The Blog

This Week I Ate... Newman Street Tavern, The Lockhart and Marcus

Marcus Wareing has freshened up his restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel, reducing the title to just his Christian name as part of his attempt to informalise the joint a little. He has spotted that formal dining is not so all the rage right now...

Newman Street Tavern is a fine place to hold a cider PR and marketing summit. And so it was that the bosses of award-winning 3Cs cider (I'm one of the three Cs; Chaps) gathered with Story - the finest drinks PRs in the business - on Tuesday night. I don't drink cider when I'm discussing business so instead harnessed the idea of working our way through a case of 2012 Frantz Saumon Sauvignon de Touraine from the Loire. It's a great wine; aromatic, dry and able to match anything from herring roe on toast to rib eye steak.

The Newman Street Tavern prides itself on offering gutsy food that the local liberal media types are a little squeamish about; suckling animals, pickled fishes and meat extracted from the head of a pig (served with toast and crab apple jam). Steak tartare comes with a raw yolk so you can do the last bit of preparation and stir it into the bloody meat. Chips come from unpeeled potatoes and herring roe wobbled and glistens in a way that is disconcerting to the less-adventurous eye.

And of course all this grub is fabulous. They cook their steak beautifully (and we sampled every cut they had). The food robustly defines a king of British food that should be more universal. And the puddings are great. The chocolate tarts oozed the way you'd hope and a sweet almond tart was delivered in perfect pastry.

Then there was lunch at The Lockhart where in London's Fitzrovia you can - for the first time (in Fitzrovia) eat good honest food from the Deep South. The place is all airy, wooden floors, wooden tables and breathy freshness. Among the catfish goujons and grilled chicken oysters were two things of extraordinary deliciousness. Shrimp and grits was a bowl full of deeply warm, sumptuous flavour. The food was never this good when I visited New Orleans. Maybe because the chef Brad McDonald may have been Mississippi-born but has spent most of his cooking life in Brooklyn.

If I was a senior member of the Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina Confederation of Seriously Excellent Cheffy-goings On; I would call immediately for a resolution to have this man returned to the place of his birth.

Not that Fitzrovia doesn't deserve him. And it's a tribute to the extraordinary diversity and excellence of food now being served in the capital that he has joined our melee of great things to put in the mouth.

Alongside the shrimp and grits came the world's naughties bread. What Brad does to his cornbread could be banned in any household that shuns pleasure and takes a Victorian attitude to joy.

You could pour cream over it and have it as a pudding. It is rich and steaming with a crunchy bottom. It's sweet too - but not too sweet - and comes gleaming in homemade honey butter. Rumour has it the chef cooks the bread in pig fat, how, I don't know. But along with the Fitzrovia Bun from Honey & Co this is a baking item important enough to shove into your face at least once before you die.

Eat too many of them and you may well die. But do it before you snuff it.

Meanwhile Marcus Wareing has freshened up his restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel, reducing the title to just his Christian name as part of his attempt to informalise the joint a little.

He has spotted that formal dining is not so all the rage right now - people would rather slosh back wine in tumblers and sit shoulder to shoulder in places like Polpetto without a frothy veloute cappuccino of something in sight - so he has re-jigged his gaff.

Actually - and embarrassingly - I couldn't quite tell what had happened with décor. The room has always been dark on my visits. But there are some new, large egg-shaped tables enabling couples to sit side-by-side and look into the room.

Of course this is nothing new. I remember the wonderful little restaurant in Claridge's called The Coserie, where you sat looking into the room and over at the vast smorgasbord.

Still it works well at Marcus. But I wouldn't call it informal dining. This is at the top end of London eating. It comes with impeccable waiting staff - including a wise and charming Greek dude called Nick who dances across the room presenting dishes with a swirl and making complimentary noises.

How clever you are, he makes you feel, just to sit there and receive all this lovely food and drink.

And Wareing is now surely at the top of his game. Sporting a beard and longer hair, he walks the tables, tasting spoon in hand, posing for selfies and scooping up compliments. And why not. He is the master of this room and very long gone are the days when he even had to answer questions about being Gordon Ramsay's protégé.

His food is the bold type of fine dining that has enough confidence to be presented as it is cooked; no swirls, no smears, no pretty pictures are needed. But his crockery is finely attended. A beautiful little hollowed out slice of tree trunk brings one of the starters; amouse bouche include naughty bits of fried bread with a foie gras moussey thing and a pimped kind of Philadelphia cream cheese. All deeply enjoyable.

My starter had things likes snails and wild garlic and was fresh and clever. Beef came with a naughty pot of marrow and an evil little thing of the softest mashed potato imagineable with a grilled topping.

Then he takes the idea of the self-saucing chocolate pudding and annoys the hell out of anyone who thinks they've nailed it. I really liked the one at Newman Street Tavern, but this is in a different league. A small, dusty, dark thing whose chocolate is so beautifully dark but softly tempered. It makes me sigh just to recall it.

Wareing is to keen not to coast, too ambitious to get stuck in his ways and conscious of how the foodie eyes of the world now gaze upon London. So he obsesses about always upping his game, and my can we lucky enough to eat his food reap the benefit.

If you want a properly posh dinner - with amazing wines of course (the most memorable I had was a 1988 Banyul that came with dessert; always epic with chocolate and especially Christmas pudding) then you won't be disappointed. The only low point was a butter knife. You couldn't tell one end from the other although neither seemed either.

Which was a bit too informal for my liking...