When everyone first hears of sites like Groupon, the first reaction is more or less the same: “wow, so now I’ll save money on all the awesome things I love doing anyway. Thanks, Internet!” But it only takes an email or two before you realise there are only so many half price teeth-whitening sessions you need in your life.
Except every now and then, the glimmering hope of that dream flickers back into life. It was in just such circumstances that I ended up going to Petrus with fragrant girlfriend and gorging on a 5 course lunch with accompanying champagne for a trifling £55.
Read on for Petrus and a tale of “tasty morsels”.
Arriving for a mid week lunch, you always expect a venue to be a little on the quiet side. But I was still a little surprised to find absolute atmosphere-cyanide level silence. You could have heard a pin drop (if the staff weren’t too accomplished to allow such a thing.)
Service was impeccable in a slightly stilted and standoffish way. Like the “hotel perfect” surroundings, there was a lacking of warmth – every action felt surgical even though you could appreciate it was executed with perfection.
We started with Ayala champagne (tasty and fruity) before the arrival of our first taste of Petrus – a mouthful or two of refreshing watercress mousse matched with a touch of potato salad and salmon tartar.
First impressions matter, doubly so to tongues and the story here was simple: well-fulfilled flavours and solid, logical combinations. Ravioli of quail leg with wild mushroom and cep sauce suffered from the pasta creating a barrier between the mushroom flavour and quail. But was still very well put together, cooked and presented, as you’d expect from a restaurant at this level.
Braised neck of Devon lamb with baby veg and thyme jus
When we met the chef afterwards, the typically stupid memory which leapt to mind for me was the flavour of thyme here bringing everything nicely together.
I feel like there are perhaps two levels of cooking when it comes to meaty mains this basic.
1. Badly/ average. Either way, paying may not be a chore but you’re missing the smile on your face. Perfunctory.
2. Like this. Slowly cooked good quality meat with a tasty sauce and complementary veg. This is obviously rarer and almost always more expensive. It’s almost non-existent with roast dinners but typical if you’re paying over £15 for the main.
(bonus 2.5: sous vide. It really does deserve it’s own category.)
Rhubarb fool with crispy meringue nicely bridged the courses – basic stuff with clear solid flavours. Less exciting than…
Orange and vanilla baked alaska with grand marnier sauce. I was hesitant to go for this over the great sounding and signaturechocolate sphere but I’m glad I did. Nicely airy meringue with flavour beyond it’s density provided a subtle crunchy background sweetness for the sharper orange notes to coagulate around. Cool, refreshing and not overwhelming – perfect pudding fodder.
The fragrant girlfriend plumped for the contrasting chocolate sphere. Providing some welcome theatre, it was presented at the table before being doused with a small jug of melted chocolate.
The effect is hard to describe but I’ve never seen one material evaporate away upon contact with it’s own warmer self. An interesting sight, a great idea and a tasty experience. I wouldn’t have swapped it for mine but fits perfectly into the “persuade a friend to order it” territory.
Throw in the little armagnac white chocolate spheres and nice little touches like a drawer of mini chocolate bars with the coffees and you get a feel for the attention to detail which percolated throughout the experience.
Of course it was good. But in a way which makes me say “of course” rather than “OH MY GOD”. It’s like it’s good enough that you don’t refuse to pay. But if the bill had been full price, I think it would have been harder to swallow. If it’s a special occasion, there are places which would be more memorable and privileged.
A trip to Petrus felt a bit like buying a £90 white shirt. It’s a beautiful shirt and you can see the details and quality. It does the job. But ultimately, it’s hard to really get excited and at this level, that’s what I’m looking for in dining.