with Devonshire crab topped with sweet corn sorbet, roast sea bass with lobster risotto, roasted rack of lamb with braised shoulder, and slow braised pork belly with lentils and apple puree.
Featured desserts included pineapple carpaccio with coconut sorbet, and bitter chocolate and hazelnut parfait with salted caramel jelly and milk mousse. Wines sampled during the meal were Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, sake and sweet dessert wine.
During a tasting session at the restaurant, BT sampled about 15 different dishes. In general, the ingredients were wonderfully fresh, the flavours were pure and intense, and the presentation was flawless. Whatever combination of dishes you decide on, chances are you will come away entirely satisfied.
Maze is at 10-13 Grosvenor Square, London W1 6JP.