Within the Edition Hotel in Berners Street is hyperactive Jason Atherton’s latest London venture, a large all-day restaurant seating no less than 140 people at one time, including bar seating. The striking Ian Schrager-designed dining room has a vaulting ceiling and walls crammed with art. It feels very much like a grand New York dining room, and it turns out that the huge chandeliers are actually from Grand Central station. Veteran designer Schrager designed the famous Studio 54 in New York and the St Martins Lane and Sanderson hotels in London. The Berners Tavern opened in September but is already a commercial smash hit, doing 253 covers on the Thursday evening prior to our visit, where tables were being turned around us. Not bad for one month into operation.
The only drawback to the room is the lighting, which in the evening is not so much moody as murky. I needed a torch to read the menu, and so did the diners next to us. This is actually just like New York, where the restaurant lighting levels start at gloomy and move downwards to pitch black, but it is not very relaxing when you have to peer into the dark to try and discern what you may like to eat or drink. Given this pretty obvious practical problem, printing the menu in a small font on a grey background is just rubbing it in. Once you get past the ordering process and look up, the room itself looks glorious, and is certainly one of the most dramatic London dining rooms.
The head chef is Phil Carmichael, who has worked with Jason Atherton for years in various capacities. He was executive chef of the ill-fated Maze in Prague, then of Maze in Cape Town, and from November 2011 has been head chef of the Jason Atherton restaurant group.
The wine list had a good range of classy growers, but markups were hardly kind, particularly at the high end of the list. Saxton Bridge 2012 Sauvignon Blanc was £34 for a wine you can find in the high street for £11, Shaw and Smith 2012 M3 Chardonnay was £65 for a wine that retails at £23, and Kesseler Lorcher Spatlese Trocken 2009 was £76 for a wine that you can find in a shop for about £20. Fanny Sabre Vielle Vignes 2011 was £99 compared to a shop price of £47, and 2008 Mugnier Clos de Marechale was £185 for a wine that will set you back £52 retail. Even a Richebourg 1993 was over twice its retail price of £1,150. Bread was from Boulangerie de Paris, probably the best restaurant bread supplier in London at the moment. Bleinheim water was an excessive £5 a bottle.
Egg, ham and peas (£8.50) comprised deep-fried duck egg with a liquid centre, mushy peas and Cumbrian ham. This was quite prettily presented and the peas had plenty of flavour, so although this is a simple dish it was very enjoyable (14/20). Orkney scallop ceviche (£12.50) was served with avocado, radish, lime and jalapeno. This was intriguing, the scallop’s natural sweetness balanced well by the lime, and with quite a spicy kick from the jalapeno (14/20).
Macaroni and cheese (£16.50) with roasted cauliflower moved beyond comfort food due to the particularly carefully cooked cauliflower, good quality pasta and accurate seasoning (14/20). Papardelle (£16.50) with Scottish game ragout had delicate strands of pasta, rich, dark ragout enlivened by crispy capers and topped with Pecorino ewe’s milk cheese (15/20).
Caramel apple and calvados éclair (£7,50) was served with Devon cream and salted caramel ice cream. The latter was well-made, and was needed to offset the richness of the cream. To me there seemed a lot of cream relative to apple, but this was otherwise pleasant (13/20). Better was a jar containing almond brioche and pear compote (£7), the pear nice and sharp, the dish enhanced by excellent ginger sorbet whose distinctive flavour came through well (14/20). Coffee was pleasant.
Service was impeccable, the staff charming. The bill came to £87 a head, including a bottle of JJ Prum Riesling Kabinett. A typical dinner bill, with modest wine, would come to perhaps £75 a head. I really enjoyed Berners Tavern, and it is clearly already a booming commercial success.