Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: Petrus and L'Oranger

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: Petrus and L'Oranger

Article excerpt

IN St James's recently, they have been playing games of restaurant musical chairs. A year ago, at the top of the street, just by the corner of Jermyn Street, was No. 33, a solid, rather dull restaurant offering conscientiously cooked, expensive food in gloomy surroundings dominated by large, imitation Dutch still-lifes of food. Further down on the same side, on the old Overton's site, was L'Oranger, owned by A-Z Restaurants, who also owned L'Aubergine in Park Walk. L'Oranger's chef was Marcus Waring, former sous-chef to Gordon Ramsay at L'Aubergine. Then last summer came a falling out between Ramsay and A-Z with the result that he left L'Aubergine with his staff and took over Pierre Koffmann's former Tante Claire in Royal Hospital Road, where he now thrives as Gordon Ramsay tout simple. Waring quit L'Oranger, which went into temporary closure. The next step was that Ramsay acquired the No. 33 St James's premises, gave them a minor facelift, though retaining the heavy paintings, and installed Waring as chef, renaming the restaurant Petrus in recognition of the fact that many vintages of the Pomerol chateau's superb but horrendously expensive wines were to be found on its list. Finally, A-Z, still owners of L'Oranger, and having commenced litigation with Ramsay and Waring over past events, reopened L'Oranger with Kamel Benamar, formerly Waring's souschef, now in charge of the kitchen.

Both restaurants are currently attempting similarly high-class French cuisine at relatively high prices, though offering reason able set lunches, and clearly it was time to give them The Spectator's test. In order to ensure a consistency of critical response, I thought it desirable to take the same guest to each restaurant, and was fortunate that the Parisian publicist, Laurence Lecallier, who lives in London and works for a French company in St James's, was able to accompany me. We went first to Petrus, arriving there on a sunny day and to a warm welcome from Christophe Chalvidal, formerly of Gordon Ramsay, whence quite a few of the staff had come. Christophe's first gesture was proudly to show me the walk-in, temperature-controlled wine cellar at the back of the dining-room, so that I could salivate over the numerous vintages of Chateau Petrus -- magnums as well as bottles. With glasses of champagne in hand, we proceeded to consider the lunch menu, reasonably priced at 19.50 for three courses. There is also a more elaborate lunchtime menu at 28. The cheaper one offered two choices per course (six or more on the other) and we both found dishes that appealed.

Laurence started with foie gras and ham knuckle terrine with creamed vinaigrette and truffle, which was a well-conceived and executed dish that skilfully blended the foie gras with the more earthy flavour and texture of the ham. She enjoyed it. I took ravioli of duck with a wild mushroom consomme, which was a great success. The splendidly intense consomme, with its julienne of vegetables and powerful flavour of wild mushrooms, contained just a single large raviolo, generously stuffed with succulent duck, which I greatly liked. Next, Laurence chose the roasted sea bass, on creamed baby leeks with braised shallots and a precisely-made red-wine sauce. This again was much enjoyed. My choice was poached black-leg chicken, a tender and succulent fowl, which came with sauteed new potatoes and a rich veloute of foie gras. …

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