Marcus Wareing tells Food Critic Richard McComb about his work with a new hotel restaurant in Birmingham – and how he broke his five-year silence with Gordon Ramsay.
I am perched on an Alice in Wonderland oversized chair in a brand new hotel, awaiting the arrival of one of Britain’s most celebrated chefs.
Until recently, this pristine £24 million black and ivory building was a wind-blasted building site in the middle of one of Europe’s biggest urban regeneration schemes.
Construction workers in hard hats and fluorescent jackets still busy themselves in the area surrounding Hotel La Tour. Birmingham’s Eastside project is far from complete.
But the hotel’s ambitious management team, and the star chef who is busily autographing cook books, have not come here for the finished product. They have come here seeking to unlock potential. They are up for the challenge.
One of the toughest challenges will be to make La Tour pull off what arguably no other Birmingham hotel has quite pulled off: and that is to create a bona fide destination restaurant.
There are good restaurants at several city hotels, including Aria at the Hyatt and Hotel du Vin’s brasserie. But Brum diners have never entirely got hotel dining, which has been perceived, often unfairly, as being corporate and a bit stuffy.
La Tour hopes to change that. Hence the bloke signing copies of a book called How To Cook The Perfect ... Because when it comes to running hugely successful hotel restaurants, Marcus Wareing is in the A team.
His flagship high-end restaurant, Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, is regularly cited as one of, if not the, finest place to eat in London.
La Tour hopes the two Michelin star chef will sprinkle some of his magic stardust on Albert Street, an area historically renowned for greasy spoon cafes and Tennent’s lager.
Like many people, I’m baffled why Wareing, former protégé of Gordon Ramsay and now star in his own right, has decided to break out of his high-pressure comfort zone (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms) to risk his reputation on a project up the M6. I would ask him just that, why he’s come to Brum, but he’s still signing books and is late for our interview.
I am concerned that when he does turn up he will say, “Right, two questions. Then you can clear off.”
I toy with approaching the table where Wareing is scrawling on his books but I’ve read what he said after spectacularly falling out with Ramsay: “If I never speak to that guy again for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t bother me one bit. Wouldn’t give a f***.”
I decide to stay put. Wareing is quite small, slim, greying and bearded, but I don’t fancy my chances. When he does turn up, it’s a bit of a let down. You see he couldn’t be more amenable.
When I ask how long he’s got, he says he’s got as long as I need.
We set out on what proves to be a wide-ranging, good humour talk in which the 41-year-old doesn’t shy from controversy. He has a pop at celebrity chefs who put their name above restaurants but never cook there.
Now, whoever could he mean? Can anyone think of anywhere in Birmingham where that might happen?
But first up: a gastro scoop.
Wareing famously hasn’t spoken to his gobby mentor since the Battle of The Berkeley. Gordon Ramsay Holdings used to run the hotel’s Pétrus restaurant, where Wareing was head chef. The two chefs fell out, Pétrus became Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley and sorcerer and apprentice (Ramsay was best man at Wareing’s wedding) cut all diplomatic relations.
But on Monday last week, Wareing reveals how the two sparring partners crossed paths in a corridor at 10 Downing Street during a reception to mark Britain’s culinary achievements.
“It’s a world exclusive,” says Wareing with a mischievous smile.
Yes, yes. But what did they say to each other, I ask? Were there raised voices? Was there a fight? Were canapés thrown?
Wareing says: “I said, ‘Hello Gordon.’ He said ‘Hello Marcus.’ That’s the only thing I’ve said to Gordon in five years – hello in Number 10.”
And that was it.
Don’t hold your breath for a reunion. The Cold War has thawed but a peace treaty isn’t on the table.
Wareing adds: “I’ve got nothing to say to Gordon. I’ve moved on, he’s moved on. I’m not interested in him and he’s not interested in me. We are two very different people. I couldn’t care less.”
Emotions are not as heightened as they once were and Wareing pays tribute, of sorts, to the chef whose three Michelin stars he would love to eclipse.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here today if it wasn’t for Gordon,” says Wareing. “What happened? We grew up. We became different people. Gordon was travelling the world, expanding all over the world. He was on television, doing a fantastic job. I was in my restaurant and that is where I wanted to be. The direction the restaurant was going down was not necessarily the direction I wanted it to go. I wanted it to be personal to me. It wasn’t. It was more personal to two or three other people.”
There is no such confusion any more. The Berkeley dining room (Pierre Koffmann’s is at the other end of the hotel) bears Wareing’s definitive stamp and last year he opened a second restaurant, The Gilbert Scott, in the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, as a bustling brasserie counterpoint to the elegant precision of the Knightsbridge operation.