A certain level of culinary competence is, of course, a necessary element for a restaurant to succeed. But although the food is generally the crucial criteria associated with a perfect dining experience, often overlooked components such as service, ambience and décor are also essential contributors, and are sometimes just as important.
Jason Atherton’s Berners Tavern, fortunately, is one of the few London restaurants that manages to deliver on all four of these. The all-day dining menu is made up of mainly British dishes that are generally very well executed, the service is remarkable with friendly, informative, and most importantly fun staff, and the room that hosts the restaurant setting is simply stunning. Located within Ian Schrager’s The London EDITION hotel, the restaurant is set in a space with cavernous ornately plastered ceilings, placated by an equally opulent chandelier. The main focus, however, is a collection of around 200 paintings that are hung in gold baroque frames and look as though borrowed from a 15th century French palace.
One of Jason Atherton’s only restaurants to omit the word ‘social’ from its title, Berners Tavern is by no means a true example of the modest ‘tavern’ that we’re familiar with. Names such as ‘Berners Palace’ or ‘Berners Gastronomic Temple of Excess’, would seem much more appropriate, yet the overall experience and the quality of the food served does make it easier to forgive the misleading restaurant name. To begin, a starter of chargrilled focaccia, tomatoes and burrata (£16) provided solid proof that incredible food needn’t be overly complicated, providing that each element is executed to a certain standard. The ripest, sweetest of tomatoes were served alongside a creamy mound of burrata perched atop a thick wedge of toast that had been grilled to perfection. What’s more, instead of acting as a completely unnecessary employment of luxury, the use of truffle honey added a welcome intensity to a dish that was no less than exceptional. Elsewhere, scallop crudo (£15) was prettily presented within the scallop shell, served on ice. Slivers of the raw scallop were accompanied by wafer thin curls of black radish a tangy lime granita, working well with the luxurious seafood’s natural sweetness. The generous helping of jalapeño within the lime granite, on the other hand, was an unwelcome guest, disrupting the overall harmony of flavours.
Better was the pork pie (£17), served from a trolley with theatre and elegance that’s seldom associated with the humble picnic favourite. Carved table-side and plated with a selection of mustards and pickled vegetables, the pie was also accompanied by a sharp, sweet piccalilli that cut through the fattiness of the indulgent filling, made from a concoction of pork cuts. Encased within a hot water crust pastry and a layer of sweet gelatine, this is an example of classic British cuisine at its very finest. Even the Ribeye steak (£35) as enthusiastically suggested by the waiter was a surprising highlight. This was not just any old cut of beef disappointingly grilled to death, as is the case with so many other restaurants – the meat had been cooked to a perfect medium-rare, though the middle globule of fat had also been rendered particularly well. I’d imagine that the beef had spent some time in a water-bath before meeting the pan, and was all the better for it. A rich warming side of macaroni and cheese topped with slowly braised oxtail provided another highlight, with the sort of comfort levels that are so satiating they can’t help but inspire feelings of guilt.
Served with a similar level of theatre to the pork pie, whole dover sole (£38) was prepared at the table, even though I’d expressed the desire to fillet the fish myself, as is an option almost everywhere else that serves the fish on the bone. Unsurprisingly by now, the fish had been cooked well and was served in a puddle of burnt butter and a smattering of capers. Yet another classic, dessert consisted of Baked Alaska (£18) for two, flamed table-side with enough spirit to sate a ship full of pirates. The light meringue-topped mound was a thing of beauty (and a credit to any Instagram feed), yet an abundance of unnecessary ingredients managed to completely overwhelm the dessert, with cocoa nibs, raspberry crumble, pistachio nuts, sweet cherry sorbet, and flambéed alcohol residue lending so many flavours to the dish that a disappointing air of discordance replaced what should have tasted as pleasing as it looked.
With first-class service, breath-taking interiors, and food that’s for the most part very good – Berners Tavern is guaranteed to offer diners a real sense of occasion. And though it isn’t necessarily perfect, the quality (although expensive) British food and lavish respite from the chaos of nearby Oxford Street does come enthusiastically recommended.
Berners Tavern can be found at The London Edition, 10 Berners Street, London, W1T 3NP.