"Excellent food, warm and luxurious surroundings and faultless service"Review Rating: Reviewed by All In London
Knowing the restaurant has hit the top of the ‘All In One Ultimate Restaurant List’ for the year means that I go armed with very high expectations for my evening at the much celebrated ‘Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley’. I am almost apprehensive as we pull up and the lovely doorman opens the cab door – the closest to star treatment I’ve had in a while - as I don’t want it to disappoint.
Once in the Berkeley lobby, the restaurant is accessed via a dark door at the end of the Caramel Room; I knew the restaurant was there, but still felt as though I was entering a private members club or mysterious rendezvous point; perhaps that’s the idea and is meant to add to a sense of exclusivity.
We plucked up the courage to enter the door (was Narnia beyond?!) and were warmly greeted by all members of staff that were present between the entrance and our table, which was five I counted! Only a quarter or so of the tables were occupied on our arrival for a 7pm reservation; somewhat of a surprise given that it was such a struggle to get a table. When the restaurant was fully occupied about an hour and a half later the penny dropped; this isn’t the kind of place that tries to turn the tables half-way through the evening. You come here to linger, to soak the atmosphere, to feel flattered by the oh-so attentive service; oh yes, and to eat.
The table and the surroundings were beautiful; elegant rather than kitsch chandeliers, rich and warm (read opulent!) plum colours rather than clinical white, and bold circle motifs and flower arrangements rather than a clinical backdrop that one may have expected of a restaurant in this class. I noticed the table cloth; just white, but so crisp, so perfectly ironed, so symmetrical; there had clearly been much attention paid to even such a relatively small detail.
Moments after we sat down the beautiful, grand, even theatrical champagne trolley made its entrance, accompanied by the young but knowledgeable and friendly Sommelier. Three champagnes were on offer, the cheapest at a ‘mere’ £14.50 a glass (we indulged) going up to a Bollinger special cuvée (I didn’t ask the price, but doubt my credit card would have gone the distance!). Not really a champagne expert, but having been to quite a few well-to-do weddings and enjoyed a trip to the Champagne region a few years ago, I feel that I’m qualified enough to say, this one really was absolutely delicious. The Sommelier had selected his offering well.
The wine list (perhaps more accurately the unwieldy volume/bible/encyclopaedia) arrived shortly after with a vast selection of fine wines from across the world, including lesser known vintages and varieties, as well as regions. It was like standing in front of the toothpastes at the supermarket; far too much to choose from to make a fully informed decision. We decided to go with the Sommelier selection to match each part of the meal instead. Just FYI though, I did spot quite a few bottles at £35, which for well-selected wine in a restaurant such as this seemed to be pretty decent value to me.
I had the vegetarian menu (which I realise is rather inappropriate in a French fine-dining restaurant!), whist my companion had the standard menu. To get the minor criticisms out of the way early, I found two courses (‘Goat’s curd, shallot, bread’ and ‘Wild mushrooms, cauliflower textures, almonds’) barely luke-warm so much so that I wasn’t clear if they were being served as cold salads or hot dishes. In addition the bread served with the former was burnt and so detracted from some of the other delicate flavours, whilst the shallots were quite tough and therefore difficult to cut with a standard knife. The burnt bread issue was replicated on the clusters that were served on my companion’s ‘Quail, goats curd, girolles, peas, caper butter’. He also said that this course was rather lacking in strong flavours (other than the bread!), which was a shame, given that his first two had been so deliciously full of flavour. The Foie gras to start for example, can be rather metallic and overbearing; here it was perfectly balanced with the accompanying blackberries and cobnuts, delicate and perfectly judged.
Highlights for both of us were the main courses: ‘Falafel, onion, cornichon and pink peppercorn yoghurt’ in my case, and ‘Beef, cucumber, raspberries, nasturtium’ for my companion. Both dishes stood out as truly unique, beautifully presented and brimming with complimenting and delicious flavours. The pudding too was outstanding. We both had ‘Earl Grey tea parfait, milk, caramelised honey, sable’ which is something neither of us would ordinarily have chosen from a full menu. However the Earl Grey worked so beautifully and delicately in the parfait, never overpowering, and the whole dish was so much lighter than I expected; rounding off the delicious meal perfectly.
Over and above the wonderful flavours we enjoyed, I felt that the service during the entire evening was head and shoulders above anything I have experienced elsewhere. It was all seamless and faultless. Rather than being allocated a waiter to the table, each person clearly had areas of responsibility which meant that we had perhaps six or so different staff attending to our table. This could have made it less personal, less friendly, but instead each person took the time to engage in conversation with us when appropriate and treat us individually. At no point were we left waiting, was anything missed, anything brought twice or was a mistake made. To achieve that level of teamwork in what came across as an effortless way, was exceptional.
The seven course set menu with the addition of amuse bouche and petit fours came in at around £100 a head. With the wine selection and service this was around £200 per head. Add to that the champagne and coffee (the latter of which I did think it was rather stingy not to include in a near £100 set menu!) and it was closer to £250 a head. Clearly this isn’t a price level that would allow this to become a weekly fixture, but something that can be indulged in as a special occasion, and special it will certainly be.
p.s. I wanted to award a 9.5 out of 10
All In London reviewed Marcus on Mon 12 Sep 2011