Marcus, nestled deep within The Berkeley, in Knightsbridge, had troubled beginnings. Heading up this eponymous establishment is Marcus Wareing, perhaps most widely known for his role as a judge on MasterChef: The Professionals. Look back to the beginning of his career, however, and Marcus was in the employ of Gordon Ramsay, the two having worked together since Gordon opened Aubergine in 1993. It was originally ranting Ramsay who held tenure at The Berkeley, in Pétrus (which has nothing at all to do with Petrus, of course, although I would be disappointed if there weren’t at least two or three vintages on the list).
In truth standing guard over the stove at Pétrus was none other than the aforementioned Marcus, the two chefs having entered into a partnership. But Marcus was keen for more autonomy and when the contract at The Berkeley came up for renewal they fell out, and before long they were talking to each other through their lawyers. The result of the conflict was that Marcus Wareing secured the new contract, and Gordon Ramsay was out on his ear. He relocated Pétrus just down the road, near the heart of Belgravia, while Marcus stayed on at the hotel. A decade later, he is still there, and today this is just one of a number of feathers in his cap; others include The Gilbert Scott, in the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.
One damp and dismal evening in April I weaved my across Wilton Place, darting between a diamond-white Mercedes Maybach on one side and a tumescent-purple Lamborghini on the other, to reach the front steps of The Berkeley. Darting past the doorman and broaching the threshold in the manner of Chaplin’s Little Tramp, once inside I squinted to avoid ‘bling blindness’ and made a run for the restaurant. Marcus would appear to have a suitably affluent and willing clientele crammed into the hotel’s 190 bedrooms and suites, and yet to my surprise the restaurant itself is an oasis of calm and relative normality. There was not a single rose-gold Blancpain or Hublot Big Bang Black in sight. And with the 2008 Montlouis Le Volagré from the late Stéphane Cossais waiting to be rescued from the wine list, I had a sneaking suspicion that this could be a very good evening indeed.
To the food. One bite of the potato and fennel bread, somewhat cake-like at its heart, warm and comforting, this core encased in a crisp, glistening, delicately crunchy crust, nearly had me cancelling our orders and demanding the kitchen send out two more loaves. Fortunately I resisted this temptation, and what followed did not disappoint. Scottish langoustines with potato, purslane and grapefruit demonstrated immediately why Marcus (the restaurant, not the man) picked up its first Michelin star just seven months after opening, and its second star the following year. It felt innovative, remarkable, each mouthful a surprising combination. Jersey Royal potatoes with trompette and Tunworth custard was a more heartwarming combination of rich comfort food that did exactly what comfort food should do.
Cornish turbot with artichoke, cashew and Swiss chard was another beautiful combination of flavours and textures, the leaves of artichoke by themselves would have satisfied me, and as I am very sensitive to chard’s bitterness anybody who can make an edible dish from this unholy leaf has my admiration. Herdwick lamb with crispy breast, chimichurri and Tropea onion was another fine success. Perhaps the only disappointment was the salted milk chocolate aero with sorrel and clementine, the latter flavours vivacious and interesting, while the chocolate aero lacked depth of flavour and texture. Or maybe I am just desperately trying to find something about this dinner I didn’t enjoy? A dessert of cherry, Marsala and fresh almond also felt a little safe, but it was still delicious.
We refused nightcaps. We refused coffee. But we felt obliged to have a look around the kitchens when invited though, partly as we had already declined a tour of the restaurant’s art collection, partly because the staff had been nothing but kind, attentive, interested and clearly at ease with themselves and their various clientele. There were more chefs crammed into a surprisingly tiny kitchen than I ever would have imagined was possible. Tucked into an alcove here, behind a railing, were a group of high-rolling diners enjoying an evening at the chef’s table, an experience which felt, momentarily, like a visit to London Zoo. I wasn’t sure, however, whether I was the visitor, looking in on feeding time, or the exhibit, enduring the gaze or twenty curious eyes.
A visit to Marcus is an expensive way to dine in London, but this was a dinner that will live on in my memory for a very long time. Unlike some heavily-starred establishments I have frequented over the years, a number of which have left me feeling distinctly underwhelmed, this was a wonderful experience which left me satisfied, slaked and satiated. Was it pricy? Yes. Was it worth every penny? Yes. Would I go again? Yes. Would I park my seventeen-year old Toyota outside, among the Bentleys, the Maseratis, the Lamborghinis and all the other automobile exotica? No, of course not.
The doorman does that for you.
Prices: Dinner for two here was £340.88, based on two à la carte menus at £85 per head, two gin and tonics at £18 each (hello, Knightsbridge), a £6 supplement for the langoustine and an £8 potato side dish, and £80 for the Montlouis. This included a 12.5% service charge. At the time of this visit the tasting menus were £105 for five courses, or £120 for eight courses. The minimum spend for the chef’s table was, I was informed, £2,500, but it does seat ten people. (30/6/18)