October 10 2011
Having explored Peckham’s role at the cutting edge of London’s dining scene, our intrepid gourmet moves on to the more opulent environs of Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus restaurant.
Some of London’s most exclusive dining experiences do still involve serious expense and extravagance, a fine example being the Chef’s Table Krug Experience at Petrus. The best thing about a chef’s table is your proximity to the action, and at Petrus you are practically another station (albeit the other side of the pass). But despite being so close, our table was immune to the heat, clamour and scents wafting around us; we were as safely hermetically sealed as the sous-vide langoustines almost within arm’s reach.
Midway through dinner, basic training completed, we moved up to the front line – head chef Mark Askew shepherding the group blithely around his kitchen, oblivious to the clashing of pans and the crackle of flesh meeting flames, a bit like Robert Duvall securing the beachhead in Apocalypse Now. It was impressive to witness how unruffled his small brigade was by our intrusive presence, even in the midst of a busy service with 40-plus covers upstairs. So close to the sharp end, I at least expected a spattering of cooking liquids to dapple my linen suit – scars to be borne reverently after a feigned tour of duty – but I remained unblemished, testament to the expertise (or perhaps just the tolerance threshold) of the team in the kitchen. The chef’s table is booked out most nights, and several lunches too – and I can’t understand when Mark Askew, who has worked his way through various Ramsay joints, manages to fit in some proper shouting and abuse-hurling.
Krug is the king of champagnes, in the house style – rich, austerely dry and unbendingly aristocratic. These traits, along with its maturely complex and oxidative character (a result of barrel-fermentation), can make it inaccessible to the junior palate, as of course can its price. However, Krug’s power and vinosity ensure that the maison’s wines offer a fine choice to pair with rich flavours on the plate, and here Petrus pulled no punches. After canapés and several bottles of the Grande Cuvée, we moved on to foie gras, truffles and sauternes jelly matched to the latest vintage release – 1998. One of Krug’s most admirable traditions is its refusal to release vintages until it considers them ready for consumption, bearing the extended cellaring costs in order to guarantee its unrivalled reputation.
Next we enjoyed lobster linguini and caviar followed by rack of English rose veal and sweetbreads. Years ago in Florence, I nearly came to blows with Hunter S Thompson’s godson, a very talented young chef working his way around Europe’s best restaurants, on the subject of veal. Being from Northern California, he championed the free range, psychically unharmed variant, whereas I preferred the traditionally Gallic stance that the more cruel the treatment, the better it tastes. Mark’s rack put paid to my prejudices. It’s arguable that the vivacity and floral notes of Krug’s rosé would have been as well suited to the preceding pasta dish as the extraordinary ’89 Collection with which it was paired, whose tangy notes of Manzanilla and almonds might have offered an interesting foil to the veal. I suggest that a return visit for me to test this theory is the obvious answer. What remains unarguable is that returning to the Grande Cuvée with dessert is an inspired way to finish. There is no other champagne house whose non- (or multi-) vintage wine can still hold its head up so proudly after tasting its prestige cuvées.