Marcus

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Or rather, a chef is born free, and then they get a Michelin star. This tends to be my feeling whenever I come out of a two star restaurant. With the exception of Dinner by Heston, I’m yet to have a 2 star meal that was truly memorable. Fera, Sketch and The Square all blend into one memory. A memory of a certain type of cooking, one that was excellent at the time of eating, but forgettable soon afterwards. These restaurants sit in a purgatory. They lack that freshness and enthusiasm to push boundaries that many of the new 1 star restaurants do, and they aren’t the game changers at the top of their field like the 3 star restaurants. Instead it sits uncomfortably between- it is cooking that has earned its stripes over the years and honed in a style of its own, and will always deliver a fantastic meal. But it seems that many of these chefs, in search of that elusive third star, have forgotten what got them their first. They are focused on maintaining and perfecting what they have, not thinking outside of the box. The box here being the dining room filled with a predominantly wealthy, middle aged clientele, who are not here to be challenged by a new dining experience, but instead just want that dish they’ve seen the (no doubt now celebrity) chef cook on TV. There’s also the contracts these chefs have with the prestigious 5 star hotels, which no doubt are like getting a 5 year contract at Chelsea. The stand out performances that got them noticed in the first place stop, and instead they go into cruise control, producing the same high standard each time, without pushing on. They’re like a world class player earning their final big pay cheque. Fully deserved, but you know that they can still do better if they really try.

In the other camp, sit restaurants like The Typing Room and The Clove Club, that strive to try things new, and that for the moment are cooking without any chains. But then, they aren’t yet cooking to the standard of a restaurant like Marcus. So it’s a fine balance. Many of these up-and-coming chefs, just like you see on Great British Menu, are so determined to make their mark and get noticed that they will push to do more with new surprising flavour combinations or the latest cooking techniques. But this doesn’t always improve. A great chef knows that less is more. No doubt Marcus Wareing and all the other masters of high end cooking, were once just like that, but a point must come when the experimenting stops and the honing and perfecting becomes the focus. So really it comes down to what camp you prefer. A less perfect but more exciting and challenging meal, or a perfect but more familiar and safe meal.

Today it was the latter- as soon as you walk into the dining room you know the brand of cooking and type of experience you are in for. A library hush, more staff than diners, a decor made up of neutral colours (it’s duck-egg blue in Marcus) and a predominantly suited middle aged clientele. There was a choice of either the full Taster menu (£120) or the lighter Taste of Autumn lunch menu- 5 courses for £49, or £75 with wine pairing. The menu was refreshingly simplified, listing only the three primary ingredients of each dish. There was no aggrandising techniques, instead the cook disguises himself in the menu. The ingredients are king here.

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An amuse bouche of polenta cake with a black olive crumb and fresh basil and then Dorset crab with peach, were both strong indications of the cooking to come. Flavours that are familiar, but have been lifted to the best they can get.

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A starter of burrata, aubergine and sourdough was a superb demonstration of this. It was lifted by a little heat from paprika and a fresh crunch from spring onion, along with some excellent olive oil. Crispy Rhug Estate chicken with sweetcorn and tarragon, threatened to be a little on the sweet side, but the portion size was perfectly judged to prevent this.

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For mains, the lamb neck, with beetroot, runner beans and pearl barely was again a tried combination that was cooked to its full potential. I would have preferred to see the lamb pinker- if it hadn’t been so juicy (perhaps from being cooked sous vide) it would have come across as being over-done. The roasted bream with chorizo and tomato was again was playing it safe, and was the only dish where I felt the balance wasn’t quite right. The tomatoes were too sharp and combined with the smokiness of the chorizo the fish was overpowered and lost a little in the dish.

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Next a good Lancashire cheese with a smoky fig chutney and poppy seed crackers, followed by plum, vanilla and damson which was refreshing and light, with some perfect choux buns.

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Then the famous egg custard and nutmeg tart. A small square bite that summed up this brand of cooking. It looked simple, and of course is a flavour you’ve had many times. But not this good. The custard managed to be textureless, so that the only bite you get is from the crust of the pastry, and then the rich creamy flavour and hit of nutmeg washes over. If you asked any aspiring chef in the country who is making their name pushing new boundaries, to attempt to cook this custard tart, they would not come close to replicating it.

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Lunch here costs the best part of £90 a head (with a service and wine), but that’s to be expected, and the cooking and ingredients justify the price. It a three hour lunch, so either bring your iPhone or really like the person you are dining with, because three hours next to anybody will threaten to drag. My feeling after eating at Marcus, was that the cooking was precise and measured, that every single ingredient was taken to its full potential, and so each dish that was served was as good as it could be. But then, writing this, with the exception of the egg custard tart, I had to look over the menu again to recall exactly what it was I’d eaten. Perhaps it’s easier to remember a dish like Meat Fruit, which stands out primarily because of its technique and appearance. Still, it felt that with some of London’s best cooks and one of Britain’s finest chefs at the helm here, that there’s a feeling of taking what they have got and cooking within those 2 star parameters for the duck-egg blue dining room. I’d love to try the food if they took these chains off.

8.5/10 (££££)

The Berkeley, Wilton Pl, London SW1X 7RL

Marcus - The Berkeley Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Similar Restaurants:  Dinner by Heston

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The Gilbert Scott

Not too long ago King’s Cross was better known for its greasy kebabs and hookers than its culinary delights. It was that seedy area you always tried to avoid. Thanks to a hefty reinvestment it is now an urban hotspot, with a list of trendy restaurants to choose from, as well as the Kerb street-food market. There are few better symbols of the area’s rebirth than the St. Pancras building. Finally getting off the train in London no longer dashes your hopes of what the big city might have in store. With this grand building, comes The Gilbert Scott. In itself this is a sure sign that King’s Cross is on the up, given that no other than Marcus Wareing, the feisty dictator of the two Michelin starred restaurant in the Berkeley, is attached. And as a side note I like that it isn’t called Marcus Wareing at The Renaissance, because unlike other chefs he hasn’t sold himself to have his name above the door of a restaurant he doesn’t always cook in.

The restaurant matches the grandeur of the building with one of the most opulent dining rooms in London. On a packed Thursday evening it was a world away from the polluted Euston Road outside. If the room itself isn’t enough to please, then I’d defy any Brit not to be seduced by the menu. It reads like a greatest hits of British classics. There’s no fancy cooking techniques mentioned, just faith in good ingredients, the way that proper British cooking should be.

A bottle of Coates and Seely Rose (£74) was a pleasant alternative to a rose champagne, and got things off to a smooth start. It was just a shame that the service began to falter from here. First of all we had to ask 4 different waiters for a bottle of water before one arrived, and then after I knocked a glass of champagne everywhere no new napkin arrived after I’d mopped it up. These were all little hiccups that I didn’t mind too much. It was when the starters still hadn’t come an hour later that I began to get a bit frustrated.

Thankfully when the food did arrive it was good enough to make us forgive and forget the slow start. The Omelette Arnold Bennett (£10.50) was filled with Gruyère cheese and flakes of smoked haddock. It was incredibly light and had the texture of a souffle.

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My starter of foie gras was fine but the accompanying jelly (I forget what it was) was just too strong in flavour, and combined with the pear it overpowered the delicate taste of the foie gras.

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The Yorkshire fish cake with nettles and tartare sauce (£8) was the pick of the starters. It was a big thing as well, with plenty of succulent fish keeping things moist.

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The Dorset Crab (£10.50) with radish and fennel was lovely and fresh, and the crab was probably the best I’ve tasted. There was also a really generous heap of it.

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For main the Wood Pigeon in a pudding (£19.50) was served with baby onions and mushrooms in a good Yorkshire pudding. It was a deliciously hearty and comforting dish.  Bold flavours that can’t help but please.

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The rib of beef for two (£66) was right up there with the Hawksmoor beef. It was a huge hunk of meat with a Flintstone sized bone to suck the marrow from. A side of fries (£4) came with a cracking tangy mayonnaise. This really was belly pleasing stuff.

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The braised ox cheek (£19.50) came with bubble and squeak and chanterelles and again it hit all of the right notes. This is the type of cooking that restores your faith in British cuisine.

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To finish we shared the Yorkshire rhubarb posset (£7.50) which was that needed bit of freshness after a rich and heavy meal.

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The sticky toffee pudding (£8) was rich and avoided being too heavy. That sauce really was sticky.

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We were then invited to see the kitchen which helped to smooth things over. It was a shame we hadn’t gone down in the middle of service, as there was little action at the end of the night. I had hoped for swearing and heat, instead there was a few laid back chefs doing stock checks. Still though it was a nice unexpected gesture.

Everything about the restaurant from the grandness of the room to the excellent menu and strong cooking made it an enjoyable expeirience. It was just a shame we caught the service on what I hope was an off night. It is also decent value for money, as eating food this good in surroundings like this could easily take you up to the £80 a head mark. Here you’re looking at closer to the £50 mark.

Food: 9/10

Service: 5.5/10

Atmosphere: 7.5/10

Value: 8/10

Overall: 7.5/10

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Rd, London NW1 2AR

The Gilbert Scott on Urbanspoon

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