Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, Wilton Place, London SW1

Yes, all right, I DO know there's a recession on. But this isn't just any old restaurant review. It's that special once-a-year occasion when I get to blow the Independent's budget on a spectacular dinner with the winning bidders in our annual charity auction, raising money for aid projects around the world. This year's highest bidder was Roger Hambury, who secretly bid for the lot as a Christmas present for his wife Fleur, knowing she had long harboured fantasies of becoming an undercover food critic.

I suggested Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley as our venue because it seemed a fairly safe bet we'd have a wonderful meal there. The super-talented Wareing is one of the brightest stars on the London restaurant scene, his reputation only burnished further since his acrimonious rupture with former mentor Gordon Ramsay.

The restaurant formerly known as Petrus is a dark, sober and rather manly affair – good qualities in a dinner date, but not necessarily in a dinner venue. The caption under the scene that greeted us could have read "Credit crunch? What credit crunch?" Every table was full, even on a Tuesday night. Fleur and Roger agreed with my initial impression that it was the kind of clientele among whom you wouldn't necessarily expect to bump into anyone you knew. Mind you, at that stage, we didn't even know each other.

Some champagne was needed to break the ice; but before we'd even had a chance to order apéritifs, we were bombarded with a flurry of amuse-bouches. Suddenly we found ourselves in full-on reviewing mode, before we'd even had a chance to exchange a few pleasantries. A faint memory of some not entirely appealing smoked tomato is all that remains of this opening stage of hostilities. I can only hope that Fleur was keeping fuller notes. Not until the next dish arrived, warm pumpkin soup sipped through a cold Parmesan foam, did social panic subside, and anticipation kick in; this wasn't so much a pre-starter as a jump-starter.

Fleur – a passionate foodie – had already scoped out the sample menu online and decided what she wanted to order. Roger, on the other hand, is a self-proclaimed "fussy eater" whose first reaction to the menu was, "It's a bit scary". Probably because each dish, in the modern style, tended to contain an unexpected interloper, like a flasher in a school photo.

Fleur's starter offered the classic combination of roasted scallop with puréed cauliflower, but with macadamia nuts and nasturtiums capering around, and a sauce in which Fourme d'Ambert cheese and white chocolate formed an unlikely alliance, the dish was pushed too far in the direction of sweetness. "I would have liked a bit more cheese and a little less chocolate," decided Fleur, who was throwing herself with relish into her new role.

Roger's ravioli of quail with ham hock and white truffle was a single pasta parcel filled with densely textured meat. He was enjoying it, until I suggested that the resistance of the filling was reminiscent of a pork pie. "Mmm, pork pie," Roger hummed, with the wistful, faraway look of a man who is obliged to eat in fancy restaurants rather more often than he would like.

My own veal sweetbread with Swiss chard and roasted celeriac was impeccable, a showcase for Wareing's serious, classically inspired technique. His style of cooking isn't particularly directional; there are no games or jokes. But neither is there a huge amount of personality in his food; we were enjoying the meal, but it wasn't quite hitting the expected heights.

So it continued with the main courses, and again it was Fleur – the evening's guest of honour – who was underwhelmed. Her Welsh suckling pig, slow-cooked for 24 hours, was a wonderful thing of melting softness and richness. But about the rest of the dish, Fleur was merciless. "The crackling, I could have done myself. And it's all just too dry."

Roger's lamb was disappointingly short on taste, and the accompanying caraway spatzle released a back-of-the-spice-drawer mustiness that unbalanced the dish. Fleur had a bite, then scribbled furiously in her notebook, shaking her head. I began to be a bit scared of her. She seemed to be morphing from lovely Independent reader into Wandsworth's answer to A A Gill.

As I was being formally introduced to my main course – each dish comes to table with the obligatory recital of its key ingredients – the waiter warned, "Be careful how you cut into the snail beignet – they can burst". Oh yes, they most certainly can. Luckily, the jet of garlic butter only hit Fleur's dress, rather than her décolletage, but it was a rather unfortunate episode for which I can only apologise. Other than that (Mrs Lincoln), it was a great dish though the addition of frog's legs didn't bring much to the party, apart from the chance of pushing Roger further out of his comfort zone by forcing him to taste one. "We've been married for 17 years, and he's never even tried my risotto!" marvelled Fleur.

We shared a single portion of cheese, and even though we hadn't exactly hidden the fact that we were writing a review, what with the two notebooks and all, the serving was so meagre we could have read our notes through each wafer-thin slice.

Still casting around for solid ground, Roger ended with a version of Eton Mess that was very far from messy – four raspberries bearing a sliver of meringue. "It's ... nice," was his damning verdict, although he shunned the iridescent puddle of basil-flavoured goo as an alien taste too far. Fleur and I were both more enthusiastic about our own desserts, including a chocolate moelleux whose preparation was described in impressive detail by our waiter.

Service is generally much less jumpy and intrusive than it can be in these high-end places, though Fleur had issues. You can read her account of our meal on our website (see independent.co.uk/food). It was a great evening, and even though the food didn't quite earn the hoped-for five-star rating, the company certainly did. Thank you Roger and Fleur, for your generosity. And Fleur, do please send me that dry-cleaning bill.

Wilton Place, London SW1 (020-7235 1200)

Food 4 stars
Service 4 stars
Atmosphere 4 stars

A la carte dinner menu, £75 per head

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
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
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
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

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment