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What is in a name - Petrus

Saturday, April 17th , 2010

wiltons 3648 outside-crop-v2.JPG

When Marcus Wareing split from Gordon Ramsay, the Ramsay group retained the name Petrus, and it has now opened its rival, just a few yards down the road from the Berkeley hotel. It is easy to be cynical about the Ramsay empire, but I have to say that the new Petrus was a real success on my early visit, just days after opening. The standard of cooking was very high, with executive chef Mark Askew (a long time veteran at Royal Hospital Road) in charge of the kitchen the night I visited. We tried a lot of dishes between four of us, and there was just one technical slip amongst all that cooking. The best dishes were very good indeed: a wonderfully intense onion soup, a very moist piece of pork, excellent scallops. Even the vegetarian option, a mushroom pithivier made with ceps and morels, was top drawer.

Wiltons (pictured) is a long way from a new opening (it opened in 1742) but it does have a new chef, Andrew Turner. Andrew has moved about quite a bit over the years (Browns, 1880 at The Bentley, The Landau) but I have always enjoyed his cooking, and now he has taken on the challenge of updating a restaurant icon. At present it seems to me a work in progress. There are many things to like about Wiltons: the comfortable surroundings, the emphasis on high quality produce, the efficient but discreet service. Grilled turbot falling off the bone, and well-timed Dover sole showed respect for two very fine pieces of fish, which has always been the emphasis at Wiltons. I think the new chef should not try to modernise the menu too much, since there is a genuine place for this type of food, and I for one am keen on simplicity in my cooking. However there are definitely areas that can be tweaked: the bread could be easily improved, and chips were simply not very good, for example. Such slips are less forgivable at the vertiginous prices on display – I don’t mind paying a lot of money for a fine piece of turbot, but £5 for each vegetable dish on top is just greedy. The place seemed pretty busy the Tuesday night I visited, so perhaps they have calibrated the price carefully to their audience, but for those of us who are not in the aristocracy it would be nice to see the execution match the high price levels in all, rather than just some, areas of the menu.

The Royal China is my standard for Chinese cooking in London. It is not quite to the same level as Hakkasan or Yauatcha, but it is half the price, and is a cut above the many other places I have tried in both Bayswater and Chinatown (the two main centres of Chinese cooking in London). This week, Szechuan prawns were accurately cooked with a well-balanced spicy sauce, while scallops served in their shell with black bean sauce were also carefully cooked, the spices livening up the sweetness of the scallops without overwhelming their lovely natural taste. Other staples such as gai lan steamed with garlic were as delicious as ever, the Chinese broccoli having pretty much perfect texture after the cooking process. A lot of French chefs could learn by observing the cooking of this simple dish here.

The web site had a major new release this week. The most visible is the brand new gallery, which replaces a 3rd party gallery tool that was creaking and very slow to load. As well as much faster load times, you can now filter the various photo galleries, searching by cuisine, last visited, country etc. The whole web site has actually moved to a more industrial strength database management system as well (it is now on SQL Server rather than Access, which was being stretched to breaking point by the traffic volumes), which will improve performance and scalability for the future. Various minor usability enhancements will be possible now that the main migration has taken place. This migration was a major effort, as there were over 3,000 full-size photos to move; plenty of testing has gone on, but if you spot something that we have missed then please let me know.

I was quoted in a piece by Forbes magazine this week about the rise of luxury restaurants in Asia. This included a mention of the analysis that I did recently of the distribution of Michelin stars per head of population, which reveals that Kyoto has the most starts per head of any major city (of course Tokyo has the most stars overall).

I was originally expecting to be away this weekend and be able to update the site with a trio of three star Michelin restaurant visits, but these plans have disappeared in a cloud of volcanic ash and now have to be postponed. However I have some further interesting eating planned in the coming weeks and, travel permitting, will have some good meal experiences to share with you soon.  The blog next week will be one day late.

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