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Inside the Preview of Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Vibrant Asian Eating House’

Angela Hui writes: “It was an actual kitchen nightmare”

Gordon Ramsay is opening Lucky Cat — billed as a “vibrant Asian eating house” — this summer
Lucky Cat [Official Photo]

Gordon Ramsay is opening a restaurant in London for the first time since 2014. This June, Lucky Cat, described — when first announced in February — as a “vibrant Asian eating house” will replace Maze, Ramsay and Jason Atherton’s 14-year-old small plate fine-dining hotspot, which announced £3.8 million losses last year. Lucky Cat is said to be inspired by the “drinking dens of 1930s Tokyo.”

Ahead of the restaurant’s opening, Ramsay and his head chef for the project, Ben Orpwood, a man who has referred to himself as a “tofu freak,” hosted an intimate preview event in central London last night. The press release promised “a sensory journey” and a chance to “sample some of Lucky Cat’s standout cocktails, followed by a sharing concept dinner, featuring a selection from the chefs’ signature dishes with accompanying wine pairing.” It was nothing if not a real life Ramsay kitchen nightmare.

The pop-up dinner took place in a futuristic-looking, plain, white event space called Ice Tank in Soho, which felt more seedy nightclub than Asian eating house. Or, perhaps, that is Ramsay’s vision of a vibrant (née “authentic”) Asian eating house. The venue isn’t going to be Lucky Cat’s future home; it will replace Ramsay’s old restaurant Maze, in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair this summer.

Upon arrival, one diner quickly pointed out that this space was probably not designed for cooking, as there were no windows or ventilation. It was probably for the best that the strange, cold blue lighting throughout the darkened rooms meant that diners were barely able to see the food in front of them.

Here’s what was seen, including some things which were eaten.

  • A welcome cocktail was a gin-based concoction with a giant shiso leaf stuck in for decoration, which made it very hard to drink; there was another whiskey based drink
  • Canapés: a mini wagyu pastrami burger with ‘asian’ chilli jam; and otoro fatty tuna topped with caviar balanced on top of a delicately folded crispy seaweed box
  • First course — labelled as “raw” Hirasama kingfish sashimi with house soy, ginger oil, and nasturtium
  • Second dish — labelled as “kitchen” for some reason: orkney scallop, yuzu, sweet corn hot sauce, finger lime, and wasabi leaves
  • Robata — English asparagus, smoked ponzu emulsion
  • Smoked duck breast with plumb [sic] (note: it appeared with that spelling on the menu) and nashi (Japanese pear)
  • Pre-dessert — lemongrass, ginger and yoghurt sorbet, jaggery (cane sugar) syrup
  • Dessert — ‘yum’ baba, coconut chantilly and roasted pineapple
  • Digestif of ‘yuzucello’
  • ‘Lucky’ petit four — A half cut mango with chilli salt to finish

Ramsay said at the event, “Thank you all for coming to Lucky Cat. Tonight you’ll get an insight into what we’ve been brewing up for the last 18 months.”

“I’ve toured and worked in much of Asia over the years and the culture, the flavours, and the incredible cooking never fail to inspire me. We’ve got a great team behind this project and we’re ready to bring something really special to London this summer.”

Ramsay continued to thank his team, the organisers, his investors, and continued: “My colleague and head chef of Lucky Cat, Ben Orpwood is way more qualified and experienced than me in this field. He’s done the research, having travelled back and forth to south Asia for many months.”

Problem: Solution
There appeared to be some confusion over the particular source of inspiration for Lucky Cat

Orpwood, the chef responsible for the exclusive preview menu, explained the duck dish thus: “The duck we hung to dry out for 6 hours drawing out the excess moisture to bump it out a little bit. Cooking super slowly on the barbecue grill to render the fat out and seasoned nicely with a little bit of sea salt, then using the classic Chinese combination of plums and ducks. We made a plum sauce, but we’ve used a Japanese variety and a sour plum called umeboshi.”

“plumb”
Highlights

On dessert: “Soaked the baba in yuzu syrup, flambeed with a bit of sake and rum. Roasted the pineapple slowly cooked and finished on the grill with loads of aromatics like cardamom, tonka beans, and black pepper. We’ve used coconut instead of cream for the chantilly and finished with marigold on top, very floral and very nice.”

About the mango: “The first time I met my wife she would always eat fruit with chilli salt and I thought that was amazing. Using that, I wanted to share that combination and concept with you tonight, which I think finishes off a meal perfectly.”

Famous faces in attendance included: Gizzi Erskine, Isaac Carew, and Laura Whitmore. I was the only east Asian person in a room full of 30-40 journalists and chefs.