The celebrity phenomenon which has for years swept this tiny island, is continuing to shape the high street restaurant scene. Ever since the carefully crafted persona of the “cheeky chappie” Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver, burst onto our small screens in the late 90s, has the cult of the celebrity chef left its indelible mark. Fast-forward almost 20 years, and every few months there seems to be another chef who is setting about becoming a high street restaurateur after entering the consciousness of the wider British public through Saturday morning TV cooking shows and guest appearances.
One such “legend” of the chefs fraternity who has set up a successful franchise across the UK is the former three Michelin-starred chef, Marco Pierre White. The Marco Pierre White Steak House Bar & Grill, in Milton Keynes (which is within the Double Tree Hilton at the MK Dons football stadium) harnesses all of his fame and star quality, from the huge flags outside the restaurant emblazoned with the face of a much younger Pierre, to the press cuttings on the wall, including one where he is holding Gordon Ramsey’s head on a platter. Nice. The image and overall brand is a major part of the experience, and one that has been successfully reaching out and scooping up hungry diners the length and breadth of the UK.
It’s all well and good then having access to this marketing machine, but the big question is whether the franchise can actually live up to all the bluster and hype? And, the answer unfortunately for this Marco Pierre White eatery is, not really.
What’s it like?
It’s undoubtedly busy, but that could well be to do with the captive hotel audience. We arrive at 9.30pm on a Saturday night, after being told that was the earliest slot available. Inside, it’s predictably modish. The man behind the brand lines the walls, peering out into the dimly lit dining area, where an air of smoothness and refinement resonates. The staff are courteous and suitably professional, at least to begin with.
We kick things off with an easy drinking bottle of red for around £24, which is excellent. It’s at this point things start to take a wobble. We try a couple of dishes for the table; caramelised chipolatas, and some “warm baked sourdough”. Sounds great, but the reality is slightly different. The chipolatas are tasty enough, but the bread has to be the smallest I have ever been given at a restaurant. If the intention is not to over-fill customers at this point, then that objective is surely achieved. You do have to wonder about the merits of serving such a meagre plate, as surely this does more harm than good.
Once this is finished, it’s a long wait for our table to be cleared, and the staff have forgotten our water. Now the rush has departed, so too it seems have the waiting staff. Eventually our white onion soup is brought to us, which is adequate, and it’s onto the “finest quality steak”. I’m expecting big things. The steaks range from the rump to the fillet, starting at £20. There are also cuts for two people, including a 32oz T-bone.
Our 10oz sirloins for £26.50 each are good, rather than great. They are both cooked perfectly medium rare, and well seasoned, but the meat is slightly chewy. Things take another nose-dive when the bill comes, and a 10 per cent tip has already been placed on the final bill. Why do restaurants do this? If the service is excellent then many diners will gratefully pay more than 10 per cent, ourselves included. But, considering the service is the worst part of the night, then this seems presumptuous at best. With the celebrity façade well and truly peeled back, we leave with the feeling that there really isn’t too much more to discover.
Read our review of the Double Tree Hilton, Milton Keynes.