Pétrus – never “Château Pétrus” – is famous for being the most expensive wine in the world. That’s not a good thing. Most people have a knee-jerk hatred of brands like that, and the rest – the ones who drink it – hardly ever appreciate it. It’s a truism that sheikhs and oligarchs and robber barons know the price of everything and the value of nothing: rappers buy the cognac because of its cost, not its taste. Expensive plonk is typically just a bonanza of willy-waving, so for a restaurant to align itself with a wine like that, and all its dreary affluent pretensions – smacks of grasping inertia, of being hopelessly out of touch.
There’s a bottle on the list here for 49,500 quid. What a brazen, hilarious amount to spend on fruit juice. That, and the resurrected name, tell you everything you need to know about the ambitions of this place. And if the food were stellar, they could almost get away with it. But it isn’t, so they don’t.
Belgravia smells of second homes and stucco; the local brothel would be called the Non-Dom’s Condom. “We have lots of regulars already,” says Jean-Philippe Susilovic, the maitre d’, sometime Hell’s Kitchen personality and an eminence grise in the embattled Ramsay empire.
Susilovic is terrifyingly good at what he does: he strikes a brilliant Belgian balance between deference and chumminess. It’s a job most people would be hopeless at: to bow before the bloated and Botoxed without grovelling. He welcomes you like you’re back from a war, and he puts a relaxed hand on your chair as he talks to the table – it’s far more impressive and hospitable than anything the kitchen is doing.
We started with an amuse of ho-hum onion soup: a tablespoon sloshing at the bottom of outsize aubergine-shaped bowls. Amuse or not, the portion looked mean: stockpot dregs the colour of dishwater. My starter was a cold canneloni of salmon and crab with lettuce sauce. It was bland and wimpy, tamer than a Furby, and the pasta was overcooked. A “mosaic” (a poncy word for terrine) of foie gras and rabbit was better, interplaying bunny and liverfat, with an excellent carrot chutney.
Beef fillet and shin was blokey and safe – but trout with sweetcorn was utterly horrendous. The fish was raw in the middle and tough at the sides, and the Tudor-dentistry sweetcorn was a disastrous pairing. I liked the puddings more: toffee apple with a sage yoghurt parfait, and a chocolate sphere that dissolved when they poured sauce over it.
The effect of the room, JPS aside, is depressing: staff shuffle endlessly to the table, fill glasses, remove things, repeat what you’ve ordered. They’re professional – it’s all so very, very professional. But this is mute, emasculated, limp-wristed dining, bereft of the spark and verve you associate with Ramsay’s onscreen persona. The set lunch is currently £25 which is, I suppose, a good deal if you want to experience a restaurant reaching for gongs and plaudits. But none of it has anything to do with pleasure.
Pétrus, 1 Kinnerton Yard, London SW1
Tel. +44 (0)20 7235 1200
See on the map
Set lunch £25, à la carte £55, tasting menu £65