Pétrus, 1 Kinnerton Street, London

The owners of long-established restaurants, as of newspapers, need to keep making changes to keep things fresh. A subtle redesign, some fashionable new ingredients, maybe even a shake-up of personnel. What they don't normally do is throw everything out but the name, and start again with completely new content.

That's just what Gordon Ramsay has done with his restaurant group's latest opening, the third to go by the name of Pétrus. After a schism with former protégé Marcus Wareing, head chef of the earlier incarnations of Pétrus, Ramsay took the bold – some might say vainglorious – decision to strip the Berkeley Hotel restaurant of that famous name, and use it for a rival new venture just down the road.

The new Pétrus, which opened last month, has plenty to prove. Ramsay's restaurant group has been buffeted by financial problems, closures and lost Michelin stars, while Ramsay himself continues cheffing and blinding his way around the world on TV. (Meanwhile, back at the Berkeley, Marcus Wareing and his two Michelin stars have somehow managed to struggle along regardless.) Taking no chances, Ramsay has deployed his crack troops at Pétrus, including manager Jean-Philippe Susilovic, the shellac-haired smoothie familiar as "JP" to viewers of Hell's Kitchen.

It's always a shock to experience the disjunction between Ramsay's ballsy TV persona and his restaurants, which epitomise chilly, knees-together fine-dining. This new Pétrus is smaller and friendlier than the Berkeley Hotel version, but only in the way that Nicolas Sarkozy is smaller and friendlier than Vladimir Putin.

The circular beige room, arranged around a central wine area, is expensively neutral, with elements of discreet bling; it isn't a hotel dining room, but it could be. One word you don't associate with Gordon Ramsay is bland, and this room feels bland, agreed my guests Frank and Di Eliel, the generous Independent readers who bid to accompany me on a review in our annual charity auction.

The offer of cannabis, from a Germanic waitress, seemed to offer the perfect ice-breaker, but it turned out she was introducing the canapés – fried fingers of polenta with tomato sauce, followed by an onion velouté. Nothing too interesting, but fairly characteristic of the Ramsay house style, which offers refined accomplishment over excitement.

All three of us were happy with most of what we tried from the three-course menu but the food didn't set our pulses racing. Di, who described herself, alarmingly, as "a watercress soup fiend", felt there was a lack of pepperiness to the vivid green liquid which was poured over roasted langoustine tails, to stunning visual effect. Also beautiful, but marginally underpowered, was Frank's tartar of yellow-fin tuna, sprinkled with Oscietra caviar. Veal sweetbreads came fried in breadcrumbs, their delicate flavour subsumed into something akin to a chicken nugget, though punchy choucroute rescued the dish from blandness.

The huge wine list bristles with famous French names, but Frank showed his sense of adventure by selecting a bottle of Malbec from Patagonia. It prompted memories of the Eliels' travels: they seem to have globe-trotted around most of the world, including Patagonia and the Falklands (twice) – though living as they do near Norwich, they obviously steer clear of Ipswich.

By the time we'd finished a bottle of Albarino and were getting stuck into the Malbec, we were getting along famously. So much so, that my notebook remains silent about the main courses, apart from recording the key facts that Di had pan-fried sea bream with an oyster velouté, and that Frank's roasted duck breast with confit leg, braised beetroot and ginger sauce was "fine". My memory of my own choice needs no jogging; the partnership of squeaky roast lobster tail with a flavourless lozenge of braised pork belly created a surf'n'turf combo of memorable pointlessness.

Side dishes, including pommes dauphinoise, arrive unbidden, and are left at the table to share. For a Ramsay joint, that's almost casual. In fact, the service does feel relatively relaxed, from a team who exhibit personality and knowledge rather than drone-like obedience. And the attentions of restaurant manager Jean-Philippe were most welcome, even though the Eliels claimed never to have seen him on Hell's Kitchen (probably too busy backpacking around Tristan da Cunha...).

Desserts showed a welcome flash of exuberance, in particular the star dish of the evening, a glossy chocolate sphere, which, anointed with hot chocolate sauce, imploded to reveal its cargo of ice-cream and honeycomb. Bitter chocolate beer parfait, foam-topped, like a genuine pint, contained nuggets of puffed rice which Di guessed might be Quakers.

Bombarded by waves of pre- and post-starters and offers of digestifs, we started to suspect we may have been identified, particularly when JP offered to take us downstairs to see the kitchen and meet executive chef Mark Askew and his team. But it seemed most diners were getting this red carpet treatment; at one point, there seemed to be more customers in the kitchen than in the dining room.

Whether or not we were outed, we left Pétrus feeling that we had experienced the special evening we'd hoped for. There may not be anything dazzling about the food, but the smoothness of the operation, and Ramsay's determination to make a success of it, make it the ideal venue for a special occasion. Ironically, given its shouty owner, Pétrus feels like a background restaurant, rather than one that grabs you by the lapels and starts showing off. That we ended up having such an enjoyable evening was down to the staff, the Patagonian Malbec, and above all, the company.

Pétrus, 1 Kinnerton Street, London SW1 (020-7592 1609)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 3 stars
Service 4 stars

£55 a head for three courses before wine and service

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-Qualified Accountant) - Manchester

    £23000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor