Eating out: Club-class dining

MORTON'S, THE RESTAURANT

28 Berkeley Square, London W1. Tel: 0171 493 7171. Open for lunch Mon-Fri, 12-2.30pm, and for dinner Mon-Sun 7-11.30pm. Two-course lunch, pounds 16.50, three courses pounds 19.50; two-course dinner pounds 26.50, three courses pounds 39.50. Average a la carte price, pounds 50 per person. Credit cards accepted

WHEN I RANG the new Morton's restaurant to book a table for dinner the following evening, the telephone was answered by a young woman with a beguiling French accent. This didn't surprise me. For a long time I have noticed that practically everybody in London is French. Some people don't believe this, but that is because until recently, French people were easily identifiable. They had different clothes and hairstyles from English people, and superior expressions. But now you often can't tell them apart from us, except, of course, when they speak.

Anyway, when I asked for a table at Morton's for the next evening, the voice with the beguiling French accent said: "Why don't you come tonight?" Its manner was so flirtatious that I practically dropped everything and complied. I also loved the freshness of the approach. Grand London restaurants of the sort which Morton's aspires to be never care to admit that they are not completely full. "We will see what we can do," they say. And after an appropriate pause, implying tortured scrutiny of the reservations book, they say: "Yes, I think we may be able to fit you in near the door. Did you say 8.15? Could you please make it 8? We are very busy." But not so at Morton's. Tonight, tomorrow night, the night after that - it's all the same to them. You are very welcome any time, and the sooner the better.

Half an hour after I had made my reservation and given my telephone number (as restaurants now always seem to demand, so fearful are they that their customers won't turn up), the phone rang and a man's voice said: "Hello, this is Angus at Morton's. I see you have booked a table for tomorrow night, and I wondered whether you might be any relation of Anthony Chancellor's." I said that, alas, I didn't think I knew an Anthony Chancellor. "Oh, he was a charming man. Used to come here often. Died recently, I'm afraid. Sorry to have bothered you."

Angus turned out to be Angus Agnew, one of the two managers of the restaurant. The manager in charge on the night I went there was his colleague, Andre Valquez, who had the distinction of not being French nor even, for that matter, Spanish. He was completely British. I suspect that Angus isn't French either, but I was relieved to find that all the rest of the cheerful and attentive staff appeared to be.

These managers were recently poached from the Square, around the corner in Bruton Street, and from the Cafe Royal Grill Room, to start a new public restaurant in the revamped upstairs dining-room of Morton's club, a members- only establishment which used to be a famous haunt of brittle, ambitious glamour girls known as "Mayfair Mercs" - "mercs" being short for "mercenaries", but which could just as well have referred to the Mercedeses in which they were delivered to the door. One old member recalls watching Harold Pinter canoodling there with Lady Antonia Fraser in the 1970s. The club continues, but is now confined to the bar on the ground floor which you pass on the way to the stairs. It is slightly provoking that the first thing you see when you come in is a door marked "Members Only".

However, the upstairs room has always been the building's main attraction because of its fine proportions, high ceiling, and the views through its tall windows onto Berkeley Square. Although the square now has little beauty left in it except for its 30 or so spectacular plane trees, said to have been planted in 1789, it still feels glamorous to me. Whatever survives of the spirit of Mayfair lurks among those trees, as does the mythical nightingale of the famous song. In the 1960s, a man leaving Annabel's night club in the early morning was said to have been so offended by the chirping of a bird that he took a gun from his car and shot it. But it couldn't have been a nightingale he killed, for no nightingale would live in so noisy a place.

It is probably a mistake to go to Morton's for dinner, when the square is in darkness and the view hardly discernible. For without its view, the room feels a little stiff and formal, a bit like the dining-room of an expensive hotel. It has been fashionably redecorated in a creamy beige, with linen curtains and bare floorboards, but the use of a crown motif to brighten up the upholstery adds an unwelcome note of pomposity. The overhead lighting is also, perhaps, a little unkind. But the service on the night I was there was absolutely excellent - assiduous yet unintrusive, and anything but stiff and pompous. And the food, cooked by the renowned chef Gary Hollihead, was also extremely good.

I had a very gamey meal from the pounds 26.50 two-course prix fixe menu, first a salad of rabbit and roast salsify and then Pheasant with Brussels Sprouts, both of which came with girolle mushrooms, and delicious little discs of foie gras. These were so good that I didn't at all mind having them twice. One of my companions started with Watercress and Truffle Soup with Goat's Cheese and Lemon Ravioli, anticipating a lot to eat. But, this being a modern British restaurant, he should have guessed that he would only get a small bowl of delicately flavoured broth with some little ravioli floating in it.

My other companion launched off with Autumn Leaf and Vegetable Salad with Soft Herb Mineral Water Vinaigrette. The idea of a mineral water vinaigrette seemed horrible - possibly a legacy of the Mercs who would have found even olive oil too threatening to their waistlines. But that, too, was much enjoyed, as were all the other courses. The only criticism I could make of Mr Hollihead's dishes is that the finicky elegance of their appearance increased the feeling of formality about the place. At the beginning of the meal we were each given a little cup of tasty curry soup, and between the main course and the dessert a plate of miniature profiteroles.

The soup put me in a friendly mood, but I was irritated by the profiteroles. If I am to be given any-thing before my pudding, I would rather it were something to freshen the mouth, like a sorbet. Talking of which, one of my companions tried to order sorbet for his dessert but wasn't allowed to have it except in combination with a blueberry tart which he took home and fed to his wife for breakfast. It was an expensive meal, coming (with a lot of good wine) to around pounds 70 a head, but its quality could not be faulted.

But the restaurant still awaits an appropriate clientele. Of the six couples dining at Morton's that night, all but one were pairs of males who looked like businessmen on expense accounts. And one of the largest tables was occupied by a group of bored-looking skiing journalists and other people associated with the Daily Mail Ski Show at Olympia. Morton's deserves to succeed, and I am sure it will. For now it needs more fun and laughter and perhaps even a touch of the loucheness which used to characterise the club.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn