Our meal at Gordon Ramsay's Petrus by Marcus Wareing, was one that we were looking forward to with great antipication. Booked months in advance, we didn't realise that Petrus at it is was closed on September the 6th this year which makes us feel much luckier. But more interesting information on that later ;)
Petrus has a reputation, borne from a rather famous lunch where in 2001 a dining party of Investment Bankers ran up at £44,007 food and drinks bill. Along with their meals, they ordered 3 bottles of Petrus (from 1945, 1946 and 1947, the last said to be the best vintage) as well as a bottle of Montrachet and Château d'Yquem. When Gordon was told of their first order of wine by the staff that rang him he was happy but by the next few bottles, he had decided that the food would all be comped. After all, what was the price of food when they were paying £12,300 for the 1947 vintage? If you hadn't heard, there was a bit of a scandal about it and the bankers were fired. And I'm left wondering why my Careers Guidance Counsellour never suggested Investment Banking as an occupation...
The Berkeley Hotel also houses another Gordon Ramsay eatery, the diffusion, more affordable Boxwood Cafe. We enter the hotel and turn right, there's no sign but the unmistakable Petrus interior seen on Gordon Ramsay's website is apparent. The claret and purple tones with circular motifs signal we have arrived at our much desired destination.
We're late, 45 minutes late admittedly which we know is very bad form, especially at a restaurant like this. When we enter, a smiling face enquires with our name. We're led to our table, it's very hushed and a little serious on the floor although the staff are friendly.
We're offered a range of breads, and when I select one they enquire if I would like to try another. Good thing as they're both good. Interestingly they only have unsalted butter although they bring us some salt when we ask. My husband and I sniff the air, there is a distinctly unpleasant smell totally out of harmony with the decor and service. He worries that he has stepped in dog mess on the street.
Oh no, it's the cheese trolley. Ripening just behind our table in the centre of the restaurant are a huge selection of almost 30 cheeses. It's so overpowering especially for me who has a very strong sense of smell that we ask for it to be covered which is not a problem.
Along with the bread, we're given two complimentary items to whet our appetite, two pre Amuse Bouches. One is a puff pastry foie gras triangle with quince paste with blackcurrant. The paper thin and crispy puff pastry is crunchy and stidd but delicate against the creamy foie gras mousse with a sweet touch from the quince paste and blackcurrants. It's a brilliant start and we know we're in for a treat.
The taramosalata dip has an avocado base and unlike any taramosalata you've ever eaten. Rich and creamy and absolutely addictive it has us dipping in our bread long after the croutons have gone to elicit every single drop.
The Amuse Bouche arrives, a tomato consomme in a tall shot glass. It's hot to the touch which I find funny as Gordon Ramsay had grumbled in the past about the serving of hot drinks in glass on a few occassions. The vine ripened tomato soup is rich and throaty, and with a slight taste of crab or lobster in the broth as well as basil and capped off with a creamy foam.
The restaurant manager Jean Phillippe arrives to take our order. Yes he is the maitre'd from Hell's Kitchen, the one who frequently had to confront angry diners when they were denied food after Gordon would shut down the kitchen in disgust at the performance of the chefs- the meat in the proverbial sandwich. His style is different from that of the Maitre'd at Royal Hospital Road, a little quieter but still very observant and watching the floor from all angles. We ask him about Hell's Kitchen and he says candidly that Hell's Kitchen is never a fun experience, however no-one else is willing or able to do the job so he is stuck with it. We ask to keep a copy of the menu at the table and he does one better. Marcus Waring the Chef Patron signs a copy for us. We clutch it like groupies. Yes call me a Food Groupie.
We're not waiting long for our entrees, the tian of Crab with tuna sashimi and thin wafers is delectable and delicate. The two fruits of the sea go well together and feature another delicate touch, little peony petals and other flowers.
The foie gras with sticky duck bun is a sensation of bliss. The creamy foie gras is perfectly countered by the unusual sticky duck bun, warm and full of the softest duck leg meat. We know that the chef is deserving of the Michelin star (two in fact here) when all three elements combine together to be so much more than a sum of the parts and this is the dish that has my sister murmuring "best meal ever".
We have a brief wait and the mains arrive. The braised pork belly is a perfect little rectangle with the multi layered pork starting with the crispy crackling to the soft fall apart meat. It's small but oh so good. Give me a little portion of this rather than a large unchewable piece of pork any day.
The next dish fascinates us as it has an ingredient that I've never seen before-fennel pollen. And indeed the tiny, yellow specks on top are fennel pollen. They give a texture more than a distinct flavour but the lamb is wonderfully tender and rare and delicious with the little points of flavour from the tomato, asparagus and artichokes.
The Sea Bass with the vegetables is my husband's clear favourite. We were a little reluctant to order fish as the fish in London has not been great compared to Australia's but of course this proves us gladly wrong. The creamy emulsion with almost a hint of curry spice and thinly sliced vegetables go wonderfully with the perfectly cooked fish. An accompanying small pot of roasted potatoes rounds it off nicely.
We sit back and sigh, the entrees and mains were blissful. Now it's onto the desserts, but before this, the pre dessert course. It is a small glass of sauternes jelly with apple granita and vanilla custard. It's light and refreshingly tangy with the apple granita giving the palate a cleansing, readying us for the desserts. It's topped with caramelised basil which plays with our tastebuds giving it a distinctly different taste.
We couldn't resist getting the apricot tarte tatin for two although this meant that we couldn't get one of the desserts. No matter, Jean Phillippe to the rescue. He has arranged for us to have the third dessert with his compliments. We feel rather special about that. The apricot tarte tatin is brought out on a wooden trolley and in a gorgeous copper pan where Jean Phillippe cuts it in two at the table.
The pastry is buttery and crisp and the sugar deliciously caramelised although the apricots are perhaps not as sweet as I'd like, I often find apples in apple tarte tatin the same. The honeycomb creme fraiche accompanying helps to curb the acidity.
The dessert from Jean Phillippe is certainly an interesting concept. Raspberries, meringue and ice cream around which is poured refreshing lemonade and finely shredded mint. It's ingeniously delicious and definitely one to try and replicate at a home dinner party to impress guests.
The third dessert, the egg custard tart is sumptuously creamy, like the richest of the rich creme brulee in a tart form and it is ceremoniously savoured. And of course the details on this dish are striking with the strawberry jelly squares, perfectly picked leaves and the thin squares of strawberries, baked in the oven to form delicate but intensely flavoured red flags.
And of course the thing that no girl (or boy) can resist is temptingly wheeled out for us: the Bon Bon Trolley, in case we didn't already feel spoiled enough. Silver baskets of hand made truffles, made fresh each morning come in a variety of flavours. We sample 3 each which covers the whole spectrum.
The praline is like how a Ferrero Rocher dreams to be on the outside with a delicious praline centre, the 68% dark chocolate is deeply richly dark, the passionfruit chocolate becoming increasingly more common now is every bit as delicious as it sounds, the tangyness of the passionfruit perfectly balanced with the bitter-sweetness of dark chocolate. The blackcurrant one is my favourite, intensely blackcurrant in flavour and moist inside. The Rose truffle is reminiscent of Turkish delight. It is gloriously good with none of that jaw aching sweetness usually associated with Turkish Delight.
While we're enjoying our coffee and truffles, Jean Phillippe and the assistant restaurant manager ask if we would like to see the kitchen. How does YES YES and YES! sound? Jean Phillippe jokes that the camera isn't allowed in there but when we say fine (we're not exactly going to pass up an opportunity to visit the Petrus kitchen) he laughs and says that he was joking, of course we can bring it. On the way to the kitchen they show us the precious collection of Petrus, at £22,000 a bottle to £49,000 it's really for the filthy rich or those on investment bank expense accounts (and we all know the story of the Barclay's bankers that ran up at £44,000 tab to have the meals comp'd and then once the story broke they were fired).
While in the kitchen there is a chef's table full of diners eating and imbibing while nearby the staff work efficiently. And I did promise you some interesting information didn't I? We meet Marcus Wareing the brilliant mind and head of the team behind the dishes. He's friendly and busy plating dishes to go out. They tell us that Marcus and Gordon are splitting and that on September the 6th, 2008 Petrus will cease operating as it is with Marcus at the helm. Marcus will open up his own restaurant at this site whilst Gordon Ramsay will retain the Petrus name.
The Petrus kitchen
Some staff including the assistant manager are loyal to Marcus whilst others are loyal to Gordon. I comment at how quiet and efficient the kitchen is, I expect there to be some shouting and they say that with Marcus and Gordon, it's like the Sun and the Moon. We ask if Gordon ever comes around here and they say that whilst he might have stopped by before the split, now he doesn't. If anyone has read any of Gordon's books, his "Magnificent Seven" team appears to mean a lot to him so the spilt must be quite hard.
We ask about the Michelin stars, for Petrus has 2 stars, and whilst in the past they never knew whether a Michelin judge had visited, nowadays they sometimes leave business cards and also open up discussion with the restaurants as to how they can improve, what they look for etc. They say that it is most difficult to go from 1 star to 2 stars (as attested to the many 1 Michelin starred restaurants in London). Marcus will get to keep the 2 Michelin stars which took him 7 years to earn.
We watch the painstaking and precise preparation and plating of some dishes and it's easy to understand why the 2 stars were awarded. Not only that, we feel lucky that we were able to visit before the doors were closed.
The Berkeley Wilton Place
Knightsbridge SW1X 7RL
Tel: +44 (020)7235 1200
Set lunch 3 courses for £35 at lunch
A la carte 3 courses for £75 at lunch and dinner
Tasting menu 8 courses for £90
Vegetarian options: none, you may have to inquire when booking but they do not appear on the menu
Marcus Wareing has now opened a restaurant at The Berkeley Hotel, London. Tel: 020 7235 1200
T: 020 7592 1609
F: 020 7592 1603
Private Dining Reservations
T: 020 7592 1373 / 74
F: 020 7592 1366
Lunch 12.00pm - 2.30pm
Dinner 6.00pm - 11.00pm
Dinner only 6.00pm - 11.00pm
Smart with jacket preferred for gentlemen. Jeans, T-shirts or sportswear not accepted.
All major credit cards.
Smoking is not permitted.