For some self-indulgence, and to celebrate my 43rd birthday we decided to dine at “Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley” in London. I’ve been a fan of Marcus after seeing him on “The Great British Menu” and impressed with his love of food and classic techniques. I initially wanted to visit Pétrus when he was working within Gordon Ramsey’s stable but they parted company some time ago and I missed that chance. Thankfully I didn’t miss out this time round.
This restaurant has been awarded 2 Michelin stars and it is clear to see why; excellent food and amazing service that went “above and beyond” anything I’ve ever witnessed in a restaurant before. I think the third star won’t be too far away personally. As with most Michelin starred eateries it isn’t cheap but I choose to spend my hard earned cash on food, which is one of my loves in life so I tend to not “worry” too much about the £££s as long as I enjoy the experience, and this one I truly did. The restaurant is a fairly large affair, with little areas here and there and the decor is low-key but stylish. Our table was set in an alcove, near the windows, and had an “eyes-in” to a section of the dining room – it was almost like a private dining area with it only having 5 tables. The chairs were very comfortable as the dining session was just short of 3.5 hours but it didn’t feel like we had sat there for that length of time (always a good thing!). Also, the service was very discreet – not 100′s of waiters dancing all over the place but a small group of well-honed waiters and front of house that delivered each course with minimal fuss (a stark difference to that of the Waterside Inn).
I wanted to “splash out” so we opted for the Chefs Menu with Wine Pairing. This menu consisted of 10 courses (so get comfy as this is fairly long), with a couple of amuse bouche and chef’s specials. At the end of the evening we both felt very full, which isn’t always the case when trying some taster menus. So, here’s what we had (along with the wine pairings as we asked for a copy fo the menus to take home which is always very handy!)
First things first – bread. I think it’s a good sign if the bread is good, and this was. I had soda and then potato & onion, Mini had rye. There were 2 butters; a plain butter and one quenelle of beurre noisette which had a nutty taste to it, really nice and the first time I’ve ever had it as an accompaniment to bread.
Kicking off with a glass each of Ruinart champagne we munched on our amuse bouche; 1 was prawn rolled in sesame seeds – pop the whole nibble into your mouth and immediately get a mouthful of fresh prawn, quite a depth of flavour too from something so small, a great start. The other was pork hazlet; a cube of around 1cm in size. Think of your best sausage roll you’ve ever tried and multiply it by 100. Deep flavours, balanced seasonings that stayed in your mouth for some time afterwards – a great start we both thought.
Chefs pre-starter was Cauliflower Cheese. Not the stuff you had at school that was all gloopy, wet and minging. This came in a tall shot glass. Pureed cauliflower, hot, topped with a cold cheesy foam sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Starting off with the spoon you take a swipe out of the foam and get a whoosh of cheese (Wotsits on steroids!) and you then realise that the cauliflower is hot below, a brilliant contrast. The puree/soup was very fresh and packed with flavour.
Dish #1; Orkney scallops, grapes, cucumber, Kaffir lime, Alexanders paired with a glass of Fiano di Avelino, Pietracupa, Campania, Italy 2009.
Scallops intertwined between a thin strip of cucumber, lying on top of lime mayonnaise, with some salad leaves and half a grape (I did comment to Mini that for the menu to say “grapes” you needed more than one!). Scallops were perfectly cooked, slight brown on the outside. Paired with the lime mayo they were incredibly fresh and tasty. The wine fitted perfectly (as did all the others, and they weren’t skimpy servings either)
Dish #2; Foie gras, sorbe, walnut, date, milk tuile paired with a Vouvray ‘La Reveillerie’ Lemaire Fournier, Loire Valley, France 2003 – almost like a dessert wine; real depth of flavour, great neck and lovely orangey/brown colour.
3 dollops of foie gras moose (like mini merengues just piped) – incredibly light and smooth, not too powerful in the taste either which was just right. The walnut bread was about 2mm thick and 10cm long but it tasted like you had a whole walnut tree on a plate – so full of flavour. The milk tuiles were small shards which were stuck into the foie gras – think of Nice biscuits – really nice. The sorbe was a small dollop of fruit, that is similar to pear, and gave a sweet edge.
Dish #3; Crab, chestnut, agnolotti paired with a Dido, Rene Barbier, Monstant, Spain 2008.
The crab was served in two parts; the brown meat wrapped within the agnolotti (think ravioli), white meat was shredded along side a piece of claw meat. The little pockets of ravioli were lovely, small yet dense. Unfortunately when I was eating the rest of the dish I found some chunks of crab shell – not what I would expect from a 2* restaurant. It spoiled this particular dish and I informed the waiters who were very apologetic.
Dish #4; Sweetbread, goat’s curd, squash, caper butter paired with a Piper’s Brook Estate, Pinot Noir, Tasmania 2005, fairly light for a pinot noir but a great match with the sweetbread.
I “love” sweetbreads and this one hit the mark, nicely caramelised giving some small crunchy parts. When ordering I said that I didn’t want the goat’s curd but when delivering the dishes they mixed them up so I had the plate with the curd on. Nothing major some may say, but again this shouldn’t happen at a place like this. Another “let down” was the caper butter – neither of us could taste the capers. At this point in the evening I was feeling a bit “low” as 2 dishes had not lived up to expectations, I was really hoping we hadn’t already hit the peak with the 2nd dish and was now nose diving.
Dish #5; Scottish lobster, broccoli paired with a Chassagne-Montrachet ‘Enceigneres’ Dom. Marc Colin, Burgundy, France 2008.
Broccoli 3 ways; mandalin thin slices of the floret, a bright green puree and poached stalk. The lobster was simply divine; 2 good chunks of this wonderful seafood.
As I said a few lines up, what with the crab shell and the mixup of plates I was feeling somewhat let down with the evening, due to these 2 errors. Now this is where a restaurant earns 2* with amazing service. As an apology, and they said they were very sorry about the crab shell incident and plate mixup, we had an additional course. A small plate of pasta (we think Fettuccine) with herbs which came with a small copper saucepan. The waiter then showed us the saucepan, took the lid off and inside were 2 black truffles. He then commenced to grate a good helping onto each dish, not skimping at all. I was very happy with this, not only as we had this extra course but the fact that they had acknowledged the 2 issues and acted speedily to resolve it.
Dish #6; Halibut, cockles, fennel, clementine paired with a Viognier ‘Les Contours de Deponcins’ Francois Villard, Rhone.
The first time I had tried Halibut and I loved it. Perfectly cooked, falling into small pieces with the push of your fork. Fennel done 2 ways (braised and grilled), with some cockles and clementine – I really like the mix of fish and orange, Mini wasn’t sure as we had something similar at another place and he still wasn’t sold on the idea.
Dishes #7; So now, the main courses. I chose the Cumbrian lamb, sweetbread, quince, leek paired with Barolo, Francesco Rinaldi & Figli, Piermont, Italy 2007. Mini went for Galloway beef fillet, Dorset snails, horseradish, kale paired with Gramercy Cellars, Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, USA, 2008.
Both dishes were A-M-Azing. Seriously. The best lamb I have ever eaten. Considering the portion size (and again it wasn’t skimpy, 4 good cuts of a cannon of lamb) it tasted as though all the sheep in Wales had been condensed into this one cut. I was lost for words when I tasted the first bite, on par with the scallop I had at Le Gavroche (2 of my all time dishes now). Mini had his beef blue – you can only really order blue when eating at a place that knows what blue is. This was cooked perfectly, looking like the cow had slowly walked 1M away from a candle. Mini said the beef was “melt in the mouth” good, and all I heard was a lot of “mmmms” when he was munching, which is his sign of enjoying the meal.
The Assistant Manager came over to see how things were going and, for the first time, I said “Best Lamb I’ve ever eaten, please pass my compliments to the chef”. He was very happy that we had our evening turned around, and passed my compliments to the chef. So now it got even better. On his return he asked if we would like to take a tour of the kitchen. “Let me think about that for 1micro second”….”Yes please!”. We have never had this oppurtunity at any other restaurant, and he said he had asked someone else previously who had turned it down! So off we trotted to “where the magic happens” (my phrase, not his) and he explained who was doing what, that this was the main “cooking” kitchen with the prep kitchen “in the bowels of the building”. It was a flurry of activity and a smallish size of kitchen. We chatted with the Head chef (not Mr Wareing unfortunately, but that would have been amazing if he was there), and also with the pastry chefs (Gods). When we left we realised how hot it was in there, I know a silly thing to say but I take my hat off to those cooks; you really have to love your job to work those hours in hot kitchens. I was literally buzzing after this, like I’d done a line of coke (not that I ever have) – I was beaming just like after meeting Michel Roux Jr when he came to our table at Le Gavroche (get me name dropping!!!!)
Bring on the desserts!! Ok, so a pre-dessert (bend my arm then). A little hazlenut and chocolate layered slice, imagine a Kit-Kat crossed with a Topic bar but a bit fancier. Very scrummy.
Dessert #1; White Chocolate ice, redcurrant.
Another shot glass affair, with white chocolate upto the brim and redcurrants sprinkled on top. The chocolate was thick, oozy, umptious with the redcurrants piercing the richness. Not sure where the ice bit came in, but I wasn’t complaining.
Dessert #2; Apple, crispy cinnamon pastry, apple jelly paired with Umathum, Scheurebe, Beerenausslese, Burgenland, Austria 2009.
Something like a deconstructed apple pie. The apple jelly had a real wobble on it, good sign there, and was intense with apple flavour. The pastry was a mille-feuille tower of crispy cinnamon pastry with pureed apple in between.
Dessert #3;Cru Virunage chocolate.
A small slab of chocolate, probably 5cm square, 7mm high and served on a small slate tile. The chocolate on top was a small veneer of melted chocolate with gold leaf, and below it a chocolate sponge. Considering a spoonful size this gave a real WHACK of chocolate flavour, incredibly intense. After finishing one I don’t think you could eat another without feeling a bit sick – in a good way, not wanting to be ill but just due to the richness of the chocolate. We each had a cup of tea at the end. The tea “menu” was a box of phials containing the tea leaves, allowing you to smell each one and also having a short description. I had Dragon Well – a nice strong brew, and Mini had Verbena Mint Tea – very lemony and refreshing.
Phew! Reached the end (fingers aching). A thoroughly enjoyable experience was had by both of us. Not without a couple of issues, but fantastically turned around by the shear expertise of the staff; they were all very friendly, unpretentious and helpful – they also took off the 12.5% service charge (which was discretionary but they took it off without us asking). We had a copy each of the menu, and also a bag of chocolate truffles to take home (these were very nom). The cherry on the cake would have been meeting Marcus Wareing, but the cake was still bloody brilliant.
Cost – £465 (Chef’s menu £120 each, Wine Pairing £105 each, Tea £5 each, Water £5.50 for the table)
Food – 9/10
Service – 10/10
Value – 8.5/10