Marcus at The Berkeley

Marcus business card

Two Michelin starred Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley Hotel recently underwent an extensive refurb including, a name change to Marcus, in the hope of making it a much more relaxed affair. We had a brilliant lunch there a couple of years ago so when I received an invitation to review the new place, I jumped at the chance.

The Berkeley Hotel

Ever since blaggergate (what? You’ve not heard of blaggergate? Where have you been?!) some of you, including certain restaurant critics, will find the following words, photos and opinions ‘worthless’ as I didn’t pay for my meal. I won’t whittle on too much about the whole thing, as it’s been intelligently summed up here, here and here, but I will say this; surely as a long as a blogger/critic/journalist is honest and makes it clear that they were invited along/comped/treated/bribed then what’s the harm? It’s up to the reader to make up their own mind. Let’s get things straight – contacting a restaurant for a free meal in return of a positive review is wrong. Accepting an invitation to eat a free meal simply isn’t.

Anyway, moving on! The new look Marcus was a rather attractive one; it felt far less austere than it used to be. Gone were the purple felt walls and the champagne trolley and instead were bare tables (possibly too bare?) with crisp white tablecloths, dark wood panelled walls and plenty of natural light.

Marcus dining room

Some Parmesan and tapioca gougère followed by some fennel and potato bread started things off brilliantly. The little cheesy puffs were really light and totally moreish and the bread was so good we demolished two rounds of the stuff and could have easily done a third.

Goujeres

Fennel and potato bread

Menu wise, there was a taster menu priced at £120 or two courses for £60, three for £85 or four for £95. We opted for the latter. There was also a small but much cheaper a la carte available.

I started with the ‘veal belly, frog’s legs (where should the apostrophe go?), snails and wild garlic’ which was a rich and hearty bowl of food. The vibrantly green sauce had a really strong garlicky punch which went beautifully with the soft, tender frog’s legs. A little piece of deep fried breaded veal brain was also delicious and helped add to the richness of it all. I do love a bit of brain.

Veal belly, frog's legs, snails, wild garlic at Marcus

My gentleman companion went for the ‘foie gras, mango and granola’ which sounded like a bizarre combination of ingredients – granola makes you think of breakfast doesn’t it? In fact, it was a great companion for the fatty foie and sweet mango. And the quality of that foie gras was sublime.

Foie Gras at Marcus

The ‘scallops, cauliflower and cucumber’ was a truly wonderful blend of flavours. Not only did it look like a stunning plate of food, but the finely diced pickled cucumber, along with the sweet cauliflower purée was one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten in a long time.

Scallops at Marcus

‘Mackerel, onions, egg’ was far more complex than its description would have you believe. The little piles of chopped egg had been so finely diced that they had the texture of couscous, which was most unusual and the oily mackerel had been blowtorched, giving its skin the most crisp exterior imaginable. Really lovely stuff.

Mackerel at Marcus

We were then treated to an extra course of ‘turbot, Dorset snails, shallot and gnocchi’, which was a definite highlight. The turbot had a meaty texture yet was still succulent and moist and the snails weren’t balls of rubber which I often find to be the case. There’s something so comforting about gnocchi too.

Turbot at Marcus

Both mains were divine; the ‘Herdwick lamb, beetroot and barley’ was a meaty treat but it was the Anjou pigeon that was the real star. It was drenched in a thick sauce that had been made using the blood and offal of the bird, giving it a really strong yet not overpowering flavour. Each part of the pigeon had been cooked to perfection; crisp skin and soft, rare meat and the addition of some tiny roasted potatoes with salty, blistered skins were a brilliant touch – I could have eaten a bowl full of those on their own.

Herdwick lamb at Marcus

Anjou pigeon at Marcus

Desserts helped end things on a satisfying note. The ‘warm chocolate, crunch, salted caramel ice cream’ was basically a chocolate fondant covered in cocoa powder – any chocolate lover’s idea of bliss really. I had hoped for a slightly more flamboyant presentation though. The ‘pineapple, pain perdu, coconut’ tasted like a posh Piña Colada – which is never a bad thing. Pain perdu is posh for eggy bread and here, with a mouthful of coconut meringue and sweet pineapple, it was ruddy lovely.

Chocolate at Marcus

 

Pineapple, pain perdu, coconut at Marcus

The food we sampled at Marcus was truly outstanding, but it was the service that really made the experience so memorable. The general manager, the sommelier, our waitress, the guy topping up our water; all did their job with such charm and warmth – you might be hard pushed to find a friendlier dining room in London. The new look Marcus has got it bang on the money if you ask me.

9/10

I dined as a guest of the restaurant.

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London House, Battersea

London House business card

London House is the latest restaurant from Gordon Ramsay Holdings, adding to their current portfolio of twelve restaurants in the UK. It’s located on a rather unassuming main road in Battersea, in a building that’s seen numerous failed attempts at success as an oyster bar, a Greek restaurant and an All Bar One to name but a few.

London House outside

It’s a handsomely designed restaurant split into several different mini dining rooms. The tables were adorned with white linen tablecloths but the lively background music, and the fact pretty much every other table had a baby sitting at it, meant the atmosphere was certainly not stuffy. It all felt very yummy mummy, yah.

London House inside

The only menu available was a prix fixe priced at £28 for three courses (£35 at dinner) which included no supplements – hoorah! Don’t you just hate supplements on a set menu? Everything sounded very tasty indeed.

Some beautifully spongy bread served in a little bag started things off and was so good we wolfed down two lots of the stuff – after seeing the portion sizes of the dishes we were glad we did!

Bread at London House

To start, I opted for the roasted chicken wings, parsley, green bean salsa and garlic which was served in a beautiful ceramic bowl. The wings had been deboned making them easy to eat elegantly, but they quickly became sickly as their fat wasn’t fully crispy. The green been salsa wasn’t exactly the perfect accompaniment for them either.

roasted chicken wings, parsley, green bean salsa and garlic at London House

My gentleman companion went for the seared Scottish scallops which, other than being too small, were overpowered by the diced apple AND apple purée, as both were far too sharp and tangy.

Scallops at London House

For main, my saddle of lamb, wild garlic purée and pressed lamb hot pot was a catastrophic disaster. The thin slices of lamb (only four of which made it on to the plate) were more raw than medium-rare which made for seriously chewy meat, and even chewier fat. The meat in the slice of “hot pot” was dry, overcooked and lacking in flavour. The small (halved) carrot was sweet and tasty but barely noticeable – surely they could have managed a whole carrot? It’s the smallest main course I’ve ever seen in my life.

saddle of lamb, wild garlic purée and pressed lamb hot pot at London House

My gentleman companion’s Cumbrian beef fillet was far less horrendous. The beef (again, very little of it) was soft and tender, and the braised beef cheek stuffed gnocchi were a revelation – such intense flavour with a gooey texture. But two of them? Christ.

Cumbrian beef fillet with braised beef cheek stuffed gnocchi at London House

In stark contrast, portion size was no problem with puddings however. The chocolate tart, which had the consistency of a warm, unset chocolate mousse, was enjoyable for the first few bites but then quickly became sickly. The accompanying lavender ice cream had a touch of the potpourri about it. The passion fruit posset suffered a similar problem; only this time it was too tangy after a couple of mouthfuls. The ‘cardamom and ginger oatcakes’ (there was only one actually) was in fact the best bit.

Chocolate tart at London House

Passion fruit posset at London House

It’s a shame the food was such a failure at London House as it’s actually a really lovely restaurant. And the staff are even lovelier; attentive and really friendly. But the portion sizes were horrendously small and the inability to cook four slices of lamb correctly is inexcusable. I wouldn’t avoid London House like the plague, but I wouldn’t exactly rush there either.

6/10

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The Camberwell Arms

Camberwell Arms

The Camberwell Arms is the new pub-cum-restaurant from the guys behind Great Queen Street and the Anchor and Hope. Terrible as it might sound, I’ve never actually ventured to the area before but I’m pleased to report that Camberwell isn’t quite as rough as I’d once imagined!

Camberwell Arms outside

Based inside a former pub, it was a large space with a pub style bar at the front and a dining room out the back complete with open plan kitchen. It was charmingly noisy; chatty diners, babies crying, chefs shouting “service!” – the atmosphere was great. The three of us were seated at a larger shared table which wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea but it didn’t bother us particularly.

Camberwell Arms dining room

Whilst we perused the menu, which was printed on a small piece of paper, some delicious, if not a little unevenly sliced house bread with salty butter got things off to a great start.

House bread at Camberwell Arms

We decided to share three starters. The buttered shrimp, toasted crumpet and pickled cucumber (£7) was a truly brilliant blend of flavours. The homemade crumpet was excellent too – I do love a good crumpet. The ox tongue, beetroot, horseradish and pickled walnut (£6.20) was also delicious; the tongue was cooked perfectly and the slightly tangy beetroot with the aggressively fiery horseradish were brilliant accompaniments. The simplest starter however was my favourite; scotch bonnet and pork fat on toast (£4). It was less spicy than I imagined but seriously rich and well…bloody lovely.

Ox tongue, buttered shrimp and crumpet, scotch bonnet and pork fat on toast at Camberwell Arms

Main courses were slightly disappointing to be honest; two of us decided to share the sausage and confit pig cheek gratin (£30). Served in a large ovenproof dish it was basically a sausage pasta bake in a tomato sauce with a couple of pig cheeks thrown in. It was the sort of pasta you get in minestrone soup, which seemed a bit odd as it didn’t mention pasta on the menu. It was also insanely hot which caused a few burnt mouth moments. It was served with a bowl of lettuce leaves which seemed like an odd companion for the sausage but it actually provided some splendid respite from the richness of it all. Not a horrendous dish, just not what we expected.

Sausage at Camberwell Arms

The ‘slow cooked spiced ox tail, corn bread and sour cream’ (£14.60) was a massive bowl of food. Two humongous chunks of ox tail drenched in a rich gravy quickly became a little too sickly for my friend alone – I gladly helped her out, mind. A side of buttery hispi cabbage (£3.50) was delicious and a welcome bit of greenery.

Ox tail at Camberwell Arms

Hispi cabbage at Camberwell Arms

Desserts helped put things firmly back on track and ended things on a real high. The blood orange pot with amaretto biscuit (£5) was incredible; it was like an orangey lemon posset. The accompanying biscuit, which was seriously chewy, shall go down in history as my favourite ever biscuit. The chocolate and marmalade tart (£6) had the texture of a chocolate fondant centre yet wasn’t at all sickly – partly because of the chunks of marmalade running through it. These guys know how to make seriously good puddings.

Chocolate and marmalade tart and blood orange pot at Camberwell Arms

Even though the mains were slightly disappointing it still wasn’t enough to ruin our evening, as when the food was good, it was insanely good. The really friendly and efficient staff and the lively atmosphere ensured we left happy bunnies. And it’s made me a Camberwell convert (sort of), so it can’t be bad!

8/10

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Barnyard, Fitzrovia

Barnyard business card

Based on Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia, Barnyard is the new all-American restaurant from Ollie Dabbous – he’s the guy behind Michelin starred Dabbous, famed for having a year and a half waiting list for a table – which wasn’t worth the wait if you ask me!

Getting a table at Barnyard however was a little easier; they don’t take bookings and at 6:30, the four of us were told it’d be an hour long wait (which actually turned out to be an hour and forty minute wait) but we could at least wander off for a drink and return once they phoned.

Barnyard outside

It was a small restaurant with a really lively atmosphere; the loud music and cramped tables didn’t make for the most relaxing of evenings but it didn’t really matter. It had the whole Chicken Shop/Dirty Burger look going on; corrugated iron walls and uncompromising wooden stools to perch on.

We ordered a whole load of food which all arrived at the same time, which seemed a little silly, as everything barely fit on the table; it was however INCREDIBLY good. The crispy chicken wings (£4) were moist, juicy and ruddy lovely. Not quite as sweet as those at Patty&Bun, or as fiery as at MeatLiquor, but delicious never-the-less. The fries (£3) were crisp and salty, making them totally moreish. The homemade sausage roll with piccalilli (£5) was encased in beautifully buttery pastry and the lip-smacking piccalilli was brilliant.

Chicken wings, fries and sausage roll at Barnyard

The bubble and squeak with black pudding, apple chutney and fried egg (£8) was a heart warming plate of food with great flavour combinations. A dish we were less enamoured with however, was the broken eggs with mushrooms, parsley and garlic (£6). It was basically a bowl of eggy, mushroom soup which was seriously strong and pungent.

Bubble and squeak with black pudding, apple chutney and fried egg and broken eggs with mushrooms at Barnyard

The roast beef on toast with watercress salad (£9) was really good; the beef was sliced thinly (possibly too thin?) but was cooked perfectly rare. The mini milk bottle filled with warm horseradish buttermilk was unusual to say the least, but a great addition. A side of cauliflower cheese (£3) was quite simply to die for, and the same could be said for the moist corn bread (£3), which was served in the trademark Dabbous date-printed brown paper bag.

Roast beef on toast and cauliflower cheese at Barnyard

Cornbread at Barnyard

A heart attack inducing highlight for me was the lard on toast (£3). I appreciate it wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, as it literally was a thick layer of lard smothered over some crunchy toast, but my God was it delicious. The flavour was a rich, meaty delight.

Lard on toast

Other highlights included the barbecued grain-fed short rib (£12) which was spectacularly enjoyable. The meat held its texture yet was seriously tender with a lovely smokey flavour. The roast suckling pig with celeriac and caraway (£11) was one of the nicest bits of pork I’ve ever eaten; every part of the fat had crisped up meaning it was in no way sickly.

Short rib

Suckling pig

Desserts were just as good; the apple and cloudberry crumble (eh?) with clotted cream (£4) was served in a shallow bowl meaning there was more crumble than apple, which is exactly how I like it. And clotted cream? Who doesn’t like clotted cream?! Lemon posset with marjoram (£4) was creamy and generously sour with an underlying and subtle flavour of the marjoram – which tasted like thyme to me. The warm acorn flour waffle with chocolate and malt (£4) was a little on the small side but masterfully made, and the rich hot chocolate sauce topped it off perfectly.

Waffles, apple crumble, lemon posset at Barnyard

The only pud that didn’t quite work, was the popcorn ice cream with smoked fudge sauce (£4). Served in a sundae glass, the ice cream was just vanilla flavoured, with popcorn sprinkled on top, and the fudge sauce had a worryingly familiar taste of an ash tray. Bit weird for us!

Popcorn ice cream with smoked fudge sauce at Barnyard

I must say, on the whole, the food we ate at Barnyard was incredible, it’s just a shame that the service didn’t quite match it. There was no help or advice with the menu and there was very little interaction – they just brought the food over and that was it. For such a fun restaurant I was kinda hoping for some fun and friendly service to go with it. And for such a small space we found it impossible to get anyone’s attention. But don’t let that put you off, Barnyard is cheap, delicious and bloody brilliant. Just don’t go if you’re on a diet.

8/10

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Great Queen Street

Great Queen Street business card

Great Queen Street, named after the street on which it resides, is a restaurant inside a former pub which is owned by the same people behind the Anchor and Hope and the recently opened Camberwell Arms.

Great Queen Street outside picture

The long and narrow-ish dining room was extremely lively and buzzy; the air was filled, rather loudly, with the noisy chitter chatter of fellow diners. We were seated at a tiny table for two that we could barely get our legs under, right by the door (which was irritatingly breezy as the door didn’t shut properly) but none of it seemed to really matter; there was an infectiously lovely energy about the place.

Great Queen Street dining room picture

As we were feeling ravenous, and not all the starters took our fancy, we decided to start by sharing a main and starter. The duck giblets (which included the heart, liver and kidneys) with bacon and new season garlic on toast (£8) sounded offaly tasty – see what I did there?! Sadly however, the heart and kidneys were so overcooked they were like chunks of leather. The soft, spreadable garlic and bacon along with the rich, irony livers (which were cooked perfectly) were delicious thoughDuck giblets Great Queen Street

The quail, braised chicory, oranges and aioli (£14.50) seemed a bit steep, as pretty much the same dish is available at St. John Bread and Wine for £8.90. Even so, the bird was cooked perfectly and the slightly bitter chicory with the orange was a great contrast with it.

Quail at Great Queen Street

For main I opted for the fried breast of lamb, Swiss chard, olive and tomato sauce (£16). To be honest, I was really disappointed, mainly because it was served in a completely different way to how I’d imagined. The shredded lamb had been breadcrumbed and then fried, but the coating was totally grease laden, and as the lamb filling was really fatty it made the whole thing totally sickly – I could only manage half of the thing.

Fried breast of lamb at Great Queen Street

My gentleman companion opted for one of the specials from the blackboard; pigeon Wellington (£18) which sounded right up our street. It was basically a pie cut in half and although the flavour was good, the thinner parts of the pigeon breast were tough and chewy due to their overcooking.

Pigeon wellington at Great Queen Street

We ordered some fries (£4.80) which were big old buggers that had been generously seasoned. We asked for an extra pot of the aioli, that was served with the quail; which was most definitely needed as they didn’t have any mayo. You can’t have chips without mayonnaise!

Chips at Great Queen Street

For dessert, we decided to share the Queen of puddings (£5.80). My god, it was absolutely incredible; baked and served in a ramekin, it had a damson jam and breadcrumb base with a chewy meringue topping. It was easily one of the tastiest puddings I’ve eaten in a long time.

Queen of puddings at Great Queen Street

I’ve heard many a good thing about Great Queen Street but sadly for us, the food we sampled was far from faultless – perhaps we caught the kitchen on a bad day. Even so, the buzzy atmosphere, really friendly service and that Queen of puddings made the trip a thoroughly enjoyable one.

7/10

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St. John Bread and Wine

St John Bread and Wine business card

Sitting slap bang opposite Spitalfields Market, St. John Bread and Wine is the creation of Trevor Gulliver and Fergus Henderson. It very much follows the ethos of their other Michelin starred restaurant St. John in Farringdon; simple precise cooking with plenty of offal on offer, all served in simple surroundings.

St John Bread and Wine outside

During our visit, on a particularly chilly Sunday evening, the dining room felt cold and breezy. If I didn’t think I’d have looked so silly, I would have left my coat on for our entire meal; even the open plan kitchen, which helped lift an otherwise sterile atmosphere, didn’t seem to add any warmth.

St John Bread and Wine inside

Some particularly good bread, which is made and baked on site, got things off to a more positive start and helped us quickly forget about our nippy tootsies.

St John Bread and Wine bread

To start, we decided to share two of the smaller dishes on the menu. The crispy pig skin and tarragon (£6.10) was superb; it wasn’t hard and crispy like crackling, instead these were thin strips of soft and chewy fat which were served warm; they reminded me of the pigs ears at Duck and Waffle. Their only downside was they got stuck in my teeth big time – but that was easily forgiven as the flavour was so good. The accompanying creamy tarragon dip along with the sliced gherkins and pickled fennel all made for a brilliant mouthful.

Crispy pig skin at St John Bread and Wine

The quail and aioli (£8.90) was exactly that – a whole roasted bird atop a big dollop of punchy garlic mayo. This was simple cooking at its very finest; the flesh throughout was moist yet the skin was crisp and well seasoned. The addition of a wedge of lemon was a brilliant one as it cut through the richness of the meat perfectly.

Quail and aioli at St John Bread and Wine

For main, we decided to share the Dexter pie (£34) which took fifty minutes to bake, and it was worthy of the wait. The suet pastry was gloriously crunchy on top; it was like a savoury cookie – even after we’d finished I couldn’t stop picking off the little extra bits. Inside the pie were big chunks of tender beef cheek in a surprisingly light and clear gravy which was full to bursting with meaty flavour. Served with a bowlful of buttery and subtly mustardy greens, this could easily be one of my favourite meals – ever.

Dexter pie at St John Bread and Wine

Dexter pie inside at St John Bread and Wine

Buttered greens

To top of our hearty feast, we shared the apple crumble and custard (£7) which was as satisfying as you could wish for; soft stewed apples with a sweet, crunchy crumble topping.

Apple crumble at St John Bread and Wine

The food we devoured at St. John Bread and Wine was outstanding, the only thing that let the whole experience down was the service. Considering the dining room was only half full, we found it impossible to get anyone’s attention throughout the whole evening. The manager, who seriously lacked charm and charisma, plonked down our pie, yet didn’t remove our plates full of quail bones. It felt like no-one could be bothered, which is such a shame, as I thought I’d found my favourite new restaurant.

7/10

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The Criterion

The Criterion business card

Based in the heart of Piccadilly Circus, The Criterion has been around for what feels like forever; it first opened its doors in 1874. It’s one of those old fashioned London “institutions” that I’ve always wanted to try but never got round to, so as my parents and I were in need of a pre-theatre dinner, I thought it would be the perfect chance to give it a go.

The Criterion outside

The dining room is undoubtedly impressive; it’s a grand affair with plenty to look at in every nook and cranny. Gold leaf this and marble that, you couldn’t help but be bowled over by the size and beauty of the place. But sadly, that’s where the charm ended for us.

The Criterion dining room

The menu is not exactly cheap, but as we were in a hurry, we opted for the set menu priced at £25 for three courses.

To start, the ‘homemade gravlax, lemon mousse, rye bread, capers and pickled shallots’ was minuscule; more of a canapé than a starter. The flavour was pleasant but it was gone after two mouthfuls. The ‘beef fillet carpaccio, rocket and horseradish cream’ (£2 supplement) was equally as small; the portion size felt a bit miserly considering the additional charge.

Gravlax The Criterion

Beef carpaccio The Criterion

The rib-eye steak with parsley butter (£5 supplement) was awfully thin for a rib-eye, but it was at least cooked to the requested medium rare. I never see the point of putting supplements on a set menu; surely the whole point of a set menu is value for money? This steak didn’t even come with chips.

Rib eye steak The Criterion

The free-range chicken, leek and mushroom pie had lovely buttery pastry, but the filling was so incredibly salty that we actually questioned whether there’d been some kind of accident in the kitchen.

Chicken pie The Criterion

The pan fried Loch Duart salmon was a generous portion (at last) but lacked any kind of excitement; the beetroot and horseradish purée that lay beneath the salmon lacked flavour. The pork loin with potato purée, tenderstem broccoli and mustard sauce (£2 supplement – God knows why) also lacked pazzazz (is that how you spell it?); I could make that at home quite easily.

Salmon The Criterion

Pork loin The Criterion

We were advised to order some sides, so we opted for the creamed spinach and sautée ratte potatoes (£4 each). We only really wanted one of each but our charmless waiter insisted (rather uncomfortably) on us having two. The spinach came lying in a pool of milky water which was quite unpleasant. It was also completely over seasoned. The ratte potatoes (whatever they are) were undercooked, and this time under seasoned, and lacked the crispy exterior that you might expect from being sautéed.

Ratte potatoes and creamed spinach The Criterion

We weren’t exactly full, but we felt uninspired to order dessert, so paid our bill and buggered off. It’s worth pointing out that after a bottle of plonk and a drink in the bar area beforehand, the bill was astronomical – we left feeling like we’d been robbed. Considering the level of great cooking and friendly service available all over London – and bearing in mind you have Brasserie Zedel just round the corner – The Criterion seemed stuck in the dark ages. Yes, the room is grand, but the food is anything but.

4/10

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