GFG archives

1988 to 1993: Marco Pierre White at Harvey’s – six years that inspired a new generation of chefs
Published 19 April 2022

Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay at Harvey's restaurant. Credit: christopher Pillitz / Alamy Stock Photo

As a young cook, The Good Food Guide was my go to guide before inventions such as the internet! To this day I can recite the opening paragraph of the Harvey’s entry 1989 (I think): ‘Believe the hype….’ which played a part in my career move to London.

 – Kevin Gratton, who worked with Marco for three years, and is now at Moss & Moor, Yorkshire.

 

The Good Food Guide 1988 

The hottest restaurant in South London by quite a long street. Marco Pierre White, having done stints at Le Gavroche, Chez Nico, the Box Tree, Tante Claire, and Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, opens as chef-patron at Harvey's, a Wandsworth restaurant facing the Common. The short menu is written in English and has assimilated much from all the great kitchens. The smart bourgeois décor is in the manner of the old Chez Nico, staff are young and professional and add to the impression that this is very much a restaurant in the round. A trademark is vegetables cut into pasta-shaped lengths – green beans sliced to decorate the show-stopping leek terrine stuffed with scallops and langoustines and dressed in a virgin olive oil, a pile of shredded carrots around the tortellini of langoustines (a slightly heavy, herbed mousse filling), or the cucumber with the speciality of a tagliatelle of oysters. Sauces are immaculate – a deep stock, not over-reduced but diluted with Sauternes for braised calves’ sweetbreads. This is not delicate cookery, but expressive and confident.  

 

The Good Food Guide 1989 

Who is cooking better? Others have their reputations and their experience, but Marco Pierre White has forged his reputation where it matters - on the plate. Believe the hype. The volume of reports confirms last year's award of South London restaurant of the year, and inspectors who have eaten at the best restaurants here and in France would not say that there have been better dishes than here on a good night. Of course, as a restaurant it is still in a formative stage, reopening as the Guide appears after a three-month revamp. The average age of the staff is 20. Marco Pierre White is 26. But this is a meteor hurtling through the restaurant firmament, powered by the extraordinary passion of one young man. The cooking demonstrates a flair that leaves others still bewildered at the starting line. Already there is evidence of an understanding that far outstrips anything usual. Take a plate and on one side place a row of pan-fried scallops, down the centre a lattice of shredded carrots and on the other an oval piece of roast foie gras. The sauce is a magisterial veal stock sweetened with Sauternes. But this is not sauce cooking as such, plates are just washed with infusions to show off main features. The tone of the dining-room is that of all truly great eating places, a quiet hum of people enjoying and discovering. There is a constant buzz, not dissimilar to the excitement in Frith Street when Alastair Little first opened the doors to his own restaurant in December 1986. 

Where to start on the cooking itself? The saucing is impeccable. The herb sauce to go with the salmon is no more than a beurre blanc generously sprinkled with chopped parsley, chives and basil; the perfume of the basil, excessively sweet by itself, is balanced perfectly when combined with the rich buttery texture of the fish. The veal stock for sweetbreads is not over-reduced, thus allowing the madeira or port, together with the juices of the cèpes, also to shine through. On the other hand the fish fumet to go with ravioli is understated, not light, but just sufficient to coat the envelopes of langoustines and let the shellfish flavours develop. The meats and fish are not delicate in the vein of nouvelle: the fillet of salmon, for example, is a generous rectangular mass that has been baked, bearing more affinity to cucina rustica. The seasoning appears heavy handed as items are viciously salted, but somehow the dishes do not end up being over-salty. There are few fussy garnishes: the citron tart comes as a solitary triangular wedge, entirely naked, with a light lemony frothy texture, slightly biting on the tongue, not harsh, but entirely sensuous. The list of endorsed dishes is a long one: shellfish soup with coriander; lobster ravioli; sole mousseline with a beurre blanc; lamb sweetbreads with tagliatelle; potage of scallops; pig's trotter stuffed with sweetbreads (after Pierre Koffmann). And then there are the signatures, such as the leek and langoustine terrine, or the oysters with tagliatelle, a dish that redefines the mood of cooking - served on a tray of ice, the shell wiped clean, filled with a swirl of pasta in a little butter, topped with the warmed oyster and a little acidulated cucumber or a few drops of caviar. Peripheral items have not always come up to scratch, reflecting the pressure in the kitchen. The famous fettuccine swirls to accompany main courses have been watery and bland; the tuile basket soggy and dull; bread might be more interesting. A steadier dining-room is needed - a good front-of-house person would be a sound improvement. But the central features are of such calibre and executed with such flair that they overshadow all else. The bargain loss-leader menus have been replaced by more appropriate prices, alas, but that is hardly surprising. 'I believe that Harvey's is at the moment the best restaurant in Great Britain,' is not an isolated view. The wines match - 50 taking in claret, Burgundy and the New World, mostly in the range of £7 to £25. 

 

The Good Food Guide 1990 

The carte does not change often, Marco Pierre White being a man of a few well-rehearsed dishes which he does not abandon lightly. First courses show a preoccupation with shellfish, to the detriment of choice. Foie gras, on the other hand, is not such an obsession. This lightens the style of the food. Many readers are overcome by the excellence of the cooking. ‘At Harvey’s the duxelles of wild mushrooms inside the eggy exterior of the dariole mould had depth, nuance and flavour of a type I have never, or hardly ever, encountered.’ Another confronted by this same dish was struck by the most intense truffle flavour encountered outside Périgord itself. A fellow restaurateur remarked: ‘Every flavour in each dish was evident. Presentation was sublime without being ridiculous. Textures were perfect. This restaurant is one to send your chefs to.’ 

 

The Good Food Guide 1991 

On the edge of Wandsworth Common, quite unassuming from the outside, the restaurant has overtones of a film set in its plasterwork and weird pictures of disembodied hands. An American likened it to a railroad car diner, but she was probably used to more spacious surroundings for such good, expensive cooking. The fixed-price dinner is now £42, up from £15.50 in 1987. ‘At this rate it will have priced itself beyond my reach by next year, but I would not begrudge the price,’ wrote one financial masochist who singled out the sauces in his meal of oysters with tagliatelle; seafood ragout with leeks and truffles; ravioli of sweetbreads; pigeon with morels, ceps, lentils and spinach; lamb wrapped round veal kidney with a tarragon sauce; and a dessert plate of three lemon dishes. From this list it may be deduced that the repertoire evolves more slowly than the prices, but the dishes are elaborated with such care that people find repeat visits will satisfy. 

 

The Good Food Guide 1992 

This year, very warm accounts have been had of the ragoût of shellfish with leeks and truffles; an assiette of pork with spices, the meat from the pig’s head, cooked with honey and ginger; and sea bass with caviar stuffing to name but three. Lightness is a feature of these dishes and much of the kitchen’s output, flavours not being deadened through a burden of cream or butter, nor generally overseasoned with salt or coarsened by over-reduction. Nor are quantities outfacing. On the other hand, the use of spices is becoming more marked, recognition perhaps of the need for progress and experiment. Sweet dishes, by contrast with earlier courses, seem almost over-generous but get consistent plaudits: the pyramid of caramel hiding a mango sorbet on a praline ice-cream with a passion-fruit coulis; poached pear with pistachio cream; admirable lemon tart; chocolate soufflé; prune soufflé with armagnac; and feuilleté of strawberries. A man who ate his way through the menu, with a couple of guests, over two evenings, felt strongly that the fish cookery here was superior to the meat. His opinion has been echoed by less broad-brush sampling. There is an inconsistency about the running of the restaurant that sits ill with the generally steady performance of the kitchen. The service seems to suffer from mild indifference at times, yet is super-efficient at others. 

 

The Good Food Guide 1993 

Hard by Wandsworth Common is one of Britain's better restaurants. The room is simple, even if the veneer of cream and white plaster lends it a certain opulence. The customers can sometimes be described as cheerful, young, local and noisy; at other times, the perception changes to brash and loud. Noise is a problem because the tables are closely set, and bookings follow hard behind each other of an evening. The brashness may come because you may need to allow about £140 for two people, made up of the £48 for three courses, £4 each for coffee (no refills necessarily offered), a tip, and something for the wine. This total was reached with half a bottle of a poor year of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and one fresh orange juice. The service is disjointed - few have a good word to say for it. At these prices it would help if it were better. The wine waiter, asked about the half-bottles of Rhône on the list, admitted that none was available. His suggested substitute, when delivered, turned out to be a different property to that described. But three months before, another party had found the first three halves chosen were unavailable. The wine waiter proposed a fourth, but returned to admit that this was out of stock too. Practicalities matter; genius is not all. The cooking often pleases, even if the lack of balance does not. A stuffed pig's trotter of giant proportions, filled with truffles, chicken mousseline and sweetbreads, with a morel-perfumed sauce, needed more than a smear of rich potato purée - very fine this - to help it down, especially when the first course was a brandade with langoustines, tapénade, caviar and gazpacho sauce where the creaminess (not much garlic) of the brandade was barely offset by the creaminess of the gazpacho (also not much punch) and merely enriched by the langoustines, topped with a minuscule tapénade. The caviar was good, as was the toasted leaven bread. Richness had kicked the meal off with an appetiser of foie gras and chicken liver parfait. Lack of balance, for many English diners at least, is found in the fine new addition to the repertoire of sea bass generously spread with caviar - pure protein that would be helped by alleviation. Mixtures that do not exclude all padding are evidently well thought out - witness the oyster dish with noodles, or oysters again but this time with girolles and noodles. Witness too the daube of beef, the meat so tender it could be cut with a spoon, the sauce deep yet not as vinous or rich as it might be, the vegetables and micro mushrooms adding breadth to the composition, and the buttery parsleyed noodles in a knot adding bulk. Some of the cookery is light: that of fish, for instance, speaks of an effort to reduce the weight of sauces so as to allow the fish its full value. Desserts read less unusually than the savoury courses. They seem to be a repertoire of old favourites, but the execution is faultless, and this stage in the meal is often termed the best. Lemon tart 'about as runny as possible without failing to set and with a strong flavour of pleasantly bitter peel' comes with a lemon soufflé, also nicely sharp, in a lemon shell. Mille-feuille of raspberries is a crisp and light pie. ‘Breaking the golden cover brought forth a puff of steam containing a wonderful fragrance of butter and fruit. It was surrounded by the foamiest kirsch sabayon.' Hot chocolate soufflé with chocolate sauce is another sweet to die for. Petits fours show the same skill at work. The wine list is heavy with antiques - wide-ranging in France, thin elsewhere, with prices to match the food. Lunch is cheaper, but still more expensive than most of the competition. House wines are from £15. 

 

The Good Food Guide 1994 

This entry is a holding operation (hence no cooking mark), a service to those who follow the career of the chef-proprietor. As far as the Guide can understand, the restaurant is closed during the autumn of 1993 for refurbishing and repackaging, to open as a brasserie or neighbourhood gaff. Marco Pierre White has been widely bruited to be on the verge of agreeing with the owners of Hyde Park Hotel to open a luxury restaurant within the premises.