There are some evenings you just don’t forget. And this, my friends, was certainly one of those.
As we joined fellow foodies watching the latest series of Masterchef – The Professionals, Mr Manning and I decided we should definitely visit one of Marcus Wareing’s restaurants. Wareing is one of the country’s best known chefs, not only running a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, but also a few other offerings in London. But for us there’s a few things that seem to set him aside from some of the other culinary names.
For starters (no pun intended), he likes the old-school way of doing things. Forget sous-vide and waterbaths, it’s more ovens and pans for him. And then there’s his disposition, there just doesn’t seem to be the swearing and the showboating that some chefs have built their TV personality around. His appearance on Masterchef isn’t about belittling and bollocking people, it’s about encouragement intertwined with quiet, calm criticism.
So, it was these elements that inspired us to go and try his own food (or at least food that’s the product of his management and values).
On our recent grand foodie day out in London (more posts on their way!) we had the choice of Marcus, holder of two Michelin stars, in Knightsbridge, The Gilbert Scott at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, and the latest addition to the gang, Tredwell’s, in Covent Garden. After careful scrutiny, we decided on The Gilbert Scott as a happy medium between the treat of a special fine dining establishment and a more casual eaterie. And oh, how glad we are that we did.
Named after the architect of the original St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, The Gilbert Scott is an impressive restaurant, with an expansive, ornate dining room. The greeting is friendly and formal, while the gentle tinkling of the ivories by the pianist blends in to the quiet restaurant hubbub to create a sedate, relaxed atmosphere.
As we tucked into our bread, we feasted our eyes on the menu, which bills itself as “original yet familiar”, in a tribute to the historic building and a celebration of British produce. We’d agreed to give ourselves the most choice possible, opting for the full a la carte menu rather than the weekday set offering, and certainly had a wide selection to choose from. The same goes for the wine list, but we finally narrowed our choice down to a rather nice Malbec from the “our favourites” section.
And so, to the food. To start, Mr M opted for Crispy Pig’s Head with pickled cockles, laverbread mayonnaise and sea vegetables, while I chose N’duja Quail with shallot and bacon jam, sherry caramel, and radicchio. The pig’s head came in the form of two croquettes – meaty yet light with a clean crispy coating, complemented perfectly by the mayonnaise. I’ve never seen sea vegetables on a menu before, nor tasted them, but they not only looked impressive on the plate, but tasted good too. Oh, and a bit of research reveals they’re actually pretty good for you, packed with nutrients and all that.
My quail was wonderful. Perfectly arranged, the small sections of the bird were cooked just right, producing rich, tender meat covered in a crispy, mahogany skin. The shallot and bacon jam, as well as the sherry caramel, made the dish sweet as well as rich, while the radicchio brought a peppery hit. I’m not sure I even have to mention the presentation because you can see it here. Suffice to say, it was perfect. Pleasing to the eye, yet not too fussy, and the portions definitely weren’t on the mean side.
For main course I was torn between tempting choices of every different meat you could imagine, from Lake District venison, to Herdwick lamb, saddleback pork chop, braised ox cheek (among just a few), as well as some delicious-sounding fish dishes like poached haddock, skatewing and grilled sea bass. I opted for Magret duck with Toyko turnips, muscovado sugar and orange. The ever-consistent Mr Manning couldn’t resist picking the Dexter sirloin of beef, and who can blame him, hey.
My duck was simple yet impressive. A generous-sized portion, nice and pink, with the skin crispy and sweet thanks to the sugar and orange. The radish-sized Tokyo turnips were a great accompaniment, with a crunchy, slightly bitter-sweet flavour that went particularly well with the duck.
What can we say about Mr Manning’s epic steak? Again, it was simply presented, but the treat was all in the taste. He had it cooked medium rare (the way they recommend it so the fat melts), and was struck by the butteryness of the meat – he couldn’t work out whether that’s just the taste of Dexter beef, or if it had been basted in butter to give it such a rich taste. It turns out it must be the former, because the meat is cooked on a normal griddle. Needless to say, Mr M was in seventh heaven.
We complemented our mains with some paprika chips and a portion of purple sprouting broccoli with sherry and chilli. Simple, light side dishes that did exactly what they’re supposed to do -provide an addition to the main course without overshadowing it.
I’d love to be able to tell you about how we moved on to one of the tasty-looking puddings, from pear and walnut crumble, to ginger cake with cinnamon cream and creme fraiche, or even a selection of the British cheeses on offer. But instead, something far more exciting happened. Mr Manning spotted Marcus Wareing!
Imagine the paused forks and wide eyes as we saw him walk in. We’d been excited enough at eating at one of his restaurants, but hadn’t entertained the idea that he’d actually pay it a visit on the same night. In a stroke of true love and romance, my darling husband managed to wangle it for us to go and say hi. And so, we found ourselves in the kitchen of The Gilbert Scott, and (once I’d got over my initial speechless few minutes) chatting away to one of the country’s big-name chefs about everything from our dinner to the cooking course we’d done that morning; our careers, his career; and the best way to sharpen knives.
I won’t go on, but it’s fair to say that the TV personality that inspired us to visit one of his restaurants in the first place was even more amiable in real life. The chef’s passion for food and for inspiring the next wave of culinary greats in this country – something we’ve seen him talk about on TV – isn’t just TV talk. It’s genuine and shines through in his conversation. And that’s not to mention his down-to-earth approach that didn’t just allow – but actually seemed to enjoy – ordinary people getting the chance to invade his kitchen and quiz him on all things foodie.
And so we left, high on the excitement of a great meal and a fantastic experience. The setting is impressive, the food of excellent quality and execution, and the service faultless. For anyone who shies away from the idea of ‘fine dining’ amid concerns of it being ‘posh’ or intimidating, please don’t. Food is food. It may be presented in a different way and called different things, but it’s for all of us to enjoy and experience. And those that are producing it – people like the great Mr Wareing – think that too. They’re cooking food to make people smile, and that doesn’t matter whether your Boris Johnson or Bob the Builder. So if there’s somewhere you want to go, do it. I know we will.
Next stop, Marcus’s Michelin-starred treat. I’ll let you know how it goes…
We paid in full for our meal at the Gilbert Scott. Marcus Wareing was free 🙂