With panoramic views of the River Thames and the Meadows, it would be pretty easy to forget you are in London when eating at The Petersham Hotel in Richmond.
Ok, so it’s not exactly in the centre of Piccadilly Circus, but the aura of the building, grandeur of the décor and level of hospitality are a world away from the hustle and bustle of the capital.
As you’d expect, eating at The Petersham restaurant is a traditional affair with its pressed, white tablecloths and smartly dressed service staff, but it is far from outdated. Polished metal, mirrored ceiling and vista-amplifying windows lend a modern edge to a classical base – something that is replicated with the exceptional food.
Appointed in October 2017, head chef Jean-Didier Gouges brought with him a wealth of creative experience to the 90-cover restaurant. The Mauritian-born chef has transformed all the menus with his unique cooking style which encompasses modern and constantly evolving techniques.
Gouges’ cooking revolves around his passion for uniting flavour, colour and history into every dish. Diners can expect showstopping dishes that are intrinsically connected through sight, smell, taste, touch and sound. His style is a little harder to pin down.
“My style…?” he questions. “I just try to bring a story and history to everything I do. “I have learned from the classics, and that is important. But I have worked for different companies and restaurants, and so you start developing a different style completely.
“Things are always mixing together and I’m using ingredients that some people may not think would work together.”
Gouges began his culinary career at the age of 17 as a chef de partie for a successful Mauritian catering company. But his talent was quickly recognised and at just 18 he became private chef to the Mauritian president.
A year later, Jean-Didier became the youngest Le Cordon Bleu chef in his country and earned the opportunity to complete a successful stage in Montpellier, France.
It was here that Gouges learnt and honed his culinary skill, receiving classical French training and exposing himself to a variety of new techniques and flavours.
Remaining in Europe, he went on to work in London at a number of prestigious kitchens, such as the Metropolitan Hotel in London, Coda at the Royal Albert Hall, the London Capital Club and, most recently, the St Pancras Hotel Group.
“My style is to take things that may have been done before, but putting my own twist on it so that people can see the differences I make,” he says. “For example, soon I am going to do a special tuna tartare with a pickled pear sorbet. So, that is something completely different – using Japanese and French classics together. I like using different tastes, but it always has to be fresh.”
As a skilled chocolatier, Gouges has also created a high-quality, luxury chocolate brand, Delice d’Elise Chocolates by Jean-Didier, showing his keen eye for detail. So, while the desserts menu is spectacular, there is a finesse and delicacy that goes into all dishes.
“I like to call it modern and technical,” he says. “But the taste is still there. Nouvelle cuisine is very big at the moment.”
For example, on our visit, the St Jacques starter (usually cheese and breadcrumbed scallops) had scallops served with squid ink cake and tapioca, beetroot tuile, keta caviar, tempura samphire and yuzu pineapple dressing – topped with a watercress foam. Gouges is very conscious of maintaining the hotel’s traditional outlook while bringing his own flair to each offer.
“I have put the foam in to that dish but without losing what the hotel wants to do,” he explains.
“The Petersham is traditional. But I consider myself a young chef, and every day food is changing right now. So I am trying to keep the menu in touch with the modern ways but also keeping it classical, too.”
The clientele of The Petersham is wide-ranging in terms of age and so Gouges has to design a menu that will satisfy all.
“We have a lot of walk-ins and hotel residents, too. It is a terrific mix that we have,” he says. “The menu, like the clientele, is a mix. And we try to make it work for everybody, at any age.
“Food today is art and it is interesting for people to know the style of every chef, of every restaurant, because they are all individual. For me, I just keep it open to any age and anyone.”
The experience of going to a restaurant is changing, with open or theatre-style kitchens, chef’s tables and further added interaction. So in such a traditional setting as The Petersham, is this something that is likely to work?
“There is a lot of concentration for me on the food and getting it right at the moment,” says Gouges. “Maybe in the future, I will be more involved front of house, or my chefs will go out and talk about the dishes and explain things, to give a bit of extra experience for the customers, from the kitchen and how we see things.”
While pairing international flavours and pushing the taste boundaries is clearly part of Gouges’ modus operandi, there is still a running theme: British central ingredients topped with world flavour.
For example, beef tartare and quail’s egg yolk with jalapenos; lamb cutlet with green olives; Dover sole with beurre noisette; or monkfish with Parma ham.
The ingredients that make the grade are influenced by the seasons and how long the chef can work with them.
“I do like to experiment,” says Gouges. “Every time I change the menu in the restaurant, I am already working on the next one.
“We start playing with the dishes months in advance. There are some ingredient seasons which are very short, like the wild garlic, so we have to be prepared. We have to work with it, know what we are going to do and then know when to change it as well.”
While Gouges has been charged with revamping the breakfast and the changing afternoon tea offers, The Petersham restaurant currently offers three main menus: the Prix Fixe (set menu – £24.50 for two courses and £28.50 for three courses), the A La Carte and the Sunday Lunch menu.
“We may do a tasting menu in the future,” he says. “But right now, I want to keep changing the A La Carte every month to keep it interesting.”
This is almost certainly a mantra for Gouges, changing things up to keep the mind focused and the customers coming. He even feels the same about his staff.
“I don’t tend to bring teams with me,” he says when asked about his move to The Petersham. “If they want to come with me, it is nice to hear, but it is also time for them to fly on their own, too. They can only learn so much from me, then they need to go and be a head chef on their own.
“To become a head chef, you have to learn, work hard and then be ready to fly.”
So why The Petersham?
“They approached me. The kitchen and the team are great, so I was really happy to be able to do something for The Petersham and grow with the team,” he says.
“The building is lovely. Location is very important and everybody likes to eat in this hotel restaurant. We have the best view in Richmond and a wonderful front of house.
“In the kitchen we are developing and learning new interesting things and there are many more things to come in the future.
“As long as we continue to develop that, people will want to come here to eat.”
WINE OF THE TIMES
Not only does The Petersham boast wines specifically designed with it in mind, such as the Champagne ‘Petersham’ Carte Blanch, or the 2015 Macon Bussieres ‘Petersham’ Domaine Gonon, Burgundy, France, but it can offer a service that is really turning heads in the hospitality market.
Earlier in the summer it launched its unique Fine Wines by The Glass list. This exciting development was conceived by head sommelier Andrew Dubosz, restaurant manager Umit Eruyar and wine consultant Nick Hillman. The Petersham now uses the Coravin preserving method, giving guests the opportunity to try superb wines by the glass without committing to a full bottle.
The exclusive selection of wines has been specifically chosen to complement
the overall dining experience led by Jean-Didier Gouges and his modern culinary approach. These wine additions augment the already vast selection of wines by the glass available from the cellars, adding the option to try a glass of a very special fine wine, such as the Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots 2014, Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.
There is also the opportunity to taste wines from all corners of the world from regions not normally seen on wine lists, such as the
Chardonnay 2013, Clos de Gat from Israel.
The selection of wines will be changing intermittently, depending on the seasons and will be regularly updated with exclusive additions.
BEEF CARPACCIO 14
Kalamata tapenade, rosemary crouton, radish, cress
KING PRAWN COCKTAIL 13
citrus pearls, seaweed, samphire, endive, wasabi and honey mayonaise, cress
SCALLOP AND CRAB 18
cucumber and yoghurt espuma, compressed watermelon, dill, ginger crackers
TWO WAY LAMB 28
peas, spinach purée, radish, black olives, goat’s curd, Martini jus
BEEF FILLET 36
braised shallot, white asparagus, spinach,
courgette, carrot, Parisienne potato, jus
SQUID INK LINGUINE 28
lobster and squid, spicy tomato sauce, capers
SNOW WHITE APPLE 10
white chocolate mousse, apple jelly, praline, lavender shortbread
CHOCOLATE BROWNIE 9
chocolate stone, salted caramel, mint and basil ice cream
PETERSHAM PEACH MELBA 9
peach jelly, rosemary, thyme and elderflower syrup, crispy vanilla ice cream