In one of our earlier posts on MW, we said that ‘the restaurant is run with unassuming efficiency, precision and grace’. On this occasion though, it was less clear that the restaurant was being run with senior oversight at all and it certainly possessed none of those aforementioned characteristics. Marcus himself was not in the kitchen that night as he was travelling to Brazil, surprisingly though, nor was Head Chef Alyn Williams. Out front meanwhile, longstanding Restaurant Manager Giancarlo Princigalli has now stepped down while Head Sommelier Michael Deschamps was also not present. In other words, what for us has been the core of MW over the past year was absent and sadly, it showed.
It was in the area of service that they were caught out most. For the most part, staff serving our table lacked smiles, warmth and charisma. What we have loved about MW in the past and what has brought as back again and again is the personal attention that front of house give to their guests. From our first visit there, it has always felt like a personal relationship, and that continued to grow in time. They have of course a CRM system and normally, they use it intelligently to engage us in all aspects of the dining experience. This time around, despite it being Mrs CC’s birthday (and them knowing that fact), the new Maitre d’ (who we mistook for a regular waiter as he acted in all ways just like a regular waiter) didn’t even wish her a happy birthday. We mentioned this toward the end of the night when he finally enquired how we had enjoyed our evening and taken aback, he said that they were going to bring a candle out with dessert (as they had for eight other diners during the evening) and so didn't see a problem here; could they be less personal? It was sort of laughable.
On to the mains, Cornish lamb for Mrs CC and beef fillet for me. While there was nothing wrong with the main courses, there was no wow factor to them either. Two stars aspiring to three should have a wow factor on a main course. The lamb was underwhelming and while the beef was tasty, there were few discernable clues from the dish that you were eating in one of the country’s best restaurants.
Cheeses were nice enough but hardly difficult for them, the pre-dessert was okay but little changed since our July visit and the actual dessert, the basil parfait was also identical to that being served on the gourmand menu back in July, and possibly earlier. This time around however, the jelly atop the sherbet was so acidic that Mrs CC felt it burning her throat. The waitress clearing the dish said ‘yes, it can be a little strong’. No, this was not about flavour, strength or otherwise, this was unbalanced acidity. It was a poor comment on her part but somehow didn’t seem surprising that night.
Every restaurant encounters change but they need to ensure that the change does not adversely impact the customer experience, certainly not to the extent it did here. They need too to ensure brand consistency. And maybe it was circumstances beyond their control but having so many senior staffers absent at the same time meant they were certainly not on their A-game.
Even since we started this blog earlier this year, the top end restaurant scene has become ever more competitive with the likes of The Ledbury getting a second star, Apsleys shooting for their (surely deserved) second star and coming soon, Heston’s Dinner just over the road at The Mandarin Oriental. We love Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley and indeed Marcus himself who has been so generous sharing his time and ideas with us over the past year so we dearly hope that this experience was a one off. However, the conclusion must necessarily be that if Marcus does want to spend more time outside the restaurant promoting the brand, he needs at least to spend some more time thinking about who will be in the restaurant in his absence ensuring that he’s not missed, because right now, his absence is noticeable and we do miss him sorely.
The above article sits in its unchanged form following the complaint we recieved from Marcus Wareing for publishing it. For those interested in our earlier reviews of MWB they can be found here: MWB review 1 and MWB review 2.
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