Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Thurs 28 Feb 2008

During the jaunt down to London, Andy and I were lucky enough to have lunch at Pétrus, Marcus Wareing's two Michelin starred restaurant in the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge.

I have a real love of hotel dining rooms. The best way I can think to describe them is soft. All the carpets and soft furnishings are comforting and comfortable, and absorb the sound of other diners and any clatter of crockery and cutlery. The whole experience tends to be quiet and serene and altogether rather civilised.

Civilised is also a fantastic word to describe Pétrus. When I first rang to make the booking the phone was answered promptly (unlike a certain three starred London restaurant where I rang three times before the phone was even answered) and the reservation was made simply. We received our reminder phone call (an aspect of the level of service at better restaurants which I absolutely love) and turned up on Thursday fully intending to order the tasting menu.

We started with glasses of 2003 Bollinger (I recommend it), triangles of foie gras and a hummous served with wafer thin crisps of bread. The hummous and crisps were amazing - the dip was silky smooth and the bread golden and crispy and a perfect foil. This kept us going while we waded through three menus and the monstrous wine list. The tasting menu comes in at £80 a head (+ £10 if you want a cheese course), à la carte is £65 and the cut down lunch menu just £30. After much umming and aahing we actually decided on the cut down lunch menu and to be a bit more freewheeling on the wine.

The sommelier was brilliant: competent, friendly enough not to appear abrupt, and a consummate professional. We were considering a Burgundy, but she suggested the Au Bon Climat Knox Alexander 2003 Pinot Noir from California. This was an absolutely awesome wine, and it complemented our food well. My only complaint here is that the wine retails for around £35 but was on the wine list at £95. I'm not sure about a £60 (and almost 200%) markup.

Grumbles about the wine prices aside ... let's move on to the food. The bread was great. As something of a carbohydrate junkie, I am forever complaining about the poor quality of bread in restaurants. In Pétrus we were offered a choice from four or five different types, all chewy, full of flavour and with good texture. Initially we received two slices AND our bread plates were topped up subsequently. So many places skimp on the bread, but good bread at the start of the meal makes the difference between a diner who's already been let down and a diner who is happy.

For starters I had a rabbit salad with grain mustard dressing and Alsace bacon. Andy chose the (very) slow cooked pork belly with beetroot fondant. I was a little underwhelmed by my salad: the grain mustard dressing was a bit too grainy and not enough dressing (if that makes sense), the pieces of bacon were tiny and I managed to find a piece of uncooked rabbit. Andy loved his pork and even his beetroot.

Any food reservations I had were dispelled by my main course of Herdwick mutton with Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, saffron ... mmmmmm. The mutton was gorgeously, and consistently, pink, tender, full of taste and wonderfully complemented by the simple vegetables. Andy chose the poussin, with brussel sprouts and thought he had won. I thought he was wrong.

With some of the lovely wine left, we then enjoyed the cheese course. We initially thought that this was instead of dessert ... but it was an additional course and represents £10 extremely well spent (if you like cheese). I had a soft goat's cheese, Ossau Iraty, Chaource and Epoisse. Andy chose a hard goat's cheese, a blue, a washed rind called Sancey (which was amazing - really nutty and a lot less strongly flavoured than the Epoisse) and Morbier. With all the cheeses on offer it was a bit hard to catch the names and I decided that I'd be quite happy to turn up, eat bread, work my way through the cheese board, drink red wine and then go home.

Red wine finished, it was time to move on to puddings, and (for me) the pudding wine. I chose the prunes with PX foam and bitter chocolate sorbet, while Andy opted for a banana financier with spiced crème fraîche and rum and raisin ice cream. I had a glass of Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia (South Africa) which went very well with my prunes and really cut through the bitter chocolate. Not being a sweet tooth, Andy looked like he could have lived without his pudding and gone for another plate of cheese ...

Finally, it was time for coffees and bons-bons. The bons-bons trolley arrived, with hanging baskets of chocolatey goodness for us to choose from.

Approximately three and a half hours after starting our lunch we rolled out of the restaurant. Although we'd chosen the cut-down lunch menu we were both full to the brim and very happy. Somehow, I can't imagine fitting in the dégustation menu at lunch time. At first we'd been concerned that the service was a bit swift, but fortunately, after our starters, it slowed down considerably. Perhaps the staff realised we weren't on our hour long lunch break. My only real complaints are that my starter was a little lacklustre and that the markup on the wine is rather extortionate. But then ... few people would go to Pétrus to drink the bargain basement house red.

Me? I'd be happy to go back any time and gorge myself on bread, cheese and wine.

1. Pétrus, The Berkeley, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7R, phone: 020 7235 1200
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Blogger grazza said...

I read your write up of your experience at Petrus and it seems like you really enjoyed it. It is interesting that you felt the mark-up on the wine to be expensive. I think that the wines are quite reasonable considering the locale and the stemware that they use. Im not sure if they still are doing so, but I'm sure that they use to use the Riedel Vinum and Sommelier ranges of stemware, which are quite pricey even at trade prices. Then of course you have to factor in the cost of the hi-tech wine storage equipment which maintains the wines at the optimum temperature, vibration free and free of excessive UV light. The team of sommeliers is quite a costly expense as well, all of which contributes to the cost of the wines. Running a restaurant is an exceptionally expensive business, especially at the top end of the market, which undoubtably Petrus most certainly is. While the mark-up on that wine might seem high (cost price is about £24, so the cost of sales in about 30%, or in other words it represents about 70% gross profit at a selling price of £95, by the time all the costs mentioned earlier come out, the profit will be quite small, perhaps as little as 15%)

10:34 am  
Blogger Alex said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Grazza, because I think you've made a lot of valid points here and they're the type of things which are far too easy to overlook.

On the one hand, I was in shock about the £60 mark up on retail, but I also knew that there were a lot of costs to cover - it's just very hard for the diner to attempt to quantify these. For example, I have no idea how much a sommelier earns and many people won't be aware of how much a single glass can actually cost (I have a glassware weakness, so I understand that all too well!).

2:21 pm  

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