Don’t go to Pétrus in London because it’s a Gordon Ramsay restaurant… go despite the fact that it’s a Gordon Ramsay restaurant! You’ll be rewarded by a memorable meal, worthy of its Michelin star. (And I don’t often say that…)
My meal yesterday (7 ‘official’ courses, plus an amuse bouche and a post-dessert treat) was one of the few tasting menus where I remember most of the dishes and the details of why they were either delicious or outstandingly delicious.
Apparently, it was obvious that I really liked the meal, as the manager asked if I wanted to visit the kitchen after dinner. I said ‘yes’ in a heartbeat, not hoping to see Chef Ramsay (I knew he wasn’t there from an overheard conversation earlier) but wanting to see literally ‘where the magic happens’. And hoping that I might wangle some more of the chocolate egg ‘surprise’ out of the pastry chef. But more about that later…
To start with, the restaurant, while very modern inside and out, is on a charming, rambling street in Belgravia. After wandering past old pubs and converted mews, you enter a slick glass and chrome world, softened with leather. The restaurant is tiny (maybe 12 tables, seating 50 guests). Service is impeccable and ‘just so’ — not formal, but proper. My Portuguese waiter joked with his tables and more importantly, seemed genuinely interested in his guests. He told another table that he loved to eat, but could never be a chef as he’d hate being locked away in the kitchen instead of talking with people.
I love restaurants that have a champagne cart, so I started with a glass of Bollinger ‘Le Grand Année’ champagne. It was served in some of the most delicate stemware I’ve ever been afraid to pick up… In fact, all the stemware was so light, it seemed as though a breath would crack them, yet they were balanced so that they never seemed in danger of toppling over.
With the champagne was served the amuse bouche, two little bites on a bed of red peppercorns in a wooden box. The one that blew me away (on the right) was a little cornet of avocado mousse… the cornet was super-thin yet crispy and it all just melted in your mouth.
The garden salad (left) was lovely and tasty, but the next course, the scallop (right), blew me away. The sear on the scallop was perfect, yet it was barely translucent inside. It was on a bed of egg ‘sabayon’, an egg pureed like whipped potatoes.
Next was spring asparagus on a bed of ricotta and burrata cheese, which sounds odd, but was lovely. The cheeses had been blended into a light, silky texture that went very well with the asparagus.
The pace of all this, by the way, was very nice… there was maybe 10 minutes between courses, so it never felt rushed, but you never felt you were being neglected, either.
(I apologize for the quality of the photos from here… it was getting darker and darker outside, and I refuse to use my flash in a restaurant.)
A halibut dish (left) was the first of the two ‘main’ dishes… this was another perfect sear, served with the grilled halves of a Jerusalem artichoke, with a tiny Cornish oyster nestling where the ‘choke’ had been removed.
The next ‘main’ (right) was the only major disappointment of the evening. The poulet de Bresse (a French chicken that has AOC protection) was good, but didn’t have a lot of flavor, despite being stuffed with foie gras and wrapped in pancetta.
The pre-dessert (left) came next, a layered concoction of Alphonso mango, basil, and coconut. (Alphonso mango is considered the king of mangoes, and my waiter was very proud that it had been produced under Portuguese rule in India.)
I’d substituted my actual dessert (a Black Forest cake was on the menu, but I thought that sounded too heavy), so had a layer of caramelized paper-thin apples on a bed of kiwi sorbet with mint (right). It was perfect to end, light, crunchy and not too sweet.
And then the highlight of the evening arrived… two bite-sized chocolate ‘eggs’ nestled on a bed of cocoa nibs. The eggs turned out to be impossibly thin-shelled, filled with liquid salted caramel. Salted caramel is one of my favorite tastes in the world, and this was literally eye-rollingly good.
This is about the time that Chris Bakowski, the GM, asked if I wanted to visit the kitchen. I love watching other people cook, so off I went. If you’re a fan of Gordon Ramsay (and judging from overheard conversations, most of the guests were), you’d expect Hell’s Kitchen downstairs, or at least the head chef telling off terrified underlings as “donkeys”. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Head chef Lahiru (Larry) Jayasekara is a very calm, gracious man, who came out from behind the pass to shake my hand and even ask what I’d particularly liked about my dinner. Larry is from Sri Lanka, which explains some of the spice route influences in the menu.
An unexpected feature of the kitchen is a chef’s table, which can seat up to 8 people. You get a perfect view of the chefs at work, plus each dish is delivered to the table by the chef that created it. My cousin and his wife are thinking of coming to London at Christmastime, and if they do, we’re sitting here!
All in all, the meal was delicious and memorable. The tasting menu is comparable in price to something like Coi in San Francisco (and about half the price of Saison), at £105 ($130 US) per person. Wines weren’t outrageously priced, either (or at least, they don’t have to be): £28 for the vintage champagne, £16 for my glass of Sancerre.
Last night’s dinner was in honor of what have been my father’s 97th birthday. He loved fine dining and would have thoroughly approved of the experience. Happy birthday, Dad!