I suppose most of you have already read that Waitrose Food Illustrated article for yourselves now. It is legendary and rightly so: I imagine James Steen must have soiled himself listening to Marcus Wareing (that’s right – it’s Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley tonight! Can you feel the excitement?) launch into his sensationally blunt invective against that ‘sad b*st*rd’, Gordon Ramsay – a reporter’s wet dream, indeed. Although grudgingly good entertainment, it is also a personal shame as I was secretly hoping to dispense with the now-expected, prolix preamble this post (or at least condense it somewhat) and get tucked straight into dinner’s narrative; but how could I honestly ignore a feud that has rocked London’s dinnerland to its timbers or whose reverberations have, at the very least, shaken a few pristine pieces of cutlery out of their proper, precise places?
Here is the stereotypical tale of two teenage friends who grew up to become bitter enemies, conquering London’s restaurant scene along the way – did you know Team Ramsay-Wareing has amassed 15 Michelin stars? That’s within tasting distance of Robuchon’s 17! Impressive stuff. The story, and this is Marcus’ story, starts in Lancashire, where a shy, quiet teenager decided to follow his brother, the chef, into a culinary career. Enrolling into catering college, under big brother Brian’s behest, turned young Wareing’s world upside down, suddenly he was brimful of confidence: ‘the kitchen was my comfort zone and I felt good in whites.’ He was also the centre of attention and impressing peers, teachers and judges alike, enough so that one such referee referred him to a sous chef at the Savoy. Thus, aged 18, he had his foot in the door, becoming the Savoy’s new commis chef under the aegis of Anton Edelmann. Spending two years here, the galloping gastro then went through ten kitchens in ten years: he moved first to Le Gavroche, serving under another great, Albert Roux, and also where he first met Gordon; Marcus, 19, and Gordon, 22, hit it off instantly. Next came the Point, near NYC; the Grand Hotel, Amsterdam, joining Roux again; Gravetye Manor, West Sussex (where he met Jane, his wife); before arriving at Pierre Koffmann’s La Tante Claire. Here, he was reunited with Ramsay, but only for one week: the morning he arrived, Gordon (in an unrelated move) handed in his notice; he was opening Aubergine and wanted Marcus with him. The fortnight that followed, under the notoriously difficult Koffmann, was more than enough convincement to lead Marcus one night to Aubergine’s backdoor, where, almost on the spot, Marco Pierre White gave Marcus Wareing a job at Gordon Ramsay’s first restaurant…stars…dizzy…The pair became inseparable, but after two years, side by side, sixteen hours a day, six days a week giving ‘that guy everything [he] had,’ Marcus needed a break and returned to NYC, to Daniel Boulud’s Le Cirque (then America’s top restaurant). However, twelve months and visa problems later, he was back with Ramsay – via Guy Savoy, Paris – setting up l’Oranger. Within a year, he had won a Michelin star, within another, he had been sacked (the day after Ramsay quit) over internecine wrangling with owners, A-Z. Undaunted, Marcus recovered in style, becoming chef-patron of then St James Street sited Pétrus, named after his favourite wine, in 1999. It took him only seven months more to earn another Michelin star. Going from strength to strength now, in 2003 he also took over the Savoy Grill; opened Banquette, an American diner, above it; and moved Pétrus into La Tante Claire’s old spot at The Berkeley. In 2004, he also earned Savoy its first ever star.
Note the symmetrical circularity of Marcus’ life: he begun at the Savoy, left, did a spell at Guy Savoy, then returned, thirteen years on, as head chef; also, after spending two weeks at La Tante Claire, ten years later he was back, replacing it with his own restaurant.
A year ago, everything looked grand: Pétrus had picked up star number two and Wareing was riding high, earning unanimous praise and plaudits aplenty -many touted Pétrus as London’s best restaurant – whilst Ramsay was opening restaurants across the world, recording TV shows and making his millions. What went wrong? Well, rumours of a rift had already begun surfacing in early 2007; apparently, Marcus had grown sick of the ‘shadow’ sobriquet his relationship with Gordon had earned him, as well as the claustrophobic consequences of being another cog in the GRH machine – he was a man ‘constrained, confined and trapped’. In May, gossip had it that Gordon was about to fire Marcus, but Wareing must have sensed this himself and made a pre-emptive strike: GRH’s lease with The Berkeley was due to expire on 19 September, so he launched an independent bid for it. And got it. A summer of squabbling between the two super-chefs supervened. Eventually, an accord was reached: Gordon kept the name (supposedly on its way to La Noisette’s old location), wine cellar and maître d’, Jean-Philippe Susilovic; Marcus kept his stars and won his freedom. After a one-week closure mid-September, Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley is now open.
The David Collins interior has remained intact. It is still sophisticated and dramatic yet warm and clubby; still very grown up. The belle époque theme is embodied by rich claret colouring, characteristic of Pétrus wine itself. The deep Burgundy walls and well-padded plum armchairs are contrasted against crisp white, double-layered tablecloths. Circles figure prominently too: ovular mirrors, round tables, white French blinds made of linking loops; and white, milk and dark chocolate-coloured boules upon two large abacuses that screen a wall of wine chillers. Well-spaced, large tables are dressed with a couple of calla lilies, white candleholder, Bernaudaud porcelain (Fat Duck, l’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris and Jean Georges of New York are also fans) and thick, starched napkins. Fragrant bouquets of white hydrangeas and more calla lilies; opulent fittings; and dim lighting from glittering chandeliers and soft golden lamps adds to the sense of seduction and luxury.
Continue reading ‘Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, London’