After going to a pop-up lunch with a 3-star chef at Petrus a few months ago, I received messages from the restaurant's chef Ricardo Chaneton inviting me to visit the restaurant. My last meals at Petrus were back in 2010, and nowadays none of my close friends actually talk about dining at the restaurant. Like Summer Palace (夏宮) many floors below, it's a restaurant that's been around for a long time - I know it's there, but I never think about it because it no longer seems interesting.
But Ricardo comes with 7 years' of experience working for Mauro Colagreco, the man behind the acclaimed Mirazur (as well as other restaurants). That piqued my interest, and I put Petrus on my "hit list" for Hong Kong - despite the fact that it's not a new restaurant. After trying to find a slot for it for the last couple of months, I finally made it there tonight.
As I was already on Ricardo's radar, I decided to be discreet and asked Hello Kitty to reserve a table in her name. A change of plans meant that Hello Kitty had to go out of town and would be missing out on dinner tonight. Knowing that she might not pick up the call when the restaurant called to reconfirm the reservation today, I called the restaurant myself to avoid our table being cancelled.
I was running a few minutes late and started getting messages from my friend. My friend had forgotten that the table wasn't reserved under my name, so I told him to look under Hello Kitty's name. My friend was told that there was no table reserved under that name, either. At this point I was getting annoyed, given that I had called to reconfirm the reservation only hours earlier.
Apparently, the restaurant staff had misspelled Hello Kitty's family name, which is a real feat considering that there are only three letters. They have written down the same three letters, but jumbled up their order. My friend tried to persuade the door bitch that they must have made an error in spelling, and he's there for that particular table of three. The door bitch didn't buy it, then started recounting a past instance where there had been two tables reserved under similar names, and a particular customer had been led to the wrong table.
But there wasn't another table reserved under a similar name tonight. Yet the door bitch refused to budge and seat my friend. Exasperated, my friend asked whether the restaurant was full tonight. It was not. Quelle surprise. Could he be seated at another empty table first, perhaps, until the person whose name is on the reservation list arrives?
The door bitch finally relented and seated my friend. Minutes later, I arrived at the door and asked for the table reserved under Hello Kitty's name - with the correct spelling, of course. I could see the displeasure on the door bitch's face as she showed me the table where my friend was seated. Well, guess what? I don't know what the fuck her problem was, because I was more pissed than she was.
Not a good start to the evening.
Once seated, we noticed a card on the table with the title "Blind Tasting". I initially thought this was about a wine pairing, but it turns out that the restaurant was asking diners whether they would forgo ordering from a menu and just let the chef choose 6 courses to serve them. Well, this is giving carte blanche to the chef, or omakase (お任せ) as the Japanese would call it. This certainly isn't anything new to me, and I'm happy to trust chefs to do the best they can. So we went for it.
Pig's blood tart with mushroom and apple - this was a nice surprise, as I wasn't expecting many fine dining establishments to be serving pig's blood. Of course, the three Taiwanese at the table had absolutely no issues with it, and I found it pretty delicious - especially with the slice of crunchy and slightly acidic apple in the middle.
Our amuse bouche was sea urchin topped with Granny Smith apple gelée and Granny Smith foam. There were also bits of crunchy, raw onions inside. Pretty nice.
The caviar on the side provided a stark contrast with their saltiness, and while the lemon cream added the expected sweetness, it also brought a very strong and bitter finish that I didn't care for.
Per restaurant policy we were able to bring two bottles of our own wines, and we happily paid corkage for this.
I had originally wanted to open a different bottle of white wine, but when I pulled the cork on the 1996 Olivier Leflaive Montrachet in the office, I made sure to have a sip to check on the condition. White Burgundies from the mid- to late-90s have a reputation of being excessively oxidized, and sure enough, the small pour in my glass smelled very caramelized. So I brought a backup bottle, and asked my friend (as well as the sommelier) for their opinions. In the end we decided to put the cork back in the bottle and drink the backup bottle instead...
1990 Trimbach Clos Ste. Hune - a beautiful wine! Very open and fragrant, with flint, petrol, nice fruit, white flowers, and some lemon in the nose. Some residual sugar here but really good acidity, especially after opening up.
We asked for Chef Ricardo and offered him some of our wines and our compliments. He ended up spending over an hour with us, and we talked about his time at Mirazur, their philosophy, his Venezuelan/Colombian background...
We also discussed how Petrus' place on the Hong Kong dining scene had undergone a complete change over the years. When I first arrived in Hong Kong more than 20 years ago and wanted a place to celebrate my first birthday in the city, Petrus was the restaurant I chose. These days I don't hear any of my friends talk about going to Petrus, and the departure of Chef Frédéric Chabbert a few years ago aroused people's interest mainly because of where he landed... In fact most of my friends couldn't even be bothered to find out who replaced Frédéric - myself included. Undoubtedly the restaurant's dated decor scores negative points with some of the younger diners today, but unfortunately this isn't something that is easily addressed.
But with our dinner tonight, I have renewed hope for the restaurant. The dishes tonight may not be ones that feature on #theartofplating, but they all come with carefully sourced ingredients - the arrangement of which are all well-thought-out. And here's a chef who challenges the diners to trust him by offering his "blind tasting". In the past I've only done that with chefs I know well - or in a place like Quintessence with their carte blanche menu. Hopefully more diners in Hong Kong will accept the omakase-style menu and discover a different kind of cuisine from Ricardo.
Next time, though, Imma ask Ricardo to cook me some of his Venezuelan repertoire.
P.S. Ricardo very kindly offered us a huge discount on our dinner, and after we pleaded with him without success to accept the full payment, we accepted his kindness with gratitude. I did make sure to add a very generous tip...