When I’m in a pinch and have very little time to research, I find the Michelin Guide to be a pretty reliable source. Virtually every restaurant I’ve ever tried from the guide has been very good. Admittedly, it’s limited in that it generally favors high-end European-influenced restaurants that emphasize service and fancy decor (forget discovering a street stall in the Guide!). Additionally, it seems to be biased against certain cuisines (like, how many Chinese, African, and Indian restaurants have stars?). Nevertheless, if I’m not too fussy about that, I know that the restaurants it recommends will be very good.
Our trip to London was a bit last minute, and thus I had less time than usual to research. We relied on the Michelin guide, which (not surprisingly) steered us towards mostly high-end white tablecloth restaurants helmed by chefs with classic French culinary training.
Marcus Wareing is an English celebrity chef who trained under Gordon Ramsay. He credits Ramsay with teaching him how to cook, citing his time with Ramsay as one of the “most important times of my life.” Though the two eventually had a falling out of sorts (including legal battles), both have continued onto very successful projects.
Wareing started his own solo namesake restaurant called “Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley”, which quickly gained two Michelin stars. More recently, the restaurant went through significant renovations and re-opened as a more relaxed space simply called Marcus.
We thought our meal at the revamped Marcus would be similar to the other Michelin-starred restaurants we had visited during this trip, and in many ways, it was. However, it wasn’t until the staff made a grave mistake during our meal that we realized, and learned, what separates a Michelin starred restaurant from your ordinary restaurant.
The menu is similar to many high-end French restaurants. From the a la carte menu, you can order a three-course menu for £85 or a four-course menu for £105. You can also opt for the “Taste Menu” or “Vegetarian Taste” (£120), which offer eight-course samplings of various items from the regular a la carte menu in smaller portions. The eight-course consists of six savory courses and two dessert courses.
I was wary of overeating and felt like I didn’t have the stomach capacity for a full tasting menu, so I convinced Bryan to order from the a la carte menu.
“Ordering the normal eight-course tasting menu is essentially the same as getting two ‘four-course tasting menus’, except that we have no control over the courses. Wouldn’t it be better to have some control over what we order?”
My final suggestion: Bryan would get the four-course and I would get the three-course. We would essentially get to try six different dishes, and then we could share one dessert (his fourth course). The overall cost would be less, but we would get the same amount of variety as the eight-course tasting minus one dessert (which was fine with me).
The menu is divided into four sections: Starters, Middles, Mains, and Desserts.
Starters consist mainly of smaller dishes, like a crispy pork cake, a seafood orzo dish, or veal sweetbreads. The Middle section is predominantly fish-based dishes, and the Main section is mostly land animal meats, like chicken, duck, pork, beef, and lamb. Most people who order the three-course skip either the Middle or the Main. Those ordering the four course would typically order one from each section.
“Would it be possible to order two seafood dishes and no meat dish as part of the three-course?” I asked.
The server said, “of course, you can do whatever you like.”
So Bryan ordered a typical four course dinner: one Starter, one Middle, one Main, and a Dessert. I ordered the three-course, basically one Starter, two Middles, and that was it. Our assumption was that we would both get our Starters and our Middles together. While Bryan ate his Main, I would eat my second Middle. We would then share our dessert.
I started with a lovely salad of Spring Greens, Gorgonzola, Trompette, and Black Truffles. I loved the super fresh, crispy leaves! The Gorgonzola sauce was rich, and mushrooms – both the trumpet mushrooms and black truffles – added a deep and rich mushroom umami to the entire dish. The grapes brightened the dish, and the walnuts added a nice textural contrast. All in all, it was a fantastic dish.
Bryan ordered the Garlic Scapes, Crispy Pork, Egg Yolk (£8) from the Starter section of the menu. It was lovely, with seasonal grilled garlic scapes served over breaded and fried pork “cakes” (filled with some sort of fruit). A creamy, golden yellow egg yolk came with each pork cake. The dish was very good; the fruit inside the pork cake nicely cut the richness of the pork.
And then the second course came.
Well, Bryan’s second course came. A gorgeous, light yet flavorful dish, the Lobster, Tomato, Squid, Orzo (£5 supplement) was excellent. The lobster was perfectly cooked, and the light, delicate tomato seafood broth was wonderfully fragrant.
And I got . . . nothing.
We weren’t sure what to do.
I didn’t want to second-guess them, so I didn’t say anything. Were they waiting to serve it later? Perhaps they would bring it while Bryan ate his dessert? Or maybe they wanted to send it later. In any event, I decided to wait to see if I would get my other course later.
My dish was really good. A surf & turf of sorts, it was Turbot, Fennel, and Braised Short Ribs all in one dish. I loved the crispy fennel chip that came on top as well as the roasted fennel. All in all, it was a great dish that had the lightness of a seafood dish but the added extra oomph from the short ribs.
Bryan’s Duck, Radish, Wild Garlic, and Hazelnut was even better. I loved the wild, seasonal vegetables in the dish. The duck was also cooked a perfect medium rare, and the accompanying fennel, wild garlic, and hazelnut sauce was divine.
At this point, we decided to tell the restaurant that we were missing a course, since it was pretty clear that they were going to move onto dessert.
I felt embarrassed, almost apologetic to point it out to them. I internally questioned whether it was my fault. Was I not clear? Did the waiter (who spoke native French) somehow misunderstand what I said?
Bryan assured me that we had been clear, but it’s easy to second guess oneself in a situation like this.
The general manager immediately came over to apologize. He asked if he could bring another course for me. At that point, I was already full and the timing just wasn’t right anymore.
I told him I was all set.
He continued to ask, “may I give you a dessert on the house? Or a drink? Or I can take the course off the bill? Really, anything you want.”
My original purpose in ordering a la carte was to minimize the number of sweets, so I knew I didn’t want more desserts. However, I know that Bryan often enjoys an after dinner drink, so I asked whether he could give us a liquid dessert.
“Absolutely. What would you like?”
“How about some sort of cognac?”
“Certainly” the sommelier replied. As he scurried off, Bryan’s dessert, Warm Chocolate Cake with salted caramel ice cream arrived.
They also gave us a second complimentary dessert, a light Pineapple + Meringue Clouds dessert.
Although I hadn’t asked for it, I appreciated the gesture, and it was fun to try both desserts (though I was so full I was unable to finish the extra one we got).
The Sommelier then returned with two drinks, one for each of us to try. One was a Baron de Signgnac Vintage Bas armagnac from 1978 (!). The other was a Francis Darronze armagnac called Domaine Couzard Lassalee that was distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2014.
Both were excellent, and at this point we felt overly compensated for the mistake. Not only had they given us two (very nice!) dessert drinks on the house, they had also given us an extra dessert.
A few more mignardises later, we finally got the check.
This was really the final moment when I felt like they were really trying to bend over backwards for their mistake. Not only had they given us nice spirits and a free dessert, they took my entree off the bill, charging me instead for a hypothetical two-course meal (which is not even on the menu).
It would have been very easy for me to leave that meal feeling annoyed at the mistake, angry that I got “gypped” when I spent so much on a meal, and complaining about how I ended up eating more desserts when I didn’t want to, yada yada yada.
Instead, they tried everything to make up for that mistake. If I were the type that wanted to be showered with additional free items, they delivered. If I was the type that wanted to save some money to make up for the lost entree, they delivered on that front as well. They approached the “problem” from every side possible, surprising me to the point of delight at how genuinely hard they were trying to make me happy.
Well, it worked.
Bryan and I left the restaurant almost dancing in the sidewalk on our way home. For me, I was able to eat a bit less and thus not feel super stuffed. Bryan loved being able to try some fine armagnacs, and I didn’t mind saving a bit of money. We felt superbly taken care of, and left with a very positive memory of the experience, which is the most important thing a Michelin starred restaurant can do.
As we were walking out, Bryan said, “now we know this is how a two-Michelin starred restaurant responds when they forget to bring you a course.”
“It’s so crazy, but really, really nice” I muttered as we walked out the restaurant, all smiles.