Our visit to Marcus Wareing’s two-Michelin star restaurant at The Berkeley Hotel was rather timely; the night before he appeared on a BBC2 documentary about the Michelin Guide and what the stars mean to the restaurant industry. In Wareing’s case, he gets up in the morning to earn and keep his coveted Michelin stars, while other chefs were less enamoured by the French culinary institution, resenting the fact that earning a star could signal the demise of your restaurant should you happen to lose one.
Despite the documentary’s somewhat negative view of Michelin, a star is a very tough and prestigious accolade to earn and Marcus knows all about that. His restaurant has been a prime fine dining location for a number of years, and since earning his second star in 2007 it has continued to receive praise from a long line of happy customers and contented critics alike. It was time for us to pay him a visit.
The Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge is glamorous, opulent and like the other venues in the Maybourne Group’s portfolio – Claridges and The Connaught – it sings to the tune of its original Art Deco resplendence; a fitting location for one of London’s best restaurants.
The interior is plush purple with a comfortable seating area that overlooks the intimate restaurant, itself replete with widely spaced tables, immaculate place settings, attentive staff and a gigantic cheese trolley that one can smell from across the room.
We dined from the lunch menu at £38 per person, kicking off proceedings with slices of delightfully crisp belly of suckling pig and a generous hunk of warm smoked eel. The table fell silent, broken only by the occasional murmur of satisfaction to signify that our taste buds were sampling greatness and should not be disturbed by the frivolities of conversation. Some meals are just too good to talk through.
That impressive starter was followed by a main of pan fried fillets of lemon sole, Welsh laverbread, marbled Chiogga beets, delicate slices of Jonagold apple and a helping of sorrel. The flavours were inspiring, the presentation visually stunning. More silence ensued, interspersed with grunts of content and the occasional proclamation: “Amazing” (chomp, chomp) “Superb” (chomp chomp) “Bloody marvellous!”
If that wasn’t enough, a baked egg custard tart was on the menu, the very same dessert that Marcus served for Queen Liz on the BBC’s Great British Menu; a dish that Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and the grumbling Oliver Peyton had raved about as the best dessert they have ever tasted. Well, if it’s good enough for Her Majesty…
Of course, we weren’t disappointed. Served with caramelised banana and praline ice cream, the dessert took the concept of a custard tart to an entirely new level. I am rarely impressed by desserts but this is one I will remember for a long time to come. In fact it was so good that I don’t think words can do it justice, so let’s just leave it at that. You had to be there.
We took coffee in the lounge rather than at the table, which gave us a chance to observe the restaurant at work while we popped the most delicious handmade chocolates into our gobs and slurped on heady aromatic coffee poured from silver jugs. At 4pm we finally heaved ourselves away from the lavish surrounds, not wanting to end this blissful experience. In fact we considered waiting for the evening service so that we could sample it all over again.
It was raining outside as we left the restaurant, but somehow that didn’t matter. Protected like Eddie from the Ready Brek adverts with the glow of a fabulous meal all around us, I could’ve stood in the rain for an hour and it wouldn’t have dampened my spirits. Marcus works harder than most people would care to even think about and the result is not only a successful business, prominent culinary accolades and tremendously good food, but genuine happiness for his customers. And that’s something you can’t put a price on.