The Maze Grill is on a sinister street in Chelsea, between a small Tesco — a boutique Tesco? — and a shop selling ugly sculptures of cats. The Chelsea Physic Garden, with its poisoned plants and amazingly posh Sunday walkers, is nearby. I cannot walk in the Physic Garden without hearing the howls of property developers from the skies, longing to destroy it, because what is it for, this garden and its small carnivorous plants, these tiny, dangerous Chelsea-ites?
The Maze Grill is the fifth restaurant of that brand from Gordon Ramsay, who operates 25 restaurants globally from Las Vegas to Raqqa, alongside his more important sideline of shouting at people as they chop fish on television. I am not sure whether this means he is a bigger brand than his chief rival Marco Pierre White — because White’s website is confusing, with a section called ‘Afghanistan’, with sub-sections ‘Basra’, ‘Helmand’ and ‘Kabul’ next to photographs of White posing with, respectively, a helicopter, a Santa hat and a turkey. So I cannot say if there is a Marco’s New York Italian in Raqqa too. I hope there is.
The fourth Maze Grill is in Park Walk, Chelsea, on the site of Aubergine, from which Ramsay rose to fame, but I am not good on west London and I booked here by mistake. I am therefore in a satellite of a satellite, in the farthest reaches of the Ramsay Empire, as far from the Death Star (Gordon Ramsay Burgr and that is not a spelling mistake, they just decided the ‘e’ was unfashionable) as I can be. So there will be nothing on Ramsay’s original cave, and what it smelt like, and what it meant.
This Maze Grill is less overwrought than the usual Ramsay lair, almost humble in its countenance. We could be in Chiswick and, for once, I mean no offence. Of London House, Battersea, I recall only postcode anxiety and enormous purple velvet chairs; of the Bread Street Kitchen, the noise of unhappy men eating (Jay Rayner thought he smelt Lynx and he would know); and of the Union Street Café, salt disguised as spaghetti served by the Tweenies.
The Maze Grill has cream walls and exposed brick; a long bar; banquettes of olive green; and photographs of models posing uneasily with food, which, for once, I do not mind. They look both angry and confused. Did I say the restaurant is empty? That we are dining alone in this pleasingly tepid space? I had forgotten that Ramsay, inside his fury and uneasy dreams of reality TV superstardom, could actually summon a sense of peace or, rather, a lack of identity. Perhaps his very remoteness from this kitchen is the cause of it?
It serves the best food I have eaten at a Ramsay restaurant. It is an odd menu, but effective: small plates; sushi; salads; many cows because cows are the victims of the age, poor souls; a baby chicken, tastelessly named. We gorge on crispy chicken wings; blackened lamb chops; sirloin steaks; spring greens; chips and mash; tomato salad. It is all excellent.
Then calamity. The restaurant fills. Two ancient Chelsea ladies with Rolls-Royce hair sit beside us and invite my companion, a gentle creature, to speak less loudly. Are they widowed? Bankrupt? Addled by Elnett? We stare; and they respond by whispering to each other. I am not sure they can even hear each other any more, but who cares, if you win the pointless battle? Pudding — Eton mess with brown-sugar meringue, and vanilla set custard, which is actually a misnamed creme brûlée — though good, is now cut with the ash of hostility. The dream that Chelsea could ever be inviting to strangers dies again.
Maze Grill, 79 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HN; tel: 020 7352 4448.