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On the right tracks, Marcus

This week's destination for Michael is Marcus Wareing's restaurant at St Pancras, where he tried the Suffolk stew pie

Published 14 August 2011
News Review
943rd article

The Sheppard family sitting in front of Michael with Marcus Wareing, left, and Chantelle Nicholson, right (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

St Pancras railway station has been restored to its original Victorian splendour. Housed within is the St Pancras Renaissance London hotel. The brochure describes it as, "A celebration of Victorian joie de vivre and sophistication." You can vote yes or no on that. It offers the Gilbert Scott restaurant, named after the architect who originally designed it all.

My visit started dismally. I phoned, gave my name, and asked for Chantelle Nicholson, the restaurant manager.

A receptionist said, "What is it regarding?" Then said, "She's not available." I rang again and got an unobtainable tone. The third time, I was left holding on for ever. The fourth time, the receptionist said, "She'll be with you in a moment." I waited for three minutes, before giving up. Fifth time, I got Chantelle and made a reservation. By then I needed a rest and a valium.

When I arrived Chantelle led me past the old booking office, now in the enormous Victorian lobby beset with tacky bar furniture, past a grand staircase to the restaurant. There I was greeted by Dominique Corolleur, the floor manager. He used to be restaurant manager for Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's. When I awarded Dominique "worst restaurant manager in the world" he bravely came and collected it at the Winner's Dinners award ceremony. In a lesser position, he's very charming, not snooty as he was at Claridge's. I rejected a small table, pointing to another one.

The restaurant is a far-flung outpost of Marcus Wareing, the two-Michelin-starred chef with his own place in the Berkeley hotel, Knightsbridge. He explained this new concept was based on restaurants run by Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, his idols. Gilbert Scott has a way to go to reach their standard.

The white bread with fennel seed and sage was superb. The melba toast, a disaster - too heavy, too thick. The crab was buried beneath an enormous salad. By the time I'd dug far enough to get to Australia and back I was too confused to decide whether it was any good.

The room was impressive, with marble pillars, gilt cornices and large prints of highly decorative paintings by Nina Pohl.

For my main course I ordered a pie called Suffolk stew. The pastry was soggy. The interior, adequate; the meatballs, glumpy and solid. The only good part of my main course was colcannon - a mixture of potato, leek and cabbage.

For dessert I chose Mrs Beeton's snow eggs - Everton toffee, peanuts, burnt honey custard. That was sickly. I also went for a Bakewell tart with almonds, jam and Jersey cream. I consider myself a world expert on Bakewell tart. Chantelle worried me, saying, "It's our take on a Bakewell tart." It was overweight, the icing far too sinewy. At best, a distant cousin of the real thing.

Chantelle, seeing I'd left a lot, said, "Shall I take this to the Bakewell graveyard?" "I have a feeling it came from there," I responded. I turned my attention to a Kendal mint cake choc ice. This was fantastic.

At the next table, the nice-looking Sheppard family was celebrating the 24th birthday of their daughter Emma. Rather than just photographing me and gloomy restaurant staff I made a major artistic decision: include the family.

There wasn't enough room for dad so I asked him to step aside. Marcus looked nervous. You can see mother Penny, birthday girl Emma and sister Libby all more attractive than the people behind, namely Marcus, me and Chantelle.

The service and Chantelle were exemplary. The meal wasn't. Pity, because I like Marcus.

Back on the street I had £10 ready for the doorman, who stood there doing nothing. Heaven forbid he should have taken 12 paces to open the car door for Geraldine. So he didn't get his £10. That'll teach him.

  • A treat for those living in Chichester. Next Sunday, August 21, I'm at the Chichester cinema, New Park Road, with my one-man show, My Life in Movies and Other Places, as part of the Chichester film festival.

    This considerably praised, laugh-a-minute event (I'll spare you my reviews again) started at the National Film Theatre in 1967, has been tarted up and performed at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and Washington; the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles; Oxford, Cambridge and other universities; the King's Head Theatre, London, and all over the UK. Times+ members £7.50, others £10, including wine. I'm on at 6.30pm. Box office: 01243 786650.

    The Sunday Times is massively read in and around Chichester. My visit will put a stop to that. See you? Or same show at 7.30pm at Wilton's Music Hall, London E1 on November 8 and 17 for Times+ members.

  • From Roger Foord of Chorleywood, Hertfordshire: Hymie is recently widowed. After a respectful time of mourning, Hymie, now old and lonely, ventures out to the local pub. There he meets a lady who invites him back to her place for a nightcap. Once in her house, they start to get friendly.

    She says, "Would you like to go upstairs and have sex?" Hymie replies, "I can't do both."

    Michael's missives

    Mr W loved the pike pie at the St John hotel. I've never considered pike a culinary delight. Michael may like to try this Scandinavian recipe: place the pike between two pine boards, wrap wire around and put in the hot embers of a log fire for 20 minutes. Remove from embers, unwrap, throw away the pike, eat the boards.
    Graham Richards, Dorset

    I notice on the same page where Michael Winner boasts about his illegal parking in Leicester Street there's an item regarding the mayor of Vilnius driving an armoured car over an illegally parked Mercedes in his city. Over to you, Westminster.
    Neil Mitchell, Nottingham

    Is it by accident or design that you manage to give iconic status to grunge dress: sandals, pyjama bottoms and nightshirt topped by a bomber jacket? A bit longer and the tailors can all go home. Where can I buy your gear?
    Dennis Pallis, Kent

    In last week's photo are you holding hands with the chef, Tom Harris, or just quietly slipping him the usual tenner? We should be told!
    Don Roberts, Cheshire

    Regarding restaurants that continue to sell alcohol to inebriated and noisy diners: a recent example was Vineria in St John's Wood. The manager did nothing. Whereas at the Wolseley the couple behind us were falling down drunk. The manager asked them to leave.
    Elaine Jankel, London

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk