A supposedly informal revamp of Marcus Wareing’s grand Knightsbridge hotel dining room; the food on our lunchtime visit was enjoyable and quite good value, but the style of service remains as fundamentally ancien-régime as ever, and some may find the atmosphere oppressive.
Marcus is the new name for Marcus Wareing. Not the man of course, but his flagship restaurant at the Berkeley hotel – one of the grander classic dining rooms in town, recently revamped. Oddly. With brown Chesterfield-studded banquettes rubbing shoulders, so to speak, with 70s-sci-fi-style spots and very noughties bare filament bulbs, there seem to be stylistic nods to almost all decades from the ’70s onwards (the 1870s, that is).
The same confusion seems apparent on the formality front. Marcus (the man) made a lot of fuss about how there was to be a new laid-back tone at ‘Marcus’. Really? However friendly and efficient they are, legions of smartly dressed chaps in dark suits and sober ties are not remotely informal. White table cloths are not informal. Nor is relentless de-crumbing or Michelin-pleasing recital of the dishes (which don’t, themselves, actually seem all that different under the supposedly new régime, though the menus are differently configured).
Which is all a bit of a shame because the food, certainly as sampled from the relatively reasonably-priced lunch menu (£38 for three courses) is not bad value, considering. Indeed, it’s arguably priced a bit too reasonably for you to expect much in the way of fireworks, and these were duly absent from our meal, thoroughly competent as it was.
But does it ever occur, though, to sommeliers that people who’ve opted for the cheapo lunch menu perhaps don’t want to pay almost as much for a small glass of wine as they are paying for their main course? (Pollock ‘n’ lobster. Very precisely timed, which is of course what fish cookery is all about.) Should the customer really have to ask how much the glass the sommelier is proposing costs before ordering it? Perhaps when you are in charge of a list on which some of the four-digit numbers could as easily be years as prices, it’s easy to get blasé? But it all contributes to a general feeling which younger-at-heart (or in wallet) visitors may find some way from being relaxing.
Indeed, it was something of a relief to emerge into the Berkeley’s bar, which had an air of jollity missing from the solemn dining room beyond those heavy double doors. Indeed – with execrable ’70s pop blaring out as ‘background’ music – the bar seems to have gone determinedly ‘the other way’.
In this era of informality, five star hotels – just like the restaurants within them – seem to be having a lot of difficulty in pitching their offers right.