My son was mugged in Westfield shopping centre the other day: two accomplices kept his mates penned in while the main attacker patted him down and took everything. It was very efficient, apparently.
The event came to mind while receiving the bill at Petrus, Gordon Ramsay's newly reopened Knightsbridge restaurant. Despite sticking to the most reasonable menu (and we'll come back to that), one Martini and two very modest glasses of wine, the bill for two is £183.73.
Now that's not exactly a mugging – you'd be a mug going to dinner at Petrus expecting a bargain – but it did feel like a very efficient maximisation of money removal. And while one can't really fault anything about the restaurant (apart from the horrifying glazed claret-red walls in the ladies loo, giving visitors the complexion of new arrivals in Hell), it has the distinct feeling of an operation that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
The "à la carte" menu is priced at £55 for three courses, the only other choice being a tasting menu at £65. There is only one bottle of wine below £35 on the 32-page list and many, many north of £1,000. For a restaurant named after, decorated in homage to, and featuring many of a particular fine French wine, that is no surprise, but I can't help thinking of the clientele. Not the claret-faced regulars (of whom many seem to have made the journey from Petrus's former berth in the Berkeley hotel down the road), but the once-only visitors, those who have a birthday to celebrate or who want to treat someone.
As we sit down, the couple at the next table have a peculiar, shell-shocked look. It is only once I've read both the menu and the wine list that I recognise the look as "Oh God, is my credit limit going to cope?" Which is not conducive to a relaxed evening.
Of course, what is not on the menu are the frills and furbelows that fancy restaurants love to "give away": the polenta chips with tomato sauce while we choose, the onion velouté served in Parian china onions and, later, lemon cream cones and Armagnac white-chocolate ices. But it's just possible that I would enjoy the evening more if they were part of a five-course menu for £55.
As it is, Mr M and I sit at our artfully angled seats in the gently curved room, fielding a non-stop, precision-timed delivery of dinky dishes. We have an unbroken view of our fellow diners and the altar-like presence of the wine in a glass-walled floor-to-ceiling central room, which showcases such rare delights as a 1945 Petrus at £19,500. On the way to the loo, Mr M tries the door. It's locked, so we won't be doing any thieving of our own.
After pre-starter and amuse-bouche, I have roasted langoustine tails with watercress soup and confit potato, and he has scallops with cauliflower, anchovy and caper and beurre noisette. There are theatrical sauce-pouring flourishes from tiny jugs but this happens, it turns out, with every course and the one time it has a spectacular result – with my pudding – I've become a bit jaded and look away, missing the "reveal".
On to roast-beef fillet with braised shin, baked celeriac and Barolo sauce, which is tender and perfectly cooked. I lean over for a shard of crackling from Mr M's pork fillet with Bayonne ham, black pudding, cream cabbage and Madeira sauce ensemble – so light it's as if inflated rather than cooked. But there is something so mannered about the dishes that we can't get excited – head chef Sean Burbidge is clearly talented, but it feels as if he is following a generic posh-food template.
The feeling continues with fennel crème brûlée with Alphonso mango, and a chocolate sphere with milk ice-cream and honeycomb. (With hot chocolate sauce poured over, the dome collapses to reveal the frozen contents, which is met with guffaws by the expense-account boys next door.) I'm beyond sated, with no appetite for the "free" Armagnac white-chocolate ices, the wooden drawer of dark-chocolate slivers, nor the cocoa-dusted almonds that arrive with coffee. Enough already.
As I said, I can't find fault with Petrus, but I can't find it in my heart to recommend it either. No doubt Gordon Ramsay will be able to replace some of his depleted fortune with takings, judging by the Bentleys, Maseratis and Porsches parked outside, but for mere mortals, I'd advise you to keep your wallet tucked away and keep walking.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets
Petrus 1 Kinnerton Street, London SW1, tel: 020 7592 1609 Lunch and dinner, Monday-Saturday. Dinner for two without drinks, £110
More from Gordon's group
68-69 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3, tel: 020 7352 4441
Professional, but lacking soul. Prices seem ever more stratospheric, but there is a growing feeling that this is just not a three-Michelin-star experience any more
York & Albany
127-129 Parkway, London NW1, tel: 020 7388 3344
Overseen by Angela Hartnett, this swish and attractive Ramsay-group yearling offers some enjoyable cooking; after all the hype, though, standards are average
93 Warrington Crescent, London W9, tel: 020 7592 7960
This dreary boozer is a real Kitchen Nightmare – almost half those who mentioned the place to Harden's nominated it as their most disappointing meal of the year
Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2010'. www.hardens.com