Address: 10 Berners St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 3NP
Bookings: Booking required
Last weekend, I went to Berners Tavern. It is a long-standing fixture of Life at the End of a Fork’s illustrious top-ten restaurants list, notable both for the food it serves and the impressive room in which that serving takes place.
The joyous occasion was my younger brother’s birthday, and so after spending the afternoon hunting around Covent Garden for a suitable gift (he narrowly missed a set of black working socks and blue tie), I headed off to Fitzrovia to meet the family.
Regretfully, my partner in culinary crime was absent from the dinner, marooned outside London because Greater Anglia had closed various train lines for the weekend, presumably because one of their staff had spotted a rogue leaf on one of the tracks and had called in a full bomb squad to remove it. Given her absence, apologies in advance for the dearth of photographs, and the dark, blurry quality of the only one that does exist from the meal.
But back to the restaurant. Berners Tavern couldn’t be less like a tavern if it tried. It is one of the most spectacular dining rooms in London, vast in area, the ceiling high and ornate, and every single inch of the walls smothered in paintings. The paintings may be of variable quality, but their combined effect is dazzling, making the place both very majestic and a little surreal.
I ordered a 2-person slow cooked Herdwick lamb shoulder, which came with potatoes, roasted sprouts, and a sprinkling of bacon, bathed in lamb sauce. I split the dish with my dad. Having eaten lamb the last time I visited Berners Tavern, I was forewarned of its gargantuan size, and so broke the habit of a life-time by not ordering a starter.
This decision was not regretted. The lamb was glorious, so tender as to practically disintegrate at the touch of a fork, wholesome and hearty. We dug into it with genuine joy, even conversation ceasing briefly as reverence for what we were eating took hold. The sprouts and the potatoes were simple, perfect companions.
My siblings and mum ordered steaks and some sort of fish that I was too lamb-fixated to enquire after, but there were certainly no complaints.
There was one odd distraction. Midway through the meal a woman in a white, wispy dress, her faced blanched white with powder, her eyes sad and lifeless, her arms outstretched, came walking slowly into the dining room from the adjacent hotel lobby. She began to step softly from table to table, running her hand across the backs of people’s chairs, pausing to bat her eyelids mournfully, to sigh heavily. For a moment, I genuinely believed that a raving lunatic was in our midst – perhaps that some wealthy lady staying in the adjoined hotel had just uncovered a husband’s infidelity and been driven to insanity on the spot, and was now venting it on some hapless diners.
But as the staff stood by either smiling or ignoring her, I recalled that it was Halloween weekend, and that this was just one more piece of theatricality from a pretty theatrical restaurant.
If you live in London, Berners Tavern is one of those restaurants you must dine in at least once in your life.