Sunday, 18 October 2015

London - Marcus ten years on

The very first Michelin Starred restaurant I went to was the two star Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley in Central London.  It was also my first trip to Europe, and to say that I was excited was an understatement.  At the time, London was the epicentre of global cuisine and Marcus Wareing was in the top 100 restaurants in the world.  It was a lock - I was going to have the best meal of my life!

But I didn't...

Now, I'm not saying that the meal was bad, far from it, it just wasn't the mind blowing and life changing experience that I'd built it up to be.  Sure, the service we received was outstanding, in fact, up until that point, I don't think we'd ever really experienced service at such a professional level.  It's just that the food was good, and I was expecting great.

Fast forward a bit, quite a bit in fact.  I was travelling back to London, this time solo for work and had a free day to hit a few restaurants, one of which was lunch the Square (see post here), followed by dinner on the same day, at Marcus.  Now, Marcus was the new name for Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley and while still located inside the Berkeley Hotel, the restaurant had taken on a slightly more casual approach to dining.  Oh, it was still rated as a two Michelin starred restaurant.

I was keen for redemption, would I find it?

It was like strolling down memory lane, quite weird in fact.  I made my way to the Berkeley Hotel, which is a beautiful old building and stately residence, through the main entrance and out to the back dining room that still held the Marcus restaurant.  After being greeted by the friendly maitre d', I was shown to my table, which against all odds was the same table I'd sat at on my very first visit!

It was at this point that the first major deviation from the more formal previous iteration of the restaurant occurred.  I remember a leather bound menu from my first visit, this time replaced with simple place card menu.  It was a much more relaxed approach to the menu and was definitely more approachable than a leather-bound volume!  I had my first major dilemma, should I try the tasting menu, or go a la carte?  After eating an eight course tasting menu for lunch, sanity prevailed and I decided on a simple three course a la carte.

Each of the menu items were a simple list of ingredients that left much to the imagination, yet with no real idea of how the dishes would come.  My starter of lobster, carrot and black garlic left me guessing until my colourful but messy plate of food was presented.  The lobster tail was surrounded by textures of carrot prepared in strips and a puree, along with little dollops of black garlic puree.  The lobster was well cooked and had a subtle sweet flavour, but I found the carrots to be a little lacking in flavour, which surprised the heck out of me.  Even the black garlic puree didn't elicit the type of flavour I was expecting and as a consequence, the whole dish felt a little flat.

My main consisted of duck, cherry, kohlrabi and hazelnut mixing some classic combinations with a vegetable I'd never heard of before!  The hazelnut encrusted duck was cooked a lovely rare and paired really nicely with the cherries and a duck jus.  The duck fat was rendered nicely, with a rich caramelisation on one side, but I found the hazelnut crust quite distracting and didn't love the nutty flavour as it somehow diminished the lovely gamey flavour from the duck.  I was kind of neutral on the kohlrabi, which reminded me of a turnip but without the punchy flavour.

Dessert was the pick of the courses but again, purely looking at the ingredients listed on the menu, I'd have never predicted what was eventually delivered.  Simply labeled lemon, meringue and ice tea, I was expecting a simple tart, not the complicated looking dessert that arrived!  There was a thick biscuit / tuile base with a thick layer of lemon curd with toasted meringue mixed in with quenelles of ice tea sorbet, then topped with another layer of tuile.  It looked pretty good, had all the right ingredients to be a super dessert, but was let down with it's eating!  I found it difficult to eat because of the thick tuile covering the dessert, and found that the meringue and ice cream just 'squirted' out the side when I tried to 'crack it open'.  Great flavour combinations, but just too damn difficult to eat!

I was amazed how quiet it was during my dinner at Marcus, I remembered that for my first visit, the place was packed completely.  I was one of the first to arrive for dinner and for a long time, had the restaurant to myself.  By the time I'd finished, there were still more tables free than were taken.  

What surprised me the most though, was that I didn't really enjoy the meal.  I mean, there was nothing terribly wrong with the cooking, everything was well prepared and expertly cooked.  It's just that I didn't really love the flavour combinations, for me, there was just something a little underwhelming about them.  I'm also open to the fact that it was a case of bad timing, after all, only a few hour prior, I'd had the most amazing meal of my life!

I did have a great experience at Marcus though, largely on the back of that same superb service that I remembered from my first visit.  Like my first visit, my waiter took me on a tour of the kitchen, where I got to meet the team of chefs hard at work, which always gives me a buzz!

Food is such a personal experience and in the same day I experienced the soaring heights from The Square and was brought back to earth a little at Marcus.  I know in a few years time, which meal I will remember fondly.

The amuse bouche were tasty - although I can't quite remember what they were!
A big loaf of crusty bread and salted butter went down a treat..
Petite four, chocolate and marshmallow 
In a huge coincidence - visited ten years apart but in the same seat!
Happy to visit the kitchen, it was quiet and orderly
The entrance from the hotel to the restaurant

Marcus - The Berkeley Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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