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We were lucky to visit Petrus for an early dinner on one of the clearest summer evenings of 2015, and as the sun slowly set over the mountains of Kowloon and the harbour glistened, we were reminded not only what a stunner Hong Kong can be when pollution is rained away, but also the top-notch views that Petrus has always provided. The dining room with its heavy gold curtains, thick carpeting and chandeliers, has not changed in years, nor should it. Amid all the concrete floors and exposed brickwork that now passes for chic in trendy restaurants, Petrus provides an old-fashioned respite. A definite highlight of dining at Petrus is the level of privacy it provides, as not only are there private dining rooms, but even in the main dining room, tables are set far apart enough that it is extremely unlikely for neighbours to overhear a romantic tete-a-tete or the details of the confidential business deal being struck.
While the menu opens with a mention of both the maître d’hotel and master sommelier by name, there is no mention of the head chef, since long-time chef-de-cuisine Frederic Chabbert’s departure in mid-2014. This gave us a hint to the meal that was to follow. From the five-course tasting menu we tried, only one dish was an unqualified success. This was an open tart with sautéed girolles and duck confit, topped with a thin sliver of black truffle, on a crispy phyllo pastry base. The combination of ingredients is tried-and-tested, and the execution excellent. We only wished the rest of the menu had stuck to this formula. Sadly, there were two notable instances where this was not the case. The first was an appetiser of sardine, described as a “gelato” in crispy sourdough bread. When we tasted the first bite, we actually thought there might have been a mistake as both the cubes of sardine and the gelato were smothered by an aggressively sweet mousse.Our fish course was a turbot, covered with a yuzu jelly. The turbot itself is very well-cooked, with a nice crispy crust and juicy middle. However, this was undermined by the thick and sweet yuzu jelly on top,a cross between orange marmalade and a Cantonese sweet and sour sauce. There were a few dishes that fared better: a cold starter of heirloom tomatoes came with a touch too much burrata , but the thin layer of tomato jelly and little gelatin balls made of aged balsamic were the perfect acidic touch. Petrus has long made one of the best seared foie gras in the city, and while the technique is still there, we personally found the crust of poppy seeds on top to be just a bit heavy, but it is still a very decent piece of foie gras.Even dessert, which had been a real highlight when award-winning pastry chef Claude Guerin was in charge,was a let-down. Our strawberry dessert, which featured a few pieces of the fruit, dotted with some perfunctory meringue, was an unimaginative end to the meal.
As the name suggests, Petrus offers an indecently decadent number of bottles from both banks of Bordeaux, but it would be a mistake to go straight for those and ignore the rest of the menu. Our degustation menu offers a wine pairing, and in particular, we loved the “Little Gem” pairing, as it offered unexpected delights such as a delicious cabernet franc from Canada. The sommelier, Yohann Jousselin, is also knowledgeable and friendly, and it would be a shame not to hear what he has to say.
There was a time when Petrus set the bar for service in fine-dining: sadly, the grande dame has let standards slip. Cutlery was constantly laid askew on the table between courses; bread crumbs were left on the table when only the most cursory of sweeps was done before dessert; and waiters were repeatedly ignorant when we had specific enquiries on menu items.
A five-course degustation menu, with wine pairing, for two guests comes to HK$5,000. This is in keeping with Petrus’ peers, but given the surprisingly average quality of the food and service, this does not feel inexpensive.