The Good Life

The Restaurant Marco Pierre White, London

| By James Suckling | From Matt Dillon, Spring 96

Paris has perfect restaurants. So does New York. But it is difficult to find one in London, where all the well-known gastronomic temples seem to have their pitfalls. Either the food really isn't that good, or the service is abysmal, or the ambience is fairly tasteless. Whatever the combination, it is nearly impossible to find a place that has great quality in all three cases.

That's no longer true. The Restaurant Marco Pierre White, located in the Hyde Park Hotel in Knightsbridge, is definitely where you want to go for a great dining experience in London. Everything is flawless, from the elegant decor to the perfectly executed food. You would be hard pressed to say you were not in Paris eating in a well-established two- or three-star restaurant with The Restaurant's impeccable service, most of which is delivered by a highly efficient team of French waiters and sommeliers.

It is slightly strange that the restaurant is so overtly French, since chef Marco Pierre White is English. A local boy made good, White has worked his way up through some of London's best known kitchens, such as Le Gavroche. He first made his name when he ran his own restaurant, Harvey's, in Wandsworth, where he was just as well-known for his imaginative food as he was for his gastronomic hooliganism. The tabloid press relished notorious tantrums and abuse of customers there.

It all seemed to change, however, about two years ago when White moved as chef to The Restaurant. He obviously had his eyes on Michelin stars and realized that he had to clean up his act. He actually received three stars last year, making him the youngest chef, at 33, in Michelin's history to receive such an honor.

White's food certainly lives up to three stars. A simple warm terrine of foie gras, York ham and Savoy cabbage was intensely flavored yet light and refreshing. A ravioli of langoustines, truffles and Savoy cabbage with a sauce of foie gras was equally delicious. Main courses were even more impressive. A roasted turbot with grilled sea scallops, creamed parsley, roasted garlic and girolles mushrooms served with a Sauternes sauce struck a perfect balance with the delicate flavors of the fish and the bold character of the accompanying components. Roasted pigeon with a confit of garlic and potatoes served with a light truffle sauce was incredibly rich in flavor, yet not overpowering. The desserts were outstanding, too--a decadent chocolate souffle and vivid lemon tart topped the list, but the meal left little room for indulgence.

The wine list offered a wide selection. Fine Burgundies and Bordeaux spanning dozens of vintages were available, not to mention a few wines from just about every good wine region in the world. Particularly noteworthy were the half bottles; you can choose from dozens of them. We started with a wonderful half bottle of 1992 Tokay Pinot Gris Vieilles Vignes from Domaine Zind Humbrecht, which had the weight and depth of flavors of a grand cru white Burgundy. We followed with a half of 1991 Vosne Romanee from Jean Gros, which was a perfect match to our fish and meat courses.

Finding a good after-dinner cigar was the only small setback of the evening. The restaurant's humidor is dominated by Davidoff's Dominican cigars; the only other choices were two Cohiba Siglos, the IV and the V. A Siglo IV's powerfully rich flavors were the excellent foil to a filling three-star meal. Yet, you'd expect a restaurant called "The Restaurant" to have "the humidor" filled with all the top imported brand names.

The only conclusion is that there is still room for Marco Pierre White to improve.

-- James Suckling

The Restaurant Marco Pierre White
66 Knightsbridge
Phone: (44) 171-259-5380
Dinner: about $200 to $250 per person with wine.

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