The restaurant at The Petersham Hotel used to have a talented chef called Alex Bentley, but he left in late 2017 and was replaced by Jean-Didier Gouges, who formerly worked in the Albert Hall and in other London hotels including the St Pancras group, and was once a private chef to the President in his native Mauritius. The menu was £55 at lunch for three courses.
The room is blessed with a glorious view out over the Thames in the distance far below, the hotel being strategically located at the top of a hill. As my artistically inclined companion observed, the view is similar to that of a well-known Turner painting “The Thames from Richmond Hill”, which was painted from a spot not far from here.
This was late December, and so the menu had a Christmas feel to it, with a turkey offering amongst other seasonal touches, though there was no reindeer dish. There was even a snow machine by the picture windows that periodically gave the impression of snowdrops falling, followed by a gentleman in a Santa costume cleaning those same windows. It is easy to be cynical about such things, and lord knows I usually am, but at least they were trying to get into the festive spirit.
Sample wine references were Promised Land Cabernet Merlot 2016 at £36 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £12, Marques de Murrietta Reserva 2014 at £59 compared to its retail price of £22, and the lovely Guigal Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde 2013 at £96 for a wine that will set you back £53 in the high street. For those with the means there was Domaine Ambroise Corton Charlemagne 2015 at £225 compared to its retail price of £202, and Haut Brion Mission 1995 at £425 for a wine whose current market value is £269.
Sadly, the food did not match the gorgeous view. There were no nibbles, and I began with a starter of chicken liver parfait that had been disguised as a tangerine. I presume this was a nod to the “meat fruit” of Dinner at Heston, but it was distant and sad relation to the original. The parfait was dry, crumbly and lacked sufficient liver flavour. There was a peculiar powdery “snow” that was hard to identify but tasted vaguely cheesy and did not sit well with the parfait. The best thing about the dish was the slice of grilled sourdough (barely 10/20). My companion’s sweet potato soup flavoured with bacon was better but was on the watery side. Although bacon disguises many a kitchen defect, the stock used in the soup, though doubtless lovingly made in the kitchen, tasted as if it could have come from a stock cube (10/20).
I succumbed to the temptation of a turkey dish, which I knew in advance was a risky thing to do. Turkey is such a difficult bird to cook properly, drying out if you turn your back on it, but this Norfolk turkey roll was pretty grim even by the standards of catering turkey dishes. It was dry as the Atacama Desert, the centre sufficiently tough that I was unable to cut it with the knife provided, and the stuffing was remarkably lacking in flavour. On the side were slightly over-cooked but edible Brussels sprouts, braised red cabbage that needed a touch of vinegar to enliven it, chestnuts and a fondant potato that was soggy. There was some rather thin gravy and bread sauce too. It seems unfair to score the restaurant based on this Christmas dish, which is a good job since I hardly have a low enough score available to actually assess it. As Strictly Come Dancing’s judge Craig Revel Horwood might say,” it was a disaster darling”. When the waitress came to collect my barely touched turkey and I explained that I had trouble cutting it, she offered a steak knife, which I suppose counts as a creative solution.
My companion’s roast duck a l’orange was better (what wouldn’t be?) but was still rather overcooked and with no discernible orange flavour in the sauce. The mashed potato was pretty grim, though the sauce at least had some depth (11/20). It was accompanied by some rock-hard braised chicory so the problems were not confined to the turkey. Winter berry crumble had apple and red currants that were harmless enough, but unfortunately the crumble itself was soggy. The clue to crumble is in the name: it should have some texture and, you know, crumble. It should not just be a soggy mess (10/20).
Coffee was Lavazza, an industrial coffee but not the worst out here, and service was harmless enough, though detailed knowledge of the menu elements did not seem to be a strength of our waitress. Moreover, I almost entirely left the frankly inedible turkey after a couple of exploratory bites, explained what the problem was, and it still turned up on the bill in its full glory. Even a couple of mince pies that came with the coffee were disappointing, with hardly any filling. With a couple of glasses of wine, the bill came to £101 per person, which is an absurd amount for such a mediocre meal. It was admittedly better than, say, the food served at my university canteen, but that is hardly a ringing endorsement. This is a kitchen with some serious issues. The meal that I ate here almost a year ago was pretty troubling but this was considerably worse. It is such a waste of a gorgeous natural setting for a restaurant. My overall score would be even lower if I counted my dismal main course. This was a real turkey of a dish.Book