‘Summer was everything good to eat’
A trip to London to see the Muppets Show live meant we had a perfect opportunity for a swanky lunch
Chef: Marcus Wareing
World Ranking: N/A
Michelin Stars: 2
A bit of googling reveals that Marcus Wareing has been on my radar for 12 years now after his first appearance on Great British Menu (he came second and served the dessert course at the final banquet) which was one of the programmes that drew me towards fine dining for the first time. I hadn’t realised just how long ago that was to be honest so it seems a surprise that it took so long for me to try his food for the first time but his appearance on MasterChef: The Professionals was a timely reminder to get down to London and see if his take on British fare matched up to my TV based perceptions.
The Berkley is a pretty swish location but whilst some people hung around outside posing with supercars, I was more interested in getting inside and having something to eat! In its 10th year, the restaurant is surprisingly relaxed considering its lavish surroundings. Upon entrance, you walk through a bright, open room serving afternoon tea which leads into the darker, more traditional restaurant. Muted colours, button back chairs and warm lighting are fitting to the location and suitably classy.
With three menu’s on offer (Lunch £55, Taste of Summer £105 -5 courses and Taste of Summer -8 courses £120) we spent some time debating our options before deciding to just go the whole hog and order the 8 course option. The meal fell in between our wedding anniversary, my birthday and the purchase of our first house so we felt like celebrating.
We kicked off with a cone of foie gras and chunks of fennel bread that were so good it was difficult to turn down the offer of having a few more slices. Our first course was a thick disc of juniper cured trout topped with edible flowers, to the side little chunks of cucumber and a drop of rose infused yogurt which remained light, slightly sour and not overly floral. Accompanied with a G&T this was a refreshing first course and I was particularly keen on the texture of the fish which remained firm and meaty.
Moving on, one of the courses we most looked forward to was the scallop topped with caviar. The first thing we noticed was a strong, slightly smoky scent of the bacon broth that was served at the table. When they say the smell of bacon can turn a vegetarian it’s not a lie, this happened to me many years ago! The scallop and shrimp were served raw and plentiful in size and whilst caviar is something I’m never too fussed about, it was a satisfying accompaniment to the bacon.
Classic flavours followed with a plate of tomato ( a ‘black bulls heart’ variety), strong cheese, basil and the oh so British Marmite brushed bread. Whilst we were a little confused to hear the table next to us talk about the asparagus on top of it (it was a spring onion….) we very quickly cleared our plates. Good quality tomatoes are one of my favourite things to eat at this time of the year and reminded me of our holiday to Madrid earlier this year. We have been trying to buy different varieties of tomatoes and I’m looking forward to growing my own next year.
For me, the dish I was most excited to eat was the quail with salt baked beetroot. Quail is something I’ve cooked at home with some success (Note from Jordan: It was a once such a massive success that despite me cooking 6 tapas dishes from scratch, the single Quail dish Casey made won hands down) Beetroot is in frequent abundance in our house so I’m always interested to try things that I might be able to recreate at home. It came served 3 ways, slow roasted, finely cut and lightly pickled but also in a peculiar puree/sauce that I couldn’t quite place. It was earthy and rich, but the texture slightly thicker and smoother than I had expected. I’ve seen how pressed duck is made recently (essentially extracting blood from a carcass and making a sauce) and the night before we went to London I had been reading a new book ‘Feeding Hannibal’ which is a mix of recipes and insight to the TV show that aired a few years ago and whilst I doubt there is any link there, I have no idea what went into the beetroot puree we had but I couldn’t get these ideas out of my head at the time.
Our final main course of the meal was a combination of some of my favourite ingredients, lamb, olive and harissa. For reason’s I’ve never really understood, lamb is just one of the ingredients that we don’t tend to eat much of at home but will always order when it’s on a menu. There is no photographic evidence of this course, it arrived at the table and spent very little time there. It’s difficult to think of much to say about other than it was excellently cooked and well-balanced but to be honest, that’s all there is to say. This was the kind of dish you wish you could cook at home to show off but instead of a nicely finished plate that looks like it came from a cookery book, the home version tends to be a bit flabby, a little cold and nowhere near as pretty. Timing dishes has always been a problem for me and it’s never more apparent than when I cooks meat and veg.
Cheese was an optional course and having learnt from many a previous meal we decided to share a cheese plate rather than have one each, as much as we both love cheese, in the middle of a tasting menu you do only need a very small amount. We had 5 varieties, covering all the common options your would expect with a plate of condiments on the side. It’s cheese, it was obviously good. Many moons ago I would have balked at the idea of a strong blue cheese or a soft goat or sheep cheese that has to be scooped of the plate but now these are the things I get most excited about. As with many things, the beauty of cheese comes in the variety of options available and I still look on in a childlike wonder every time a cheese trolley rolls towards our table.
Pudding time. With the baking heat I was pleased to see some lighter options on the menu and to be honest, didn’t really feel in the mood for anything sweet. We had “Peaches and Cream” served in two separate dishes followed by Strawberries with vanilla fudge, rose and fennel. Both dishes perfectly summed up my thoughts on Marcus, traditionally influenced food with a strong ‘British’ feel but cleanly done, feeling precise, modern and measured.
Whilst the peaches were excellent in their little metal tin I favoured the strawberries, not just because of the mixture of textures and fresh strawberries but because I don’t think I’ve ever had a dish that included proper fudge. Fudge is so intrinsically British but also a bit naff- seeing it on a menu brought an unexpected smile to my face.
Because we are clearly ‘into’ food we watch a fair few cooking programmes, so whilst watching the kitchen from afar we couldn’t help but notice Craig Johnston (MasterChef the Professionals) hard at work. We were fans of his when he appeared on the programme and as an added bonus we were given a quick tour of the kitchen as lunch service drew to a close.
Added bonus of a little dessert as we were celebrating a multitude of different things!
Marcus made for an elegant yet unfussy lunch, it’s the kind of place you could take your Mom without worrying about any overly experimental dishes that might raise eyebrows. Food is top-notch, whilst Marcus is very much a TV Chef now, it hasn’t detracted from the performance of the restaurant.
Lunch: £120 per person
Additional cheese course: £19.50 per person
The Berkeley, Wilton Place, London SW1X 7RL