"It's not much but it's ours"

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Have you ever had one of those rare moments when someone says something and the retort comes to you immediately rather than two days later? Happened to me last night.

I was meeting with HP for supper at Petrus ( using a gift certificate a friend had given me for my birthday ) and decided to brave the Piccadilly Line during rush hour. I had forgotten what a hateful experience it is to travel by tube at that time, but, with a lot of guile and ample use of arms and elbows, I managed to squeeze myself onto the tube and snag a seat.

The carriage was rammed and a young woman was standing in front of me and looking very unhappy. She suddenly announced to her friend “ I think it’s awful all these men sitting down while we have to stand. They should give up their seats for us” before I knew it, I had replied just as loudly “ yeah, equality’s a motherfucker, isn’t it?” at which point she turned beetroot red and four young guys across the carriage gave me a round of applause. A sweet moment. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the highlight of the evening.

I was a bit early and popped into The Lanesborough for a nicely made Manhattan before heading down to The Berkley Hotel and Petrus

HP was already there and the best part of a bottle of Rueda and some canapés to the good. As I joined him, more canapés were brought to the table and excellent they were too. A small dish of brandade and little foie biscuits. A very nice beginning.

They offer a tasting menu for £80 and a three course carte for £60 although there is a liberal sprinkling of supplementation on the menu too with an Oscietra caviar dish carrying a whopping extra cost £20.

The tasting menu did not, quite frankly have a single dish on there that inspired. So,we opted for the three courses instead.

Three types of bread were offered once we sat down. I only tried the rye bread which was perfectly fine. HP, obviously tried all three and declared them excellent. What was excellent was the butter. Slightly salted and with that fabulous cheese like quality that only the best butter can have.

A small amuse was placed in front of us. Frighteningly green, it actually tasted much better than it looked. A potato soup topped with a leek foam. The foam was cold and the hot soup combined well when sipped through the top layer. A good start.

But, with the exception of puddings, things went downhill pretty rapidly from there. We had both headed right down the offal route for our starters. HP went for veal sweetbreads roasted and served with English garden peas, black olives and a veal vinaigrette. This was a disaster of a dish. The sweetbreads had tightened up in cooking until they were quite tough. The crust was unpleasantly salty and flavoured with an unannounced dash of cumin which was overpowering and slapdash.

My starter was little better, foie gras with pickled English rhubarb and roasted hazelnuts. Again, while the foie had a decent crust, it was over salted and the flesh had lost its liquid like magnificence and put up far too much resistance to my knife. As disappointments in life go, a bad foie dish is a minor one I guess, but at these prices, one should expect a level of skill in the kitchen far above what was displayed in these two pretty basic classic dishes. We mentioned the horrors of HP’s starter to the waiter and they did come and offer to make us another dish, but we had moved on by then.

Wines were good though. For HP a Saint Veran and for me a Pacherenc. Mine in particular had that slightly cloying texture that works well with foie or at least when it is well prepared.

Main courses were just as bleh. For HP, Norfolk suckling pig cooked for 24 hours and served with pomme puree and braised chicory. This was the better of the two dishes. The taste of the pork came through and a light porky jus was fantastically good. But, it hardly had the pair of us raising eyebrows or making yummy noises. Competent would be the word.

That would certainly not be the word for mine. A special (with a cracking extra charge of £15 ) of beef fillet with shaved truffles, chicken liver parfait and truffle jus. What a mishmash. A take on a Rossini, I guess which comes with a nice slab of foie and, while horribly rich, is a fabulous occasional indulgence. The beef, while cooked pink as ordered was smothered beyond recognition, the pommes anna were tough and the parfait was far from, er parfait. I think they should have paid me £15 to eat it not ask me to pay an extra £15.

A £39 Chorley Le Beaune was a young and aggressive but settled down in the glass a bit. A pretty standard Pinot which was reasonably priced at least by the standards of the rest of the wine list. The have done away with the sommelier selection which used to offer a range of wines for £20. A shame. It was a great idea and one that a lot of restaurants would do well to consider. I guess it was not raking in enough cash.

A small pre dessert was probably the best dish of the evening and the most simple. A sauternes jelly topped with vanilla yoghurt and a spectacularly good and refreshing raspberry granita. So good in fact that we asked for and got another helping.

The desserts, too were better than what had preceded. A signature peanut parfait with chocolate mousse and candied peanuts remains one of the best desserts in London. A moelleux with spiced cherries and vanilla cream came at our request with some extra ice cream so HP could at least pretend he was having helado mixta as is his want after every meal. It too was worth the effort.

Fresh mint tea and decent coffee came with small marshmallows and some of the excellent bon bons from the trolley.

With the three courses, two bottles of wine and glasses of dark grappa and calvados, the bill came to a, wait for it, whopping £286 for two. Ouch. I am glad that we did not have to pick up the whole tab thanks to the generosity of my friends. In fact, HP was kind enough to pick up the excess above the amount of my gift, so I did not have to pay a bean. Result, as the young folk say.

My first visit to Petrus was quite fun, but I wonder if that was down to the convivial nature of a large party. This time, I think we saw the Ramsay machine in full effect. Excellent service, a very well oiled machine but glaring flaws in the kitchen. It is all well and good getting the sidelines right with decent canapés, amuse, pre desserts and puddings, but if you are failing at the main events of starters and main courses, which they did here quite horribly, there is little to recommend you.

It has a star and I am certain it will retain it given that the standards expected by Michelin in the UK seem to be a whole lot less than in France. It pushes all the right buttons. However, it bears no comparison to a recent meal at Galvin @ The Windows which was exemplary and deserves a star even more so in my mind after this meal.

£286 worth of ordinary

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