Last year, to celebrate one of Y's lovely cousins' 30th birthday, we had dinner at the chef's table at Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley - the restaurant formerly known as Petrus. Fortunately for us, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing had just parted ways - Marcus got the restaurant, Gordon got the name, staff, the cellar and all the reservations. The upside of this was that we were able to get a chef's table at a 2 Michelin starred restaurant without the usual 3-6 month waiting list!
Now the chef's table is really only for those foodies obsessed enough to convince themselves that dropping a week's rent on one meal is an unmissable opportunity. I was excited about the experience, but dubious that it could really be worth the cash. I left thinking I'd gotten a bargain!
We started the night in the lounge area with champagne and canapes (we met the lovely sommelier who dropped his poncy posh English accent and reverted to his true blue Aussie one upon realising we were all of the same persuasion). The price for the food is set, but the wine is not ... you have a different wine with each course, so the sommelier wanted to talk about our preferences for wine including how much we were prepared to spend on each bottle. I appreciated this approach, as it not only obviously assisted the sommelier in picking our wines, but it meant we knew that we weren't going to be hit up for a bigger fortune than we'd budgetted for at the end of the meal.
We were then led through the restaurant (I promise I didn't smile smugly and look around the entire dining room to see who was watching) and into the kitchen. Our table was directly opposite the pass in the kitchen and was a U shaped booth, so that we were all facing the kitchen. It was slightly raised, so we had a perfect view, and air conditioned so we felt none of the heat the chefs were no doubt experiencing.
The degustation menu had 9 courses and is created just for the chef's table each day, based on that day's produce. What I loved most was that for each course, the chef who had prepared it came over to the table to talk us through the dish. Several of the chefs were very young and used only to slaving away over a hot stove all day (an occasion when that saying isn't even slightly exaggerated!) and not having to talk to a group of complete strangers, let along a group of very happy girls hurling questions. We later took a tour of the kitchen and everyone we met was so lovely and obviously very dedicated. It's a definitely a labour of love!
A few weeks after the dinner we were sent a printed menu of the night including every wine we were served, as well as a signed card from Marcus, all enclosed in a plush black envelope with "The Berkeley" embossed in silver on the front (sigh). Here's the menu:
Leek & potato soup, green leek foam
Sauteed foie gras,
fig compote and
pistachio (how did
they know to
combine three of
my favourite foods
into one dish?)
Confit loin of tuna, lobster Caesar salad, aged parmesan
Roasted scallops, crayfish, lemon confit and broad beans
Suckling pig, white onion fondue, wild mushrooms, fennel roots
Assiette of desserts; bitter chocolate moelleux, raspberry
chocolate gateau, peanut
iced lime mousse, almond pannacotta and orange creme with spiced brioche crisps
We enjoyed the dessert courses whilst the chefs scrubbed the kitchen - I would happily have eaten off the kitchen floor once they'd finished.
Head Chef Marcus, and his 2nd in Command (a Kiwi) were at the pass the entire time and assembled all the food which was brought to them by the chefs. Everything that left the kitchen had to be shown to Marcus and get the OK before being served - even down to a selection of bread sticks in a glass. The attention to detail was incredible. The kitchen was very busy but always supremely calm. So calm in fact that we thought the restaurant may only have been half full and yet it was actually completely packed.
It was a super duper experience. Definitely worth eating at home for 6 months in advance to save up the money to blow on one meal! Y & I agreed it was our best food experience ever. In fact we had food hangovers the next day and had to have burgers and fries!
In a few weeks we're celebrating the same cousin's birthday and also her return to Australia, so in keeping with tradition (as much as doing something 2 years in a row can be a tradition) we'll be enjoying the degustation menu at Le Gavroche (2 Michelin stars). I am very much looking forward to this - much less so the diet of lettuce and water we will be on until then in order to a) make room in our bellies for all the food and b) be able to pay for it!