Say what you like about Gordon Ramsay - and boy oh boy, people do - but while he's had a few hits and misses in recent years, and been in the public eye more for his extra-culinary activities than for anything he's done at a stove, his roll-call of restaurants and protégés is undeniably impressive.
His flagship Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea remains one of just four in the UK to hold three Michelin stars and he retains one star at both Petrus and Maze. Meanwhile, chefs who came to prominence under Ramsay - Angela Hartnett, Marcus Wareing, Mark Sargeant and Jason Atherton - have harvested stars and critical acclaim in their own rights and whatever the degree of acrimony with which they might have parted ways with Gordon, none of them denies his influence.
Mindful perhaps of the restaurant-going (and wider) public's ambivalence to their nominal figurehead, Gordon Ramsay Holdings seem to have played down his involvement in Bread Street Kitchen. His name is nowhere to be found on any of the branding or menus, and unlike all of his other restaurants, BSK has its own website (the others just have sub-sections on www.gordonramsay.com) which tellingly describes the new venture as being 'from the team at Gordon Ramsay Restaurants' rather than from the man himself. No matter; there's plenty to recommend about the place whoever's name is - or indeed, is not - above the door.
Actually 'doors' would be more accurate, as this is a huge site spread over two floors of One New Change, a new shopping mall seconds from St Paul's Cathedral. Restaurant designer du jour Russell Sage, responsible for several of Ramsay's more recent openings as well as The Zetter Townhouse and newcomer The Balcon, has created a fantastic space that's part school science lab - an abundance of anglepoise lamps, brass microscopes and large communal tables that resemble dissection benches - and part meat-packing warehouse with exposed ventilation ducts, overhead gangways (one housing a 'wine balcony') and tiled floors and service counters.
Despite the laboratory-ish vibe to the place there's nothing experimental about the confusingly-laid-out menu, which offers an unintimidating range of grills, fish and pasta dishes alongside a selection of seafood and cured meats from the 'Raw Bar' (let's ignore for a moment that cooked food served cold doesn't technically count as 'raw').
Between our group - a half-dozen or so bloggers invited along to try out BSK by the company - we tried a broad cross-section of the dishes on offer and for the most-part, it was pretty good. My starter of king crab and apple cocktail with pink peppercorns was prettily retro in appearance but tasted more of its sweet dressing and the fruit than crab, and was steeply priced at £15. Better value - indeed, just better - were five oysters with cucumber and chive vinaigrette at £12.50.
Ceps on toast with a poached egg looked lovely, especially as the bright gold yolk oozed out over the mushrooms, but was bland, while crisp pig's head - actually croquettes - with green chilli mayonnaise promised much but under-delivered. Best of the starters by some way was baked Orkney scallops with treacle-cured bacon and bittercress, satisfyingly huge and beautifully sweet.
Main courses were more consistent. Poussin, in fact one-and-a-half chargrilled birds, was a popular order and proved worthwhile. Roasted grouse with (raw) ceps and watercress was a beginner's bird, lacking the pungency of a really well-hung specimen and somewhat overpowered by the garlic crouton it was served on, but nonetheless discernibly good game. Plump steamed bass with its unusual accompaniments of smoked aubergine and roasted pumpkin was the stand-out dish.
Best of our three courses for my (hypothetical) money was dessert. Chocolate tart with salt caramel ice cream and honeycomb was absolutely fantastic, the viscous, just-warm filling contrasting nicely with the ice cream's salty coldness and the sweet crunch of honeycomb. Pineapple carpaccio (eventually this insistence on calling anything thinly-sliced 'carpaccio' will wane, but not for now it seems) was a pleasingly delicate palate cleanser, while both a sticky orange and polenta cake and homely rice pudding with jam proved more substantial and comforting.
Also impressive were the cocktails; Bread Street Kitchen has poached a bar manager from The Sanderson and it shows in the obvious care lavished not just on preparation but also on presentation - witness a gin-based 'Smoking Bombay' (no Gordon's here, ho ho) served in a pewter coupe spewing dry-ice as it's brought to the table. The wine list is, if unexciting, at least fairly priced, and there's plenty by the glass and half-bottle although this being the high-spending, hard-living City I don't imagine there'll be much call for either.
All-in-all, Bread Street Kitchen is a pretty impressive package. The food's good - not amazing, but nor is it trying to be, the prices while high - three courses, drinks and service will easily reach £50-ish - won't bother the target customer (younger, not-quite-so-stratospherically-salaried City suits) and the design really is great fun. I can't ever see it becoming a destination in its own right like some of Ramsay's higher-end restaurants, but as a local place for local (business-)people it will, deservedly I'd say, do very well indeed. Stage 1 of Gordon's rehabilitation? DONE.
Bread Street Kitchen, 10 Bread Street, London EC4M 9AB Tel: 020 3030 4050 http://www.breadstreetkitchen.com
I was a guest of Bread Street Kitchen on this visit.