Marianne, Notting Hill

When I was a baby lawyer, I entertained a fantasy that I would do law for about 10 years, then open up a little neighbourhood restaurant. That was before I realised how much physical work, not to mention financial risk would be involved and I don’t do risk. Less a liberation from the law and more a life sentence to a stove.

But if I had opened a restaurant, it is highly likely that it would have been something like this. Small, but perfectly formed, Marianne is a beautiful little space. It’s the smallest fine dining restaurant in London, said the waiter. Like you’re in somebody’s very smart dining room and there is something about that intimacy which makes me feel slightly uneasy. I like a bit of distance.

You can be heard by everyone else, which can make for interesting listening. Or not. C was rather too vocal with his stage-whispered opinions and I had to hold up the hand than once. I suspect that it was the lack of beer which caused some distress – even in the most fine of fine dining operations, a beer-monster may be indulged. Not here.

There are times when attention to detail and an uncompromising approach are to be applauded and there is no questioning the enormous amount of care that has gone into every detail. The music was quirky and interesting other than The Laughing Policeman; a record that only needs to be heard once in any lifetime. Maybe not as often as that.

Taking approximately five minutes to swirl Crème de Cassis around a wine glass so that it actually coats half of the glass is an interesting affectation. I watched with wonder, not to mention a growing thirst, as the waiter performed this delicate operation. I have never seen the like and I have seen the like of quite a lot. There is a moment at which service can be too fussy and flip over into intrusion, prissiness and unwitting comedy. The cassis conceit was that moment. I didn’t dare ask for more of the cassis, which I really wanted. It seemed crass.

We thought we would just have the three courses, rather than the tasting menu. Sunday night and all that. We both went for the fritto misto, with Russian salad. I have memories of tinned Russian salad from my childhood. Not good ones. Even as a child, I knew that its vomit-like texture and vinegary aftertaste was disgusting. But we were told this was a deconstructed Russian salad and I thought I’d let go childhood prejudices and live dangerously.

I was expecting something other than the two small tails of langoustine, deep-fried in a batter, which, whilst described as tempura, was actually quite dense. The maitre d’ painstakingly explained the dish by leaning over the table and using his fingers to point out every separate ingredient, the fingers hovering inches away from the food. Actually centimetres. I looked at C. I looked away.

And the Russian salad looked gorgeous, with its precise layout and pretty decoration, but it tasted of very little, as if the fridge had sucked out all flavour. Had I been blindfolded, I would not have known what the component parts were.

Following that, poached turbot with salmon caviar and a champagne foam. It’s a wave, the spume from the sea, the waiter said, before telling us it was not really a wave but in fact a champagne foam. Again with the finger hovering.

I tasted the foam. Nothing. The fish was beautifully poached and perfect. It sat atop a watery translucent liquid, some olive oil, and Palourde clams. Five single dots of salmon caviar around the edge. Presentationally perfect, the fish swam around in a sort of watery sea, which, again, had no discernible flavour. I would have preferred a watery sea, because it would at least have tasted of salt. Restrained to the point of transparency, this was not a dish that I found interesting or exciting.

We chose the apricot soufflé for dessert. It looked pretty as a picture. The inside was gooey and uncooked. C left most of his although I confess that I did manage to eat all of mine. Uncooked soufflé mix, like cake mix, can be a thing of deliciousness. I did not complain. I was not in the mood to complain. There were so many things which were not quite right that I did not think there was any point in complaining. And in a room that size it would have been like broadcasting it. Or telling your dinner party host that you don’t rate their cooking.

It pains me to write that, because I can see how much trouble has been taken with every detail. And I have friends who love it and think its marvellous,  so maybe I was there on an off night: we all have them. At these prices I am loath to try again. I wish that Marianne would have the guts to do something gutsy and not the unadventurous, well-presented, yet curiously soulless food we experienced. And the waiter? He needs to step away from the plate.

Scores on the doors
Food: 5/10
Ambience: 8/10
Value for money: 4/10
Best for: Finger food
Worst for: Finger food