Marcus Wareing is a perfectionist: As chefs go, he’s intense, driven and can be tough.
See the world in a grain of sand and he’ll say you’re not the only pebble on the beach. Ask him about his time as Gordon Ramsay’s best friend and you’ll soon learn how they fell out.
At least, that was the Wareing I’ve known for the past few years. So who is this with me at the chef’s table at the Gilbert Scott, smiling, reminiscing nostalgically about school meals and shrugging his shoulders if something’s not quite right?
“I don’t want people to come here to take photographs of the food and sit here criticizing,” he says of his new London eatery, which opened this week at St. Pancras station. “People take food too seriously. They need to chill out a bit.”
Wareing does have reasons to be cheerful. The restaurant is housed in a Victorian Gothic building that’s one of the most stunning in London. The interior designs by David Collins (whose previous projects include the Wolseley and Madonna’s bedroom) are gorgeous: the red-and-cream color scheme of the dining room reflects St. Pancras’s railway history, while in the bar, the eye is drawn to the elaborately decorated original ceiling by light fittings in the shape of giant bells.
The menu consists mainly of comfort food, with many of the dishes based on the kind of thing Wareing ate as a child: Fish cakes, fish & chips, pease pudding and Manchester tart all make an appearance, and few Britons will resist Paxo stuffing.
“I want this to be my Ivy, the Wolseley,” Wareing, 40, says, referring to the venues of Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, where people meet and eat, see and are seen, and the focus is on hospitality and comfort rather than the brilliance of the chef.
“It’s all about the concept, it’s all about the client, it’s all about the staff, it’s all about the food, it’s all about everything, whereas where I’m from, it’s all about the chef,” he says. “That’s slightly out of date, and people have moved on.”
Wareing holds two Michelin stars at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, a restaurant he originally created for Ramsay under the name Petrus. (The breakup of the former friends was bitter before Wareing opened his own restaurant in September 2008.)
“I don’t want my name anywhere near here, not interested,” he says. “Because I’m over the chef wanting his name above the door. Take Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley as an example. If I could reverse the clock back, I’d take my name off it. The only reason why I kept my name on it was because I wanted people to know that I was Petrus and that I was the man behind it. They needed to know that that restaurant hadn’t changed hands.
“I’ve invested a lot of money in the Gilbert Scott, millions,” he says. “I don’t do consultancies, not in restaurants. It’s my business. I run this operation the same as the Berkeley. The investment for me is colossal.”
Much of the menu consists of nostalgia food elevated to a higher level by the modern cooking of the chef Ollie Wilson, formerly of J. Sheekey and Scott’s. Fish and chips, for example, come with a mushy-pea mayonnaise, mini-Yorkshire puddings float on rich gravy and Eccles cakes are served with cheese ice cream.
Most starters cost less than 10 pounds ($16.50) and mains are in the 15 pounds to 20 pounds range. I can’t review a restaurant on the day of opening, based on sitting in the kitchen with the owner asking the head chef to prepare dishes.
What I can say is this: If the food in the dining room is that good, Wareing won’t be the only one smiling.
The Gilbert Scott, St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, London, NW1 2AR. Tel. +44-20-7278-3888 or click on http://www.thegilbertscott.co.uk/.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)