Last week Marcus Wareing opened his second restaurant since branching out on his own in 2008. He talks to Amanda Afiya about his expanding empire and the opening of the Gilbert Scott at the St Pancras Renaissance London hotel.
How would you describe your new concept?
The Gilbert Scott is part of an iconic building. A building that so many people have just walked past over the years but now, finally, has people in it again.
The Gilbert Scott is a straightforward British brasserie. We are serving some classical English dishes, using seasonal produce and recipes pulled from some of the old classical recipe books. It is not a fine-dining restaurant and is a breath of fresh air.
This is your second restaurant opening since parting company from Gordon Ramsay Holdings in 2008, when you simultaneously opened Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley. How significant is it?
It means a huge amount to me. It is special to me for a number of reasons. It's my second restaurant after Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley. It's very different - a complete step away from fine dining, which is an interesting challenge for me and the team.
Finally, the building - when I first saw it I just couldn't say no. The design of the building by Sir George Gilbert Scott is just incredible. Every time I walk into the room I think "wow". I have something here that other restaurateurs don't have - the architecture is unique, it's special, you can't buy it.
How have people responded to the food so far?
So far so good! Once people understand that it is not fine dining - it really is just good, hearty food suited to an English brasserie - then they like it. The menu has a lot of choice so we find people are coming back to try things they couldn't try the first time.
The side dishes are very popular - the pease pudding or the cauliflower pudding. The desserts have proved very popular, too. Lots of people try the Manchester tart and then say "Oh yes, I remember that". It's a childhood dish - from the North at least. We wanted the menu to define the place - to tap into the concept.
How long had you been looking for a second restaurant?
I never looked for the Gilbert Scott - it found me. I was captivated by the place when I visited it. At the Berkeley, with my name above the door, it was everything I had ever dreamed of and more. But here I'm on my own in a five-star de luxe hotel with no business partners, no one to answer to.
It's the best-case scenario for a chef. But that's not to say that the 15 years before with Gordon Ramsay were bad. Those 15 years were vital for my education - it's what I learnt to get where I am today.
Why have I done this when I did not need to? I think I always had it in the back of my mind to have some level of expansion. Chantelle [Nicholson, the Gilbert Scott's general manager] was ready for a move and this place just dropped into my inbox.
How did you hear about it?
We were approached by Davis Coffer Lyons [who in turn had been hired by Harry Handelsman of the Manhattan Loft Corporation, which owns the hotel, to get in touch with four or five restaurateurs]. I was intrigued by the building and its history. It was curiosity - I didn't need to do another restaurant. I came 18 months ago with my wife, Jane, and Chantelle. It was freezing cold and we were in hard hats, steel-toe-capped boots and brightly coloured jackets. We were showed around and then went to a coffee shop at the British Library and sat in silence. They were both waiting for my opinion. Finally, I said "I've got to do it" and they both agreed.
Installing Chantelle as general manager sees a major shift from her cheffing career ?
It would have been easy to put Chantelle in charge at the Berkeley, but she wanted more out of her career than to stand on the hotplate - it's not the same as running your own restaurant - she'd had a taste of that at the Berkeley. Chantelle is the only chef I know who puts in more hours than me and that's because she is hungry and wants opportunities.
So what happened next?
Once we had come and had a look, we were asked to put forward a bid to operate a restaurant in the site. It was almost like an interview with Harry Handelsman and his team on one side of the table, us on the other.
When we were asked what concept we would put in, I said that I would like to create a busy British brasserie along the lines of a brasserie in Europe - I would try to put it next to the Wolseley and Scott's.
From their reactions, it was like I had struck gold. I said the concept would not be about me - it was the Gilbert Scott - we already had a name which Chantelle had come up with.
Why isn't it about you? Do you not want to create a brand?
I don't want to see my name in neon lights all over the world. I have one restaurant that bears my name and I'm quite happy with that.
Are you against chefs creating brands? Was Gordon Ramsay wrong to roll out his name?
At that particular time, it was right for Gordon to put his name above the doors - in fact it was very, very clever. But the recession has taught everybody a lot and the general public doesn't buy it any more. I do find it odd when chefs talk about themselves in the third person. You're one man with one name. People buy into brands but then they generally don't know who is behind them, like McDonald's.
You have talked about aligning the Gilbert Scott to the Wolseley and Scott's. How are you going to do that?
Ollie Wilson [formerly senior sous chef of Caprice Holding's restaurant Scott's] has been appointed as head chef and is a very open-minded young man with a great head on his shoulders. He's a pleasure to work with.
I have the utmost respect for Caprice Holdings - [former Caprice Holdings operators and Wolseley owners] Chris Corbin and Jeremy King are the best restaurateurs in the Britain by a country mile. The ethos that I am trying to create here is to come close to what they do.
Ollie has fitted in very well and while Chantelle created the menu last year, Ollie has spent three months at the Berkeley developing it. I want his influence. I've just come from a team meeting and said "we never say no". I want it to be noisy, hustle and bustle, cutlery dropping on floor… well, reverse that… but if it happens it happens, it's that type of place, it's a British brasserie.
Do you intend to spend a lot of time at the Gilbert Scott?
My presence will only be felt here if we get it wrong. I have a fabulous team here, people who have worked with me before or for a long time - Chantelle (seven-plus years), executive chef Darren Velvick (worked for us before for eight years), Nick Ward, senior sous chef (seven-plus years), Sam Dinsdale in pastry (four years), Dominique Corolleur our floor manager - I opened L'Oranger with him, he's since been at the Connaught and Sketch, and then there's Mark Cesareo, sommelier. And we have teamed up with Grey Goose for the bar - it's one of the best things we have done - they brought to the table a very talented and personable lad, Oliver Blackburn, then we have Jane and Nicola Monks standing in the wings to support Chantelle in whatever she needs.
Did you have any reservations about the area?
This is an unknown area for me but Chantelle lives locally. There are so many advantages to it not being in the West End - there's so much around you. There's a massive project behind the station, there's a sign up along Euston Road that says 1.6 million people see this every two weeks - you've got that and Euston, St Pancras, King's Cross, the Eurotunnel gateway to Europe, 66 apartments above my head, a 245-bedroom hotel - that's 700-800 people sitting above your head.
When I first learnt it was a Marriott Renaissance property I did think "it's not quite the Ritz, not quite Maybourne", but they've been very professional and Kevin Kelly is an outstanding manager. He's the man that helped to develop Jason Atherton's brand, Maze, at Grosvenor Square, a manager with great vision.
This hotel is the flagship and it's privately owned. This model stops me from having to bring a business partner to the table. There's a massive advantage of being in partnership with a five-star de luxe hotel with over 3,500 hotels worldwide.
So what are your ambitions here and at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley?
I have not really thought about it. I have spent the past year or so planning for this year and the future. I had not been happy with the Berkeley until I had this current team in place, in January of this year. The team is more relaxed about accolades - they understand what it takes to make sure the restaurant is on track for clients, rather than cooking for Michelin. My head chef at Marcus Wareing, James Knappett, is one of the best chefs in the country and Dimitri Bellos, my restaurant manager, is so alive - they make my job very easy. And the Berkeley will be my home - it's very special to me.
Do you still hope to achieve three Michelin stars?
I feel relaxed. Rene [Redzepi of Noma] did not win his third star and yet he is the number one restaurant in the world. Of course I would love it for the team, for myself and for the next stage of my career, but ultimately I cook for my guests.
Your name is still synonymous with Pétrus - in fact people still mistakenly refer to it as your restaurant. Does it bother you that Gordon Ramsay Holdings set up a restaurant called Pétrus around the corner from the Berkeley?
It's odd. People think that Pétrus should be in the most stunning of dining rooms - it should take centre stage, be bigger and better than Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley. Pétrus is the best wine in the world and yet the restaurant is a backstreet, neighbourhood brasserie.
I ran Pétrus for 10 years, it was a special time fore. I put my name above the door for one reason and one reason only - to make sure that because Pétrus at the Berkeley had closed, it was not over. I was Pétrus. If I could turn the clock back I'd take it back right now. I love the brand Pétrus - it's a beautiful name and an iconic wine. I was made to run that restaurant. I'd be more scared if people forgot about it.
Finally, do you have any plans for further restaurants in the near future?
No - I have enough on my plate right now! I am going to do something with this business that I've never done with any business before - I'm going to enjoy it. I owe it to the team.
The Gilbert Scott key facts
Where St Pancras Renaissance London hotel
General manager Chantelle Nicholson
Opened 5 May 2011
Seats 115 in restaurant, 54 in bar, 12 in private room, kitchen table seats 10
Hours bar open from 12pm, restaurant open for lunch 12-3pm and dinner 5.30-11pm.
Bookings 2,600 reservations made within 24 hours of the telephone line opening
Designer David Collins
A SELECTION FROM THE MENU AT THE GILBERT SCOTT
Queen Anne's artichoke tart - globe artichokes, tarragon dressing, £8
Yorkshire fish cake - smoked haddock and herbs, cucumber, £8.50
Mulligatawny - quail, onion rings, curry spice, £7.50
London Pride battered cod - mushy pea mayonnaise, chips, £17.50
Great Garnetts farm pork belly - slow-baked with apple and sage jam, £17
Glamorgan sausages - leeks, Caerphilly cheese, herb salad, £16
George's chips, Sarsons mayonnaise £4
Pease pudding - split peas, parsley, smoked bacon stock, £3.50
Colcannon - Hispi cabbage, young leeks, crushed potato, £4.50
Kendal mint cake choc ice, £5.50
Lord Mayor's trifle - pineapple, coconut, rum, £7.50
Manchester tart - bananas, custard, raspberry jam, rum cream, £6.50
MARCUS WAREING AND ST PANCRAS RENAISSANCE
Marcus Wareing was already aligned to another hotel group - namely Maybourne at the Berkeley - but this fact did not put off property agent Davis Coffer Lyons from suggesting to the St Pancras Renaissance London hotel that it might like to collaborate with the two-Michelin-starred chef.
Tracey Mills, director at Davis Coffer Lyons, explains: "Marcus is seen as a brilliant chef - he had bedded down the Berkeley and was maintaining fantastic reviews. We were hopeful, as it was such a special opportunity, that he might consider another site."
Moving to another part of town is a bold step for Wareing, particularly as the area is sparse on the fine-dining front. While Wareing wasn't remotely familiar with the immediate area of the St Pancras, it was obvious to Davis Coffer Lyons that bringing in a chef of Wareing's calibre was crucial. "What Marcus brings to the area is the endorsement of his belief in the project, a fantastic reputation and great food. The entire Kings Cross area is one that is undergoing so much change, you cannot help but being caught up in the enthusiasm of all involved. As the gateway to Europe with Eurostar, as well as the outstanding refurbishment of the Renaissance hotel itself, I think when you walk into that room you cannot help but be blown away."
Clearly Wareing has decided not to open at the St Pancras with his name above the door and has made the concept very different from his Michelin-starred restaurant in Knightsbridge, and Mills supports this. "This project was always looked at with Chantelle Nicholson at the helm, for whom Marcus obviously has much admiration. You really have to have faith in the chef or operator you choose - that is what you are buying into. The chef is putting their own name to it, too, so they will be very concerned about choosing the right operation for the site. Any site is emotive for chefs and they have to go with their instincts."