Marcus, restaurant review: Horrible lighting but a splendidly simple menu

Marcus Wareing's two-Michelin-star eating-house at The Berkeley has reopened after a £1.4m redevelopment. But will John Walsh be able to see past the ugly downlighters, dark shutters and corrugated-metal backdrop?

Promises, promises. When Marcus Wareing announced in January that he was closing his two-Michelin-star eating-house, Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, for a £1.4m redevelopment, he delivered some breezy undertakings. "My number one priority is ending the stuffiness," he told the press. "People want to come to relax and not sit there while the waiter talks you through the 10 different ingredients on the dish." He wanted to create an atmosphere that was less intimidating, he said, something akin to "a really good dinner party". He'd noticed that fewer people were ordering the tasting menu (£115 a head) and spending less. He further promised that the staff would be encouraged to be "more American and less French" – more "folksy" even.

One shudders with horror, quite frankly, about such assurances. A two-star Michelin joint in a grand Knightsbridge hotel has an innate, ironclad resistance to relaxation, levity and (God help us) folksiness. Trying to impose relaxation and dinner-party chatter on a foodie shrine, hoping to engender more "scoff and banter" (the terrible name for a bar in Seven Dials) sounds a dreadful idea. It's like dining at the Dorchester and finding Alain Ducasse coming to play the trombone at your table.

The proof of the pudding though... We pushed open the heavy swing doors of what's now called 'MARCUS' (does that seem less stuffy, or actually more Roman-imperial?) and were instantly swamped by attentive staff. Half a dozen charming, if hardly folksy, men and women milled around us. A small mix-up about the booking prompted a flurry of nervous half-jokes about where we should be seated. It was all very good-natured but it was as if the waiters were humming a tune that went: "Be informal/ Be relaxed/ Be folksy or/You might be sacked".

The big turn-off, though, was the lighting. It's horrible. The designers, Robert Angell Design Studio, were part of the Savoy refit, but they've lost their touch here. From the ceiling, outcrops of ugly downlighters cast a sickly pall that made the diners look like jaundice victims. The room is darkly shuttered and bleakly laid out. A kind of side-chapel with a corrugated-metal backdrop housed three glum Chinese businessmen in lonely isolation, as if they'd been sent to eat their supper in a garage. Is that what you get for £1.4m these days?

The menu is splendidly simple, though, with four dishes each under Starters, Fish and Meat. I noticed there's still a tasting menu, but it's now £120. We were starving. The fennel bread with salted Irish butter was an aniseedy dream. My wife's starter was a treat: warm crab stuffed inside zucchini flowers, with artichoke hearts, strips of zucchini and crenola leaves, tempura-ed like Communion hosts. It was a concert of brilliant harmonies. My starter resembled a miniature Gothic swamp and tasted spectacular: Dorset snails lolled in the green wild-garlic veloute like savoury raisins. Frogs' legs, trimmed to resemble lollipops on sticks, tasted sublime. Stars of the show were cubes of veal, glazed with smoked garlic butter and roasted to a dark caramel; their layers of softness and crispiness were out of this world. I devoured the vestigial, snail-haunted, soup-sauce veloute with chunks of fennel bread, purring with greed.

Anjou pigeon was done two ways: the legs were breadcrumbed and fried to resemble potato croquettes; a pointless deception, since they tasted like goujons of chicken. The roasted breasts were served with a wine-and-offal sauce that included the heart, liver and pigeon blood. The breast was shockingly underdone. This was practically flapping in my mouth. The combination of breast with the gibletty sauce was mildly emetic.

Angie's Herdwick lamb suffered from a similar complaint. She asked for it to be cooked medium. It arrived rare, and was sent back. A substitute emerged, barely medium rare. "This is spring lamb and hasn't had time to acquire any character," she said. "And the beetroot sauce is overpowering." A side order of Pomme purée with Lincolnshire Poacher sauce was hilariously overpriced at £10. Ten quid for potato, over-puréed until it resembled soup, with runny cheese!

A lovely pudding of pineapple, coconut milk sorbet, pain perdu and nipples of meringue (a sort of deconstructed pina colada), along with a refreshing slug of sweet riesling and an elaborate demonstration of superior cafetiere management by the charming Scottish manager, Daniel Greenock, ended a meal of some remarkable highs but a disastrous commitment to under-cooking. If this is a trend, it's one I'm not keen to join.

Marcus Wareing has just signed another 10-year contract with the Berkeley Hotel. I hope, amid the great man's gastronomic triumphs, he'll have a re-think about the lamb – and the lighting.

Food ****
Ambience **
Service ****

Marcus, The Berkeley Hotel, Wilton Place, London SW1 (020-7235 1200). Around £250 for two, including wine

Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments