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
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
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.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past