May 23, 2012, 12:02am
Stamford Bridge, SW6 1HS
Cost per person without wine: £50
Here’s an odd one: a banker I know is a Gunner: an Arsenal supporter, that is. But, he confesses, he’s also a regular at Stamford Bridge. That’s enemy territory: home of my team, the Blues, Chelsea FC. He doesn’t go for the football, though: he goes for the food.
Whoa, back up a minute. Football and food are not words that usually occupy the same sentence. But getting into his chosen place to eat doesn’t involve turnstiles, terraces and queuing at burger bars.
The reason he goes is Marco, a joint venture between Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich and a certain Mr Pierre White, whose name is synonymous with the M-word (Michelin). But I still have serious doubts about whether exceptionally good food can be found somewhere that’s lush, plush and more glitzy than places you’d normally hold a business meeting. The manager’s a smart, chatty Italian – not Roberto di Matteo but Livio Italiani -- who shows me to a large horseshoe of a seat, close to a sparkly-gold pillar. Reflective glass is never far away and the lively buzz bouncing from it isn’t exactly what you’d call a discreet murmur.
If you’re not obsessed by the fact you’re at one of Europe’s top football venues, though, Marco is actually rather pleasant: an enjoyable, if not inexpensive, experience.
Its 10oz steaks – served with thrice-fried chips – are well sourced and have a decadent marbling of fat. My Cornish crab couldn’t have been fresher and, as any starter should be, was nice and light, with just a few small leaves to inject extra vibrancy.
I struggled to choose between honey-roasted pork or venison as a main, and then rather nervously asked for venison to be cooked rare. Most chefs don’t believe you, allowing this particular red meat to become pink, at best. But my slices of seared deer, served with an extra of buttered peas, were boldly red.
But what I really had my fingers crossed about was something known to Marco’s chefs as “the Koffman cabbage”. Ever since his days at his first restaurant Harvey’s -- when my wife’s fruit and veg company got outrageously rude messages from him on the answer-phone, along with his next day’s order for fresh herbs -- Pierre White has happily pinched the greatest recipe ideas from chefs he’s worked with.
And I happen to know that one of the secrets Marco took from the brilliant Pierre Koffman at Tante Claire is an absolutely perfect accompaniment to venison: a garnish of baton carrots, celeriac and lardons, fried together in duck fat, then reheated in reduced cream. And, joy of joys, the Koffman cabbage is there.
Now, my Gunner friend assures me that the best thing on Marco’s menu is the tarte tatin, which he says is “to die for”. After the Koffman cabbage it certainly had a lot to live up to.
And it was superior to any caramelised apple tart I have ever tasted -- even at some of the best restaurants in France. I was compelled to do the thing that restaurant reviewers never do: I asked to talk to the chef. Like Marco himself, I wanted to pinch the secret.
Roger Pizey, I wasn’t surprised to hear, is among a dying breed among chefs: a pâtissier. And the secret to the tarte tatin? “It is vitally important to let the tatin rest for a good two hours, so as to let the tart repose, to relax, get rid of its tensions and to indulge itself to the caramel,” says Pizey. “So, quite simple really.”
You didn’t, perhaps, need to know that. But you do now need to go to Marco at Stamford Bridge to discover the best-kept dining-out secret. It’s your just dessert.
To book, call Marco on 0207 915 2929. Dining is evenings only from 6pm, Tuesday through Saturday.