Diners prepare to serve writ over £44,000 meal

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The Independent Online

The fricassee of frogs' legs was a delight, the 1947 Château Pétrus sublime and the £44,007 drinks bill ... well, a mere trifle for six City bankers with a huge coup on the bond markets to celebrate.

Yesterday, however, as the fog of cigar smoke and hype cleared over the world's most expensive restaurant meal, there were signs that a bitter aftertaste of rancour and recrimination has set in.

The publicity over the outing to the Petrus restaurant, co-owned by the Michelin-starred firebrand, Gordon Ramsay, has left the diners none too pleased. A lawsuit claiming breach of privacy against the restaurant in St James's, London, was believed to be under consideration last night by four people named as having footed the bill.

Iftikhar Hyder, a risk analyst, and colleagues Dayananda Kumar, Ruth Cove and Mahish Chandra were reported to have paid between £8,500 and £12,000 each for the meal earlier this month. Such was the largesse of the group ­ employees of Barclays Capital, the corporate investment arm of Barclays Bank ­ when it came to the wine that the £400 food bill was waived.

None of the big-spending financiers would comment yesterday, but Mr Hyder, a Muslim, has insisted he is teetotal and will be reimbursed by his colleagues. He said: "This has caused me enormous damage. I'm not a big spender."

The five-figure meal, paid for out of the diners' own pockets rather than an expense account, bucked the belt-tightening trend in the City, where up to 15,000 jobs are predicted to go as profits slump. Where once there was first-class air travel and free exotic fruit, employees must now fly economy and, in one case, restrict celebratory feasts to £7,000.

The profligacy of the Petrus Six was also bad news for Barclays Bank as it struggles to mend its public image after a wave of branch closures and a £6m pay package for its chief executive, Matt Barrett.

Sources at Barclays Capital, which said it regards its staff's dining to be "strictly personal and private", said the traders and analysts were none the less "apoplectic" at the publicity.

One executive said: "They had gone along with the intention of drinking the finest wines that money could buy. What they didn't bargain for was appearing in every national newspaper as a result. They are the talk of the bank and it is making life a little uncomfortable for them ­ no one likes too much conspicuous consumption. They are talking about suing."

Other senior managers in the bank said they believed legal action was unlikely and those concerned were anxious to step back from the limelight.

Gordon Ramsay Restaurants, set up by the chef to run his growing food empire, remained sanguine yesterday about being sued by customers. The managing director, Chris Hutchinson, who is Ramsay's father-in-law, said: "We have very strict code covering the privacy of our clients. We would not name them nor divulge any information about them. The meal took place in the main restaurant where other diners would have seen what was happening. We have not received a writ and nor would we expect one."

The group had sat down to the £50-a-head set menu at Petrus, run by Mr Ramsay's protégé and business partner Marcus Wareing, with items such as ravioli of lobster, mosaïque of game and carpaccio of tuna to tempt customers' palates.

But it was the restaurant's extensive wine cellar, and the legendary Bordeaux vineyard from which it takes its name, that caught the eye of the employees of a company whose recent advertising campaign had exhorted people to "think big".

Most of the bill was spent on a £12,300 Château Pétrus, held by oenophiles to be one of the best wines ever made; a similarly spectacular 1945 Pétrus at £11,600; and a 1946 Pétrus at £9,600. There was also a £9,200 1900 Château d'Yquem and a 1982 Montrachet, costing a mere £1,400. Not to mention two bottles of Kronenbourg beer drunk before the meal for £7.

There was also an element of trust on behalf of the restaurant, which said it took the group's ability to pay the bill on trust and demanded no proof up front. Mr Hutchinson did admit, however, that it had been a matter of fine judgement. To buy the rare wines ­ and, in the case of the 1945 and 1947 Pétruses, if they are available ­ from wine merchants would have cost about a third less.

Legal experts said it was possible that the bankers could mount a claim for breach of privacy using Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, guaranteeing the right to private life. Marks Stephens, of solicitors Stephens Innocent, said: "It could be argued that a restaurant has a duty of confidence. However, it is also a public place and it would have to be proved that information had been divulged."