Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley
London. SW1X 7RL
Tel. 020 7235 1200
Food type: Modern French
Food rating: 7/10
Nearest tube: Knightsbridge
Website: Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley
Born in 1970, Lancashire-born Marcus Wareing attended Stanley High School and subsequently Southport Catering College where he attained his City & Guilds qualifications. In 1988, the Southport native moved to London at the age of 18 where he began his culinary training at the Savoy as a commis chef where he worked under Anton Edelmann. Following that, he had a 3 year stint between 1991 and 1993 under the tutelage of the legendary Albert Roux at Le Gavroche. It was during his stint at Le Gavroche that he met Gordon Ramsay and the rest you could say was history.
Wareing left Le Gavroche in 1993 to join Ramsay’s new venture, Aubergine, where he was his second in command. Like many of Ramsay’s proteges, Wareing went abroad to broaden his culinary knowledge – first to New York with Daniel Boulud and then Paris under Guy Savoy. It was during this time that he was awarded the accolade of Young chef of the Year by the Restaurant Association. Following his successful stint abroad, Wareing returned to UK, where he took on the role of head chef at L’Oranger. His first Michelin star soon followed. Unfortunately, his stay at L’Oranger was short lived, and a year later he was sacked by parent company A-Z after a row over contracts and non-payment of money from his stake in the company. He wasn’t out for long though – as Gordon’s right hand man and with the backing of Gordon Ramsay Holdings, he opened Pétrus, which back then was located at St. Jame’s Street. Within seven months as chef patron, Wareing won a Michelin star as well as the top award from the AA guide (5 AA rosettes). Pétrus subsequently relocated to the Berkeley hotel in 2003. The same year also saw Wareing take over the Savoy Grill and another Michelin star soon followed a year later.
The bond with Gordon Ramsay seemed unbreakable – Ramsay was even the best man at Wareing’s wedding. Then of course whispers about discontent with Wareing began to arise. Despite being initially dismissed, the rumours refused to go away. As sure as eggs are eggs, the inevitable happened and the culinary world was flooded with headlines about Ramsay and Wareing parting company. Gordon Ramsay Holdings will keep the Pétrus name while Wareing would continue to work directly with the Berkeley hotel and will run his own restaurant (which has been renamed to Marcus Wareing).
‘If I never speak to that guy again in my life it wouldn’t bother me one bit. I wouldn’t give a fuck. I admire Gordon, I learned a lot from him. But would I lose any sleep knowing he wouldn’t be there? No chance.’ – Marcus Wareing
In THAT infamous interview with Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine, Wareing shed some light into his split with Ramsay. The cause of their split? Stars… Michelin stars to be exact. The quest for the holy grail.
‘Gordon loves being the only three-star here (in London), he’s milked it for years. I don’t want to get to the end of my career and say that I never really achieved what I wanted to because I felt restrained.’ – Marcus Wareing
Another issue touted by Wareing is that Ramsay rarely, if ever, cooks in his own restaurant – he is too busy opening restaurants all over the world, appearing on TV shows and apparently sleeping with ugly women – a sentiment shared by this authour. ‘That’s the genius of Gordon: he’s clever enough to win Michelin stars around the world and not need to spend every waking hour cooking.’
Reviews regarding Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley have been mixed. Bloomberg’s London food critic, Richard Vines claimed that Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley was the best restaurant in London with equally positive remarks by Giles Coren and AA Gill. Independent food critics such as Andy Hayler or foodsnob were less keen.
The interior, designed by David Collins, remains relatively untouched. The circle motif found throughout the restaurant is accompanied by the royal purple which floods the entire room matched by the leather seats of the same colour. There is certainly an air of grandeur in this dining room. As with many restaurants nowadays, the lighting is set perhaps a bit too dim with golden lamps casting more than a single shadow across the dining room. This is a shame since, with such pretty presentation of food, you would think that they would want you to see it.
The seasonal dinner menu here is pricey as you would expect from a 2* restaurant. 3 courses from the ALC will set you back £75 with a choice of 7 dishes per course. On top of that there are supplements for more luxurious items on the menu. An 8 course tasting menu (Menu Prestige as it is called here) is available at £90. A cheaper lunch menu is available at £35 with a choice of 3 dishes per course and also includes Wareing’s famed custard tart which was the winning dessert in the first season of the Great British Menu (2006) which was subsequently served to HRH the Queen on her 80th birthday. Annoyingly enough, the custard tart dessert is NOT available during dinner!
Taramosalata and Avocado with Croutons
Pork & Sage Croquettes
Puff Pastry and Confit Foie Gras Sandwich
While per using the menu a few nibbles were brought to us. Taramosalata made from cod roe and smoked salmon was mixed with a bit of avocado and served with wafer thin croutons. The addition of avocado was questionable, its presence somewhat lost amongst the distinct flavours of the dip. (5/10) Croquettes of pork and sage were enjoyable. The virtually grease-free, crunchy pork balls had good pork flavour with the slightest hint of the sage coming through. (6/10) Last but not least was a sandwich of puff pastry and confit foie gras dusted with a bit of blackcurrant powder and finished off with a squiggle of quince puree. The foie had very good liver flavour and took on a creamy, almost buttery texture from the cooking process. I found the dusting with blackcurrant powder to be ingenious as it provided a minute amount of acidity to serve as a counterpoint to the fatty liver. (7/10)
Bread here, a choice of Country Bread, Swiss Brown, Sourdough or Potato and Honey, is supplied by Flour Station and Poilane. The best of lot here was the Potato and Honey bread with the addition of the potato giving the bread a fluffy, open crumbed texture. I have spoken about the quality of bread from Flour Station in the previous reviews (e.g. Launceston Place) which hovers around the 5/10 region. Whilst they have no doubt chosen a good supplier you would think that a restaurant with 3 star ambitions would make their own bread. At a time when the credit crunch is hitting the food and hospitality scene so badly, making your own bread makes even more sense at it should in theory be more cost effective. Butter was decent English stuff.
Spicy Tomato Soup with Basil Foam and Black Pepper Grissini
An amuse bouche was in the form of a spicy tomato soup served in a shot glass topped with basil infused foam. We were advised to drink it like we would an espresso to which J replied ‘But I’ve never drank an espresso before…’ The soup had deep, rich roasted tomato flavour and the pairing with the creamy basil foam classical. This was accompanied by a few black pepper grissini (aka bread sticks) towering over us which lent a bite to the soup. (7/10)
Pan Fried Veal Sweetbread, Swiss Chard, Cep, Roasted Celeriac and Sauternes Jus
Sitting on top of a bed of roasted celeriac and swiss chard was a magnificent piece of veal sweetbread. Much like what Tristan Welch is doing at Launceston place, the sweetbread is lightly dusted with some spice before being pan fried to perfection. Here, the execution was spot on with the crisp exterior of the sweetbread incasing a soft, moist interior. The accompaniments of earthy ceps and unadvertised black truffles was of course natural. The sauternes jus despite sounding like it has come from way out of left field actually helped to enliven the flavours of the sweetbreads. The jus was sweet yet slightly meaty, packed full of umami goodness. (8/10)
Scottish Lobster, Poached, Braised Trotters, Vanilla Butter
Also highly enjoyable was a warm salad of sorts of butter poached lobster and braised pigs trotters. The combination no matter how odd it sounds works on various levels with the soft trotters giving the crustacean a mixture of saltiness and meatiness. The addition of vanilla butter, a combination this time not so alien, gave the dish a nice perfume. Timing when it comes to lobster has to be spot-on otherwise you are left with a tough piece of rubber and I am glad that it was cooked perfectly, as were the langoustines accompanying it. Perhaps there were one too many garnishes on the plate, but in all honesty it never felt that way as there was a new flavour or combination to try on the plate. (8/10)
Dorset Turbot Pan Fried, Frog’s Legs, Garlic Snail Beignet, Caper Raisin Puree, Jus Roti
A simple dish of pan fried fillet of turbot were accompanied by some quintessential French ingredients. Five juicy, plump frog’s legs, confit with lemon and a single snail beignet were paired with the fish. Execution was spot-on yet again with the frog’s legs the best I have ever tasted, tender and juicy. The beignet, a witty play with chicken kiev, bursting with garlic butter. Like the turbot, the snails themselves hail from Dorset, from a small farm who pride themselves in producing English escargots. A small smear of caper raisin puree provided a touch of sweetness and salty tang which matched the meaty fish. (8/10)
Wild Seabass, Slowly Poached, Roosevelt Potatoes, Coddled Quail’s Egg, Baby Beets, Sea Urchin and Oyster Vermouth
Less successful was a slow poached seabass. For some reason I have found seabass to be disappointing – the beautiful flavour of this subtle fish always seems to be muted. For me, the composition of this dish felt confused. I was expecting the sea urchin sauce to hit me like a sledgehammer but its presence in the vermouth was obscure if it was ever there. (5/10)
Aberdeen Angus Beef Fillet Roasted, Pomme Anna, Glazed Winter Vegetables
Another disappointment was the roast beef fillet. Beef fillet is a cut which is prized for its buttery soft texture and not so much for its robust flavour. It showed with my rare roasted beef which was melt in your mouth tender but was lacking a significantly robust flavour to lift the dish to something that is remarkable. Now this could have been different if it was a Grade 9 Wagyu beef fillet that was being served here. Also it is worth pointing out that the mushrooms (chanterelles and trompettes) which were cooked with a little bit of thyme, were a touch over-salted. Don’t get me wrong – this is by no means a bad dish, but food has to be judged within its context. I would have been happy to eat this dish if I were dining at a bistro or a gastropub, but for me this dish is an extreme let down especially when you factor in the £10 supplement that comes with it. (5/10, just)
Rhug Farm Welsh Suckling Pig cooked for 24 hours, Braised Chicory, Pommes Mousseline
Better was an assiette of suckling pig. If you may recall a version of this dish was also featured on Season 2 of the Great British Menu. One of the stinging critiscm was that there was a severe lack of flavour in part due to the sourcing of the pork itself. If I remember correctly back then the suckling pig was sourced from a farm in Norfolk. I think Wareing himself must have read those reviews because he has (wisely) changed the supplier. What difference outstanding produce makes! I can gladly report that each of the different cuts served (fillet, loin, rib, belly, homemade sausage) was full of wholesome pork flavour. A small pot of pommes mousseline was served with this dish, with a spoonful dabbed onto the plate at table side. The mash while smooth and creamy was not as feather light as for example Robuchon’s. Unfortunately, the same over-salted mushrooms were again present. (7/10)
Passion fruit Jelly, Lemon Cream, Lychee and Vodka Sorbet, Dried Violet Petal
We skipped cheese (a first for me) which is supplied by La Fromagerie. Pre-dessert was a small glass of passion fruit jelly, lemon foam topped with a sorbet of lychee and vodka. Whilst this was a pleasant enough composition, the balance of it was somewhat off. In my opinion, the passion fruit jelly did not possess enough ‘oomphf’ before it was completely drowned away by the tartness of the lemon cream. At least the sorbet avoided the distinct metallic aftertaste of Vodka which I am not too fond of. (5/10)
Lime Iced Mousse, Sweet and Sour Pineapple, Soft Baked Meringue, Liquorice
A half sphere of iced lime mousse (I suppose you can call it an ice cream) was beautifully presented with soft meringue carefully pieced together around it like a jigsaw puzzle. This sat on top of a marinated pineapple carpaccio. The combination of lime and pineapple was a sure winner and was actually pleasantly surprised by the contribution of the liquorice to the dish. This dish was an honest to goodness deconstruction of an Eton mess. (6/10) [As a very random side note, I learnt in one of my lectures today that Liquorice has an effect similar to aldosterone and can cause your blood potassium to be lowered… just so you know]
Sandwiched between 3 wafer thin nutmeg and cinnamon enriched brioche crisps was the orange creme – rich and perfumed with the unmistakable scent of the fruit. The sweet creme was juxtaposed by the bittersweet chocolate sorbet, dusted with gold dust to emphasize its beauty. Salted caramel popcorn also made a surprise appearance on the plate – the salt serving to heighten other flavours on the plate. The plate was stylishly finished of with a sprinkling of cocoa, caramel and brioche crumbs and a few dots of chocolate syrup. (7/10)
Bon Bon Trolley
We finished off dinner with a selection of chocolates from the Bon-bon trolley… that is after we reminded them about it after he had already paid up and about to leave. J being a huge choco-holic was very irate that they did not bring any petit fours along with our tea. Six different chocolates were on offer – Dark Chocolate Ganache (made from 66% Valrhona), White Chocolate & Blackcurrant, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Salted Caramel, Almond Praline and Passion fruit & Mango. These were highly enjoyable. (8/10)
Aside from the one slip with the chocolate, service was overall good – attentive, pleasant and never intrusive. Wine and water were topped up flawlessly. They had the patience to sweep our table for crumbs between each course (and yes I do crumb a lot due to my tendency to nibble on bread).
Coming into this meal, I feared the worse. Confusing flavours? Too many elements? My meal at Marcus Wareing was not as bad as I had feared. In fact I found some of the cooking to be interesting and highly enjoyable in parts. It is just that some of the dishes were distinctly average and lacking in flavour – the beef in particular springs to mind. Desserts themselves were distinctly unremarkable especially when you bear in mind that Wareing previously trained as a pastry chef. Where art thou custard tart when I crave thee.
My biggest grievance has to be the price and relative value for money factor. We were charged a whopping £70 supplement for 2 extra main courses (ie £35 per main course) which was rather OTT. This is even more annoying when you take into consideration that 3 course ALC is £75. To put this into perspective, at both Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester and the Capital, they charged us £15 for each additional main course.
In summary, I did have a good time at Marcus Wareing and yes I did enjoy my meal. However, I personally think that there is still a lot of work to be done for them to secure the status of best 2* restaurant in London before they even think about 3*s.