So, tonight is the big launch party for Essex’s first Marco Pierre White restaurant (at Holiday Inn Brentwood) and it’s set to be a bit of a bash.
Arg from TOWIE will be making a personal appearance and will be singing live, while Gemma Collins and others from TOWIE will also be attending to celebrate Arg’s birthday.
As well as being on the guest list tonight, I was lucky enough to be invited to give the restaurant a whirl earlier this week (I’m still full now!) And I got to chat to Marco himself.
So what’s it all about?
Well, Marco’s New York Italian is a dining concept ideal for dinner, light bites or cocktails (I gave a bottle of the Bottega Fragolino Rosso a go. Made from red wine grapes, it’s a slightly sparking wine that tastes rather like a Kir Royal!)
The menu boasts mouth-watering Italian dishes from sharing platters and seafood to succulent steaks, pizzas and pastas. All of which is complemented by American favourites such as ribs and burgers (I can personally vouch for the buffalo wings! And the surf and turf…)
Seating up to 130, serving 37 wines, 17 cocktails plus mocktails and an assortment of gins, Marco himself calls it “affordable glamour.”
But what was the appeal of Brentwood, I ask the chef, as he darts between LA, India, Singapore and Italy, thanks to his hectic filming commitments.
“This brand-new New York Italian is perfect for Brentwood. It represents friendly, casual dining and reflects the area in which it is located. It will give the people of the area a great new place to go out and eat where good food is served in a friendly, bustling atmosphere,” he says.
“The menu offers a fresh alternative, where authentic, uncomplicated food is served promptly and I think is what the people of the town want. We want groups of friends and couples to come in to enjoy lunch or dinner or to celebrate a special occasion.
“I visited Essex a lot when I was filming the Great British Feast TV show. There is some great produce right across the county and I’m a great believer of using, where possible, locally produced, ethically reared and grown ingredients.
“It’s not pretentious, it’s just good food, served in a great environment.”
Just how has the restaurant industry changed since he started out, aged 16, in London with “£7.36, a box of books and a bag of clothes”, as a commis with Albert and Michel Roux at Le Gavroche?
“I’ve spent the best part of 40 years of my life in restaurants and a lot has changed in that time,” he muses.
“To me, the most important aspect of eating out isn’t the food – it’s the atmosphere, the environment, the lighting, the service. Often a person’s favourite restaurant doesn’t serve the best food in the world, but if it is somewhere you are a regular and you get to know that staff and if there is a problem you forgive them. If you have to wait 30 minutes instead of 20 minutes for your main course, it doesn’t really matter – they know you and can explain they are very busy and the Maitre D’ will give you a glass of wine.
“The problem with expensive restaurants is that you don’t become a regular because you can only go there on rare occasions. New York Italian is a refreshing change from the norm and I hope people will enjoy their time here.
“I don’t think I’ve changed, though. I’m not a corporate. I’m a romanticist and always will be.”
In those 40 years he’ll have seen a lot of foodie fads come and go, I imagine. What are his pet peeves at the moment?
“Taster menus!” he blasts. “What are they all about?! I crave the ordinary. I don’t like 20-course little portions of fancy a la carte nonsense which are cold by the time they reach the table. Give me a pizza any day.”
In recent years there’s been a huge increase in vegetarianism, veganism and demands for gluten-free food in restaurants, does Marco Pierre White, New York Italian, Brentwood, cater for this?
“Yes, there are lots of vegetarian dishes that suits all tastes,” confirms Marco.
“On the starters there’s classic bruschetta, confit tomato, fresh basil, ,minestrone soup, rosemary focaccia or garlic pizza bread, fresh rosemary with either mozzarella or tomato and basil. Those wanting something al forno macaroni cheese, wild mushrooms, poached egg or Cannelloni, wild mushrooms, béchamel, Zarpellon are ideal. A number of the pizzas are vegetarian while our pasta dishes such as spaghetti, fresh basil pesto zarpellon or penne, pomodoro, red chilli fresh basil cater for vegetarians. The Great American chop salad is also ideal so there’s plenty of choice for all tastes. “We also have some vegan and some gluten free options are available on request from the waiting staff.”
Marco is no stranger to our TV screens – from Hell’s Kitchen to Masterchef and Kitchen Wars – so it’s easy to feel like we know him. But what might we be surprised to know about him?
It turns out that for all the Michelin stars (which he returned when he retired in 1999) and top notch kitchens he’s worked (including the former Hyde Park Hotel, Le Méridien Piccadilly Hotel, and Le Manoir) he’s really a fan of more simple pleasures.
“I just like the simple stuff,” he sighs. “I like the rain and wind. I like the seasons and I like putting on my wellies and looking after the animals at my home.
And does that extend to his favourite thing to cook? It appears it does.
“Yes, no fuss, just good honest food. I spend a lot of time abroad, so when I’m home I just keep things simple and like things such as a ham sandwich and a cup of tea.”
I’m pretty sure there’s no ham sandwich on the menu, but Essex’s first Marco Pierre White restaurant is still definitely well worth a visit. And if you fancy working your way through that lovely cocktail menu (and let’s face it who doesn’t?!) then handily the hotel is just a hop, skip and a stumble away… Enjoy!
Find out more at http://www.mpwrestaurants.co.uk