Where does the time go? Who would have thought that just one week ago, Myself and Nicola were busy packing our suitcase before heading home after a fantastic long weekend break in London. We had made the (rather eventful & unfortunately very delayed) journey to London in order to do a bit of Christmas shopping, make the obligatory trip to Harrods, take in a West End show, and hopefully enjoy a few decent meals in the Capital before whiling the 'wee hours' away in some of Charlotte Street's finest bars.
Unfortunately for us, London doesn't seem to be the kind of place where you can simply walk into a bar at 10pm on a Sunday evening and get a drink. In fact, London seemed very keen to close early all weekend, this despite the fact that it was the weekend between Christmas and New Year. I was also surprised to see that a large number of food businesses had made the business decision to close shop for the whole of the festive season!
So whilst London may have been a bit of a damp squib from a drinking point of view, there is no getting away from the fact that you can easily enjoy a decent meal in a host of fine restaurants. We enjoyed a hearty lunch at Red Onion on Kingly Street , and our lunch at Dei Frescobaldi in Harrods was a fantastic way to break up our luxury shopping day, but the highlight of the weekend was undoubtably our visit to the two Michelin starred restaurant, Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, in Knightsbridge.
Marcus Wareing has a long relationship with The Berkeley, previously working with Gordon Ramsey at Pétrus in the same location before opening the eponymous flagship Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley in 2008, and quickly establishing it as one of the top restaurants in London.
The weather on our last day in London was horrible, with heavy rain and strong winds helping to blow us along the length of New Bond Street. In order to get out of the rain, Nicola took shelter inside the Michael Kors shop just long enough to purchase another fancy handbag, before we made our way to Knightsbridge.
We arrived early and after freshening up, we had time to grab a drink (and our breath) and relax in The Caramel Room - a dining room/bar that offers a perfect mix of modern chic & old school charm, and is the home of the famous Prêt-à-Portea. Before we knew it, it was one o'clock and time for us to take our first steps into proper fine dining.
Stepping through the door into the restaurant, we both felt a strange nervous excitement. After all, we've never experienced Michelin star treatment and our expectations were high. We were warmly welcomed by restaurant manager Daniel Greenock, recently returned from a year working in New York at the three Michelin star restaurant Eleven Madison Place, before being seated at lovely corner table with a fantastic view across the restaurant.
It didn't take too long for the nerves to settle and after the champagne trolley made a visit to our table we sat back savouring the atmosphere, sipping bubbly and enjoying the little profiterole like, cheese gougères that made the perfect appetiser.
Fine dining can be an expensive way to eat out, however most Michelin restaurants do offer great value lunch menus throughout the week. The lunch menu that is served up at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley starts at £58 for three courses, with enough choice on the menu to make picking and choosing fairly easy. In stark contrast to the pared down lunch menu, the wine menu looked like a volume of Encyclopedia Britannica with a massive selection of carefully selected wines from all over the globe. We ordered a bottle of Gavi, the Italian dry white wine, and gave our lunch order to our waiter then sat back in anticipation of gastronomic delights that we were about to experience.
I'm sure that we could have continued drinking champagne all afternoon, but in the words of Freddie Mercury - 'The show must go on', and it wasn't long before we were presented with a little appetizer of ricotta mousse with spiced pumpkin seeds and cold pumpkin soup. This was a great way to get us in the mood for food. The mousse was wonderfully light and airy, the crunchy texture of the pumpkin seeds. The spices from the seeds worked well with the creamy pumpkin purée, making sure that our taste buds were wakened and ready to go.
I had ordered the Lamb, Ravioli, Celeriac & Pine Nut to start. When my dish came to the table, it was like a little work of art with a light ravioli pillow (about the size of the palm of my hand) which was stuffed with tender, melt in the mouth, slow cooked lamb. The ravioli was full of flavour, and when combined with the mild celeriac purée, toasted pine nuts, and sticky reduction, It was a joy to eat.
Nicola wasn't too sure what to expect when she ordered the Quail, Foie Gras, & Quince starter but was hugely impressed when it arrived. The quail was served as a terrine with disc of smooth foie gras running through the middle. This was garnished with slices of blanched chicory (we think, but forgot to ask) and a sweetened quince purée. The balance of texture and flavour on this dish was top notch. The flavour of the chunky quail terrine, and the smooth, buttery flavour of the foie were the perfect match. Nicola did let me try a little....but only once!
With the starters done, we both took a little toilet break and when I came back to the table I noticed that red mine glasses had been set alongside our other glasses. My slight confusion didn't last long as we were soon presented a surprise course of Roasted Pigeon, with compliments of the kitchen. The sommelier then poured us a glass each of a matched red wine from Tuscany.
The pigeon dish was a proper treat, rich and succulent pigeon breast resting on a bed of well flavoured put lentils and a warmed egg yolk, finished off with a crispy skinned pigeon drumstick. The Le Difese was a very nice match to this dish, light but with an oaky finish, and certainly a wine that I would look for in the future.
I would like to take this first opportunity to thank the staff for their generosity in providing us with this extra course and matching wine. I was very much appreciated by both myself and Nicola. At this point in our meal we were able to take a short interval before out main courses arrived.
In a weird twist, we both ordered fish for our main course. Nicola is a huge fan of sea bream so her decision was easy, but I was torn between all four options on the menu. If I hadn't had pork belly the night before then my decision would have been far easier but in the end I ordered the Halibut, Leek, Polenta & Purslane. This turned out to be another visual masterpiece with a doorstep sized fillet of moist, meaty fish, dressed with bite sized chunks of braised Italian leek, seasoned dollops of polenta, a stem of wilted asparagus, and thin slices of chestnut helping to add another texture dimension to the dish. The halibut was perfectly cooked and worked well with the sweet softened leeks, whilst the purslane added a slightly sour and salty lift to the mix. My only criticism of my own main was that I wasn't overly impressed with the polenta (not sure why, maybe I just prefer potatoes with my fish.) and would not have missed it if it wasn't there. Although I did still clear the plate!
I was slightly jealous of Nicola's main when it arrived. The two crispy fillets of sea bream accompanied by goats' curd, parsnips and chervil root, looked amazing. Once again, the perfectly cooked fish was the star of the show but the supporting cast of sharp goats' curd (which were like little goats cheese gnocchi) and roasted parsnips helped the sea bream win the battle of the fish dishes. At this point Nicola was beginning to feel a little
fool full, especially after our earlier extra course, have no fear though as I jumped to her rescue and helped her finish - although I'm not sure that that is the done thing in a Michelin starred restaurant.
We were both beginning to feel very much at home within the burgundy walls of the restaurant, and I cast my mind to lovable rogue Derek Trotter standing in the wine bar thinking to himself "now this is a bit of me"! Our waiter brought the menu back to let us choose our dessert but we had already made an earlier decision to share the Pear Tarte Tatin, Spiced Milk, Mulled Wine & Clotted Cream. I'm sure that the other desserts would have been delicious but with the cold winter weather stills wildly blowing outside, the tarte Tatin was sure to warm us through. As we sat enjoying the wait for our pudding, yet another little appetizing treat was served up to us with a cute little shot glass layered with calvados soaked apples, chestnut mousse, ginger and cinnamon crumbs and topped with a sharp apple sorbet. Talk about fancy apple crumble? I loved the sorbet and now that Santa has brought be a nice cream maker, maybe I should make an attempt at my own apple sorbet in the coming weeks.
As our dessert was being brought to the table we were treated to another little snippet of generosity when sommelier, Joris Beijn, declared that "it would be a cardinal sin not to have a dessert wine with our pudding" and poured us each a glass of chilled Disznoko Tokaji Aszu. I'm really getting a taste for the sweet dessert wines and this gem from Hungary is wonderful. Joris explained a little about how the Aszu wines are produced from overripe grapes that develop botrytis or 'noble rot'. This link echoes the information that Joris was able to effortlessly rhyme off.
Our pudding was the perfect way to end a fantastic dining experience. Sticky sweet pear and buttery flaky pastry were accompanied by a delicious spiced milk ice cream, sticky mulled wine reduction, clotted cream and home made honeycomb. This was a proper grown up pudding, the aromatic spices from the milky ice cream and mulled wine making the Tatin taste like Christmas on a plate. Absolutely delicious and I'm sure that Stephanie Tatin would have been very proud of how her legacy was served up today.
By the time that our pudding was finished, we were beginning to get a little conscious of our time. We had been seated for the better part of three hours and knew that we better get ourselves together as we had a train back to Glasgow to catch, so decided against coffee and settled up our bill. As I mentioned earlier, there were a few items that we had received that did not feature on our final bill, so again I would like to thank the restaurant for their generosity over the course of the day.
We had been made to feel very welcome from the moment that we walked through the door and despite the fact that this was our most expensive meal to date, we certainly don't regret making the decision to visit Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley. As an added bonus, Joris kindly gave us a tour of the kitchen and introduced us to head chef, Mark Froydenlund and a couple of his team who by this point in the afternoon were busy prepping for the evening service. Sadly, the big boss wasn't around, which is unusual as Marcus, rather than being a figurehead and name above the door, is one of the few Michelin star chefs who is almost always present his own kitchen. Ah well, maybe I'll catch up with him another time.
As we came to the end of our first Michelin dining experience, there was no doubt that we had been wowed by the high quality food and impeccable presentation of everything that came out of the kitchen. Our expectations had been very high and head chef Mark Froydenlund and his team had delivered a meal that we will long remember. When people think about fine dining and Michelin stars they often put huge emphasis on the what happens in the kitchen but today we learnt that it's not all about the food. The restaurant staff have a huge roll to play in making sure that every diner feels comfortable, and Daniel Greenock's staff done just that, there was no mistake that there were staff about but at no pint did they ever seem to be in the way. We certainly didn't feel out of place or intimidated by the surroundings, and little things like having the table pulled out when you come back from the restroom, napkins being re-folded in your absence, the choreography that is clear to see when food leaves the kitchen - I could go on but I'm sure you get the point.
So to sum up, you get what you pay for when you choose to visit a Michelin restaurant. High quality and expertly presented food, coupled with a level of service that made us feel like royalty. This was an experience to remember and something that we would happily repeat and definitely recommend anyone with a love of food to try.
As it turned out, we were some of the last diners to experience Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley as the restaurant is to close after the final service on Saturday 18th January and after a major refurbishment and rebrand, plans to reopen in March as 'Marcus'.
Chef patron Marcus Wareing is aiming to bring a more engaging and inviting approach to the luxury dining experience. I'd be interested to see how the team can improve on the our own previous experience - Looks like I'll need to arrange another trip to London in the coming months to check out the new approach.
You can keep up to date with everything that's going on at the restaurant at www.marcus-wareing.com, or on Facebook and Twitter.