Published 19 September 1993 Style Magazine 13th article
On Tuesday of last week Marco Pierre White, the council-house lad from Leeds, completed his journey to London's West End with the opening of his new restaurant at the Hyde Park Hotel.
It is grossly unfair to comment on the first occasion he decided to serve in his new abode; but this will not hold me back.
My first impression was absolutely horrible. You enter through a tired, chipped, miserable lobby that leads to the Hyde Park banqueting rooms. I was faced by an unprepossessing carpet leading up the stairs, a sign saying "Gentlemen's Cloakroom and Hairdressing Salon", some plastic sheeting and an odd smell.
Not having any directions I started to climb the seedy carpet. In fact, Marco's restaurant, unsignposted, is through some doors on the left of the lobby. The room is spacious and cool, with floodlit flowers and ivy through the windows which look on to Knightsbridge.
My host was Marco's partner, Michael Caine, and Marco himself appeared briefly, very harassed, then vanished behind a screen near our table and back into the kitchen. From time to time throughout the evening, his voice could be heard in a frenzy of excitement.
I had put myself into a mind-set in which things were bound to be slow, there could be no napkin-waving, banging on the table, or jumping up to admonish the head waiter. That was just as well, because it was two and a quarter hours before the main course arrived.
I knew things were touch and go when our waiter dropped a bread roll down Michael Caine's back, showering white flour over him. Then another waiter dropped Mrs Caine's champagne glass, breaking it, and my bread was thrown in front of me on to the plate, nearly bouncing off. The waiter returned and greeted us with "Good afternoon" at nine o'clock in the evening. Michael Caine, a man of high professional standards, flashed a glance memorable to behold.
I was beginning to wish I'd stayed at home and watched the spin-dryer, when some hot vichyssoise with oyster and caviare was delivered. One taste of that and I knew Marco was on brilliant form.
Then came a vinaigrette of leeks and langoustine with caviare, which could not have been better and I tried a bit of everyone else's portions, which were equally impressive.
There followed a long delay, during which I mulled over the fact that were I in charge I would probably fire every waiter in the place and start again.
This was broken by the arrival of my pot roast pork with spices and cuvee of vegetables with pommes persillees.
It was as good a main course as I have ever eaten, and I had the sense to be born to extremely rich parents, who kept me gloriously fed from childhood.
Once again I nicked a bit from everyone else's plate and the extraordinary culinary standard was maintained.
Marco's desserts have always been legendary. I had a pyramide which I will not attempt to describe, but which was to die for. Mr Caine had a selection of chocolate items, each one more delicious than the other. I know, because I nicked his plate after he'd had only a tiny mouthful.
I ventured into the kitchen, where Marco's language flowed unabated. But he had to be congratulated. (He was at the time screaming about Nigel Dempster's tarte tartin.)
Later, and calmer, when he showed me out to my car, we stood under the blue awning with "Marco Pierre White The Restaurant" on it and chatted about the "theatre" of that night.
It had been deliciously memorable, and when he gets the service sorted out it will be historic.
For years I have felt the same way as your correspondent Dr Jaffe about the ridiculous phallic pepper mill gesturings in Italian restaurants. Indeed, a few years ago, when I was treated to the ritual swoopings and grindings of the giant pepper mill (to the accompaniment of much hip-wiggling, eye-flashing and arm-waving), I caused some consternation by asking if it could be left at the table so we could regulate our own amounts of pepper. There followed a silent moment of horror and a very definite refusal. I got the distinct impression that, as four women together, we should have melted at the first waving of the pepper mill.
Gretta Gomes, Maidenhead, Berkshire
Michael Winner has now taken an unjustified swipe at the Ivy on two occasions. As an advertising head-hunter, I lunch all over town at all the right places and the Ivy wins hands down every time; there's always an exciting, glamorous buzz about the place, Mitchell and his boys are relentlessly charming and helpful and, despite the fact that I only ever order a Caesar salad, a bottle of water and eat all their bread, they always give the impression that they would like me to come back. And the bill never comes to more than £35 for two, so, to my mind, it's the best value for money in London.
Camilla Sparkes, London SW3
While I am an avid reader of your Restaurant Watch page, I do think the cut-out "warning" is tacky and insensitive. Apart from its being extremely bad manners to plonk pieces of paper on a beautifully laid dining table, I would not trust the comments of anyone gauche enough to so insult the restaurant!
Michael Williams, London NW11
May we recommend, without any hesitation at all, the Mirabelle restaurant in the Grand Hotel Eastbourne? Not our favourite town in fact, we found ourselves there only by mistake but we were made most welcome at lunch, even though I was without jacket and tie. The food was excellent, unfussy and beautifully served in a polite, cheerful and totally un-condescending manner all for a little under £60.
Michael Butterworth, Hampton, Middlesex