But before anyone jumps to the conclusion of style over substance, if you don't already know, Berners Tavern is a Jason Atherton restaurant, and while the pace of Atherton's openings in the past 12 months seems relentless, he has in our opinion maintained quality throughout. What you will also have gathered just by looking at the banner picture is that Berners Tavern is unlike his other restaurants and brings a fresh approach into the Jason Atherton stable. Inspired by all day dining in a style of European grand cafes, Berners Tavern will offer breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper (10:30pm to 12am); we have little doubt it will be a huge success.
The menu here is a well thought through affair, offering comfort style food but with a trademark Atherton twist that takes it to the next level. There is a classic fruits of the sea to share, steaks (Buccleuch Estate and Devon ruby red), and even sandwiches where you can opt for a burger, crispy rock shrimp roll or BBQ pulled old spot pork. We tried the pulled pork and rock shrimp roll at last week's guest launch and both delivered not only excellent food, but excellent value too, priced at £11.50 and £12.50 respectively (and that includes chips so no additional sides necessary).
If however you want cooking that showcases Atherton's individual style, that too is present. We remember at the opening of Pollen Street Social the superb 'all day breakfast' as a starter, here there is 'Egg, Ham and Peas' offering a deep fried duck egg, crispy ham and mushy peas (and even that comes with a small tub of fries). The dishes are, as we have experienced each and every time in Atherton's restaurants, cooked to perfection and with the average price of starters around £8.50, the standard of cooking and opulence of the room makes it feel special to eat here, but not in a Park Lane Hotel kind of way. There's an informality about Berners Tavern, as its name perhaps seeks to imply, something that the eternally grounded Atherton has sought in all his restaurants and, in our view, has achieved. It's a place you want to be and despite having eaten at Berners Tavern twice now, we are already plotting to return.
On mains, we pushed the boat out with the Roasted Shoulder of Romney Marsh Lamb with char grilled cabbage, roasted parsnips, cabbage and mint pesto for two (£70). Realistically this would easily serve three and four at a squeeze. Brought to the table in its roasting dish, pulling the lamb off the bone with only your fork before pushing it through the pan juices yields a mouthful of heaven that so few restaurants could ever realistically aspire to. Yet again, as enjoyed at Social Eating House, Atherton makes brilliance seem effortless.
As we reflect on this later in the day, we wonder if this is the dividend generated when great skill combines with great management and an all together good guy. We admire chefs that have a singular focus on making their one restaurant the best it can be and take it to the highest levels, but it is impossible not to admire Atherton's achievement also in delivering a stable of winning restaurants. Like long time collaborator Paul Hood who worked with Jason at Maze and now heads up Social Eating House, Berners Tavern is headed up by Phil Carmichael who as Jason explained in an interview with Hot Dinners was 'the first chef I ever employed at Maze'. Meanwhile in the front of house, for now at least, you'll spot familiar faces from Pollen Street Social such as Mike West (also formerly Maze) and Laure Patry, PSS and formerly head sommelier of, err... Maze.
In a poll published by Zagat just days ago, the most popular restaurant in London was named as The Wolseley. We (broadly) understand why and till now, what could challenge it for all day dining on a grand scale where you can feel a million dollars for main courses that start from just £11.50? Berners Tavern is all that and more because the venue, the design and the chef all contribute a little magic into the mix; the result is a lot of magic. For sure, we're huge Jason Atherton fans, but from the sublime pan juices of the lamb to the sheer indulgence of the oozing chocolate from the chocolate donut dessert, this is food to be heartily enjoyed, but at a standard few can achieve, and certainly in a room that is almost impossible to emulate. Berners Tavern has just raised the bar on London's dining scene.