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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor