Marcus Wareing is a man who knows his own mind. We’re prepping for his first shot in the kitchen of his eponymous restaurant in Knightsbridge’s Berkeley Hotel, and before we can sit down for a proper chat, we’ve raced through Brexit, Trump and London’s – touch wood – economic invincibility. And he keeps eyeballs, that signature sharp stare intact throughout. He’d make a great dinner party guest, if you were brave enough to cook for him, that is. While Marcus – first name terms, like on TV – knows his politics, he’s a food man first. His CV now lists three critically acclaimed restaurants, two Michelin stars, a chef’s-hatful of awards, and MasterChef, the all-conquering BBC cookery series that has turned him into a household name. Not surprisingly, when it comes to food, he’s not short of something to say.
‘The words “fine dining” are disappearing,’ he says, out of nowhere. ‘In London in particular, there are more and more restaurateurs from a luxury background opening simple outlets – burger, sushi or pizza joints, for example – and they’re all good.
‘You’re getting decent food and service at sensible prices, and you can call that “fine dining”. I think we need to get rid of those words and acknowledge that what we really want to achieve is just bloody good cookery with bloody good service.’
The challenge today, he says, is to find ever more reactive ways of delivering that experience. Marcus makes it plain that diners demands have changed in the wake of this new relaxed foodie culture. ‘Customers are tired of the shouty chef. Kitchens have become far more open in restaurants, and are now part of the dining room in most places. Diners want to see a kitchen at any price point, to connect with where their food is coming from.’
Marcus’ take on the ‘shouty chef’ is a sign of the wholesale changes filtering through the industry. ‘Now, chefs are allowed to get excited in the kitchen,’ he elaborates, ‘but in the olden days, it was a case of “get miserable” and “this is what we’re doing so do it this way and don’t change”. Today, there’s a new generation of chefs that are great at communicating. And technology has opened up new sources of inspiration, and better knowledge of produce and what other restaurants are doing via social media and so on.’
That goes both ways. With increased exposure, restaurateurs have to find ways to meet the demands of a customer whose tastes are constantly changing. ‘Customers are more aware of what’s in their food, of their health, diet and whatever turns them on food-wise,’ he continues. ‘They’ve been well educated; they want to read on menus what’s in a particular dish, whether it suits their dietary requirements, what the calorie count is.
‘Fifteen years ago, chefs would go crazy if they had to serve a vegetarian – now our vegetarian menus are as exciting, if not more so, than our others. There’s a lot of training around our dishes, and we offer the customer choice. If the customer wants ‘XYZ’ changed in a dish, we’ll do it. We have had to become more accessible. There’s no “no” in my restaurants.’
This ‘customer is king’ mantra is far from limited to the restaurant industry, but it’s notable that the culture has seeped into it. The days of that’s-how-the-chef-makes-it are numbered. At least they are in Marcus’ kitchen. ‘We’re strong, we adapt, we change, we never give up and we’ll be here for the long haul,’ he says. ‘I’m responsive to change, but the final decision boils down to one thing – flavour.’ Flavour, and, one suspects, iron will. Or as Marcus puts it, ‘bloody good cooking’.
Marcus at The Berkeley has two Michelin stars. Three courses from £85, marcusrestaurant.com