Gordon Ramsay’s comfortable and welcoming – if rather beige – Belgravia dining room, offering dextrous cuisine of impeccable standards (reminiscent of Murano’s early days); a closer approach to real ‘fireworks’, however, is perhaps to be found at Marcus Wareing’s establishment, three minutes’ walk away.
The recent history of Gordon Ramsay, his group and its recent financial travails is too well known to repeat here. Let’s just say that we’re not the only people to believe that a lot hangs on the success of this Belgravia newcomer. (It’s being needlessly promoted as a relaunch, but the earlier Pétrus at the nearby Berkeley Hotel – now trading under the name of the original chef, Marcus Wareing – stopped bearing that name over a year ago. This is for all intents and purposes a new operation, with both a new location and a new chef.)
Will Pétrus mark the beginning of a new chapter? Can Ramsay clearly demonstrate that, after all the ups and downs, his new restaurant launches are consistent with his status as the most famous chef in the English-speaking world?
Short answer: maybe. The new establishment was already hitting an impressive stride at lunch on the second day of operation. Admittedly, one of our party was known to the maÃ®tre d’ (and we were therefore subjected to a blinding charm offensive), but the staff managed to create an impression that was keen and caring, rather than oleaginous. The main complaint was the longeur before the arrival of the main course’ but then it was day two.
As you’d hope with Mark Askew – executive chef of the Ramsay empire for almost a decade now – in charge of the stoves that day, the food was very sure-footed. Our meal came with a whole battery of amuses and inter-courses: fancy popcorn, small cup of velouté, scallops with tempura-ish cauliflower, tiny lemon-cream cone, cheese with beetroot, ice lolly served with dry ice’!
We couldn’t quite work out how many of them reflected the presumption that anyone dining with the lady so well known to the maÃ®tre d’ must be on some sort of critical mission, but all these freebies certainly contributed to the range of sampling opportunities – between us, something approaching 20.
There really wasn’t a dud among them. Highlights which remain in the memory include the marvellous meat in a dish of duck in ginger sauce; a classic but perfectly executed dish of pork and black pudding; and a superbly sinful ‘chocolate sphere’. Ooghs and aaghs, though? These were notable by their absence.
The menu has that unmissable Ramsay stamp. This is true not only in the literal sense – in that the group’s menus tend to look very similar, even down to a house font – but also in the nature of the dishes themselves. Riffs on Gallic classics, you might say. It’s a can’t-go-wrong style, perfect for entertaining investments bankers anywhere. But, for us, that feeling – go on Gordon, surprise us a bit; inject a bit of drama into our lives – went unanswered.
The impressions of ‘safety first’ – but a lack of any real progression – is reinforced by the dining room. Although different designers were employed, Pétrus both looks and feels just like its Mayfair stablemate Murano, which opened 16 months ago – indeed, arguably a little less luxurious. Despite the expensively cylindrically-glazed wine ‘cellar’ in the centre of the room, the décor has anonymity which would suit a small upmarket hotel in any part of the world where gold or black Amex cards are the usual method of payment.
But let’s step back and look at the big picture. The f-word chef – not in evidence on our visit, as he was apparently dropping in on his new Maze in Doha (was he trying to make a point?) – has remotely launched a restaurant which shows that he can, with the help of some of his longest-serving staff, launch a new establishment of an unimpeachably high standard.
To that extent, the first step in consolidating around the strengths of brand Ramsay have been taken. But does the brand – or the man – have the wish or the desire ever to escape from the past, and do something truly innovative, different and, ultimately, memorable?
Perhaps wisely in all the circumstances, that’s a challenge that’s been left for another day.