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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Petrus (London): high class cooking

 (Visited 30/12/2011)

We squeezed into the 2.30 lunch slot, which became 2.40, waiting and munching pop-corns (paprika, lemon, original yet not sure it's such a cool idea) on the comfortable sofa at the entrance, entranced by the monumental cylindrical temperature controlled wine storage unit, around which the restaurant seems to revolve. It is an impressive room, with widely and rationally spaced tables, ideal for hosting an impressive meal. Did the lunch live up to it?

Well, the amuse immediately sets the tone and raises expectations of a not ordinary afternoon.

The Jerusalem artichoke mousse ever so velvety, in harmony with the exuberant truffle, and in harmonious contrast with some acidic capers below, all this lovingly engulfing a soft beef carpaccio. Not an ordinary amuse; Mark Askew (exec chef) and Sean Burbidge (head chef) are clearly dead serious about excellence.

We order, as one of the starters, a pheasant cooked three ways. But instead of that, this is what shows up:

Pan-fried sea scallops with celeriac, Granny Smith apple and truffle

This was a fabulous combination of sharp, earthy, sweet and umami flavours that  only a clumsy execution could spoil. But the execution was as good as one can hope for, the first of a series of dishes where the cooking, as well as the seasoning, was chillingly precise.

There remains the small matter that we haven't ordered this dish. The person who took our order without writing it down had buckled under the pressure (room packed, last table orders). Well, ok, this is the way they do it, surely it feels more classy without a notepad, but Woman is on the verge of tears, oh the promising pheasant three ways... but the staff comes graciously in support of distressed Woman: of course we could have this, too, with their compliments and apologies three ways:

 Windsor Estate pheasant three ways with shaved chestnuts and cider consommé

The three ways of the pheasant are a raviolo, a ballotine and a fatty piece of leg. You can probably see how good, multidimensional, succulent the meat was (do you remember those dry horrors of some home-, or even restaurant-, cooked pheasant?), to say nothing of the delicious chestnut shavings. But what propelled this dish skywards was the humble consomme', with its beguiling sweet-sour undertone.

The other starter we had ordered is

Pan-fried fillet of red mullet with clams, coriander gnocchi and a lemongrass sauce

Sorry to be repetitive guys, but the cooking of this fish was spot on, light crispness on soft moist meat. All components here truly work harmoniously together to raise the whole higher, congratulations, chef(s), as this is truly a great little dish. Can we just say, though, that the claims were rather pointless, in number, size, taste and function? Remove, remove! (and perhaps have more of the wonderful gnocchi).

The main of

Loin of Highland venison with braised shin, carrot purée and juniper sauce

is sumptuous, the succulent loin in the slightly crispy outside, the classical juniper accompaniment made into a ravishing sauce, the braised and wrapped shin telling yet a different story of texture and taste. Look at it: such a neat looking dish enclosing such a world of gustatory experience.

And then the bird:

Highland Red-leg partridge with pancetta, ceps and chestnuts, roasting jus  

Presented cleanly in slices, the wrapping of the pancetta here really gives wings to the taste of the meat. What is striking is the soft and moist texture, obtained by sous-videing followed by quick panfrying, another exemplary display of meticulous cooking. The velvety jus builds the layering of flavours, the vegetables do not merely play second fiddle, and the final pretty textural touch is what felt like barley inserted in the slices of meat.

Lovely sides of Dauphinoise potatoes and multicoloured carrots were also brought to the table.

By now we are almost alone in the room, there is a general air of demobilisation. The service becomes noticeably less sharp, even if always kind. Some restaurants have live jazz, here they have live ironing

But we still want our desserts.

The Chocolate sphere with milk ice cream and honeycomb

is chocolate to the n-th power - the photograph has been taken after the perfectly formed and light chocolate sphere had buckled under the hot melting chocolate poured on it. A little piece of pleasant theatre for a dessert that aims, and succeeds, to knock you down. This was high class comfort food, interesting in flavours and textures: technically speaking, pure gooey pleasure!


Frozen yoghurt with wild heather honey, roasted fig, walnuts and red wine syrup

which was refined and intriguing in conception, the various components playing intricate games with each other, but perhaps did not work so spectacularly in terms of taste, especially because the roast fig (end of December?) simply could not (and did not) deliver. More for the intellect than for the glutton.

Another little piece of theatre with the unusual petit fours, small vanilla and Armgnac icecreams in a white chocolate coating, served in "steaming ice".

And more: chocolate coated almonds and two varieties of mint chocolates.

They really take chocolate seriously around here...

Oh, if only they took coffee as seriously as chocolate! Here we are, at the end of a remarkable meal, sipping poor filter coffee. Why, why, why? We 'remonstrate' with a surviving waiter (few humans are by now in the room, among them however we think we spotted Mark Askew running around, a good sign EDIT: or maybe not: we understand that Mark Askew has now left Petrus!), appealing to his Italianness. He insists on making us an espresso, and we don't dare tell him that the results are not enthralling either. Please, somebody do something about this.

The service varied in quality during the meal (due to the late time some personnel disappeared). Particularly comical was our attempt to enquire with a newly arrived young sommelier about the cooking of the partridge. 'Is it cooked sous-vide? '. 'Yes it's very sweet, nice isn't it'. 'No, we mean, is it cooked in a water bath?'. 'Water bath?'. 'No matter, yes it was very good'. The other waitress also had no idea, but she kindly asked in the kitchen. So it's not a 'total' service, in the sense that not everybody is au fait with the dishes. And let's face it, watching the ironing service performed in front of you is not top class stuff as the food (and no, it was not our first choice to get a table at 2:30 pm). But the attitude and procedures they have, the kindness of the individual waiters even when obviously tired and no doubt desperately wanting, but not showing to want, that we would just leave them alone, the generosity and smoothness with which they dealt with the wrong order, were admirable.

 This was our last meal out for 2011 and, apart from the sour coffee note, it ranks with the very best. The dishes here are intricate and at the same time clean and coolly logical, flavours orderly working as a team and not against each other. This is impressive modern fine cuisine, executed spotlessly and with perfect judgement. There is a certain clinical air about the dishes, a certain lack of aggression that some perhaps might not find exciting; but as far as we are concerned, on the palate judgement we were blown away by the harmony of it all. The dishes here please you rather than challenge you. We'll settle for that. We anticipate this will soon be a 2* restaurant. Three courses (using top class produce) are £65, which is very fair for Mayfair.



Kavey said...

Ooh but quite a few service blips there really... my feeling is that if they accept a late lunch booking, they need to deliver to the same levels as the first booking of service. That means consistent and accurate service and knowledge from staff and certainly not setting up for the next service in front of you, not at this level, surely.

Man-Woman said...

Indeed Kavey - the ironing bit felt slightly surreal!

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