Indulgent birthday dinners are a long-established tradition in the Lim family. Mama Lim recently celebrated her birthday, and terrifyingly, she's probably the most zealous foodie of us all. Woe betide you if you book a restaurant that she doesn't approve of! Last year Hélène Darroze was appraised and earned Mum's approbation. This year, we apprehensively moved away from fine French dining to modern British seasonal cooking. I mean, if anyone's going to impress the matriarch, it's Marcus, he of the icy gaze and criticisms that cut to the bone on Masterchef: the Professionals...
Whisked through the Berkeley Hotel through a tearoom of wealthy-looking tourists, we found our table in the modestly-lit restaurant (very modestly, I noticed, trying not to grit my teeth too hard and thus give myself away as the stereotypical precious blogger) and sat down to a strong start, taking the edge off our hunger with these amuses of creamy foie gras topped with a parmesan crust.
Another much-cherished birthday tradition: peach bellinis.
Lobster, chorizo, squid and celery.
Salmon and langoustine with melon and calamansi: waving goodbye to the flavours of the summer.
Veal sweetbread with fig and walnut. Apparently I'm brave for ordering this, but I'm not squeamish at all: I think sweetbread can be incredible if cooked sensitively. Here the fig, sweet and yielding, acted as an ideal counterbalance for the earthy sweetbread, firm enough for me to forget their original function. These were just two of the pleasing array of textures which lifted the dish: elsewhere, creamy, finely-sliced onions spooled beneath the sweetbread and lace-thin, crispy bread rested on top.
Shorthorn beef fillet doused in a peppercorn sauce with baby gem and an immaculately striated potato dauphinoise.
More baby gem on the side: this time roasted, with honey and truffle.
Fallow deer done three ways. This was my favourite dish, and one where the sum of the parts came together beautifully to form an autumnal feast. Celeriac, blackberry and hazelnuts conjured up a forest of flavours: falling leaves, the smell of bark and moss, a winter hunt crashing through frosty undergrowth studded with late-fruiting blackberries.
On to dessert: first, a glossy, sticky tarte tatin chaperoned by sober quenelles of licorice ice cream.
A smooth fromage frais mousse with fennel and almond: refreshing but almost puritanically light in a two Michelin-starred restaurant, this was the least impressive of our trio of puddings.
And meadowsweet custard, another one of the star dishes of the evening for its complex, intriguing textures and flavours. The custard wasn't really a custard but more of a wobbly jelly with a delicate, floral scent and taste, resting on a base of biscuits milled to a fine powder and topped with a palate-cleansing peach and thyme sorbet.
And a little something for Mama Lim, who thoroughly enjoyed her evening, thanks to the lovely waiters, who amiably boxed up our petits fours for us, as we were so full we could barely move. As we were readying ourselves to leave, they presented my mother with a complimentary gift-wrapped and signed Marcus at Home cookbook! Cue very audible fangirl squeal. And for once it wasn't coming from me. Top marks for service, Marcus - not only were our waiters incredibly sweet to my mother, but they were always on hand to accommodate us and give us recommendations where required without being overbearing or interfering in any way.
Did I say we were so full we could barely move? Well I lied. Second dessert, come at me: matcha and raspberry cake from Cutter & Squidge. A cake of dreams that you don't need to be mobile to fully enjoy, and which only got better when I breakfasted on it the following morning. Living my best life.
I think I can safely say my mum enjoyed her birthday this year! Speaking of birthdays, I turn 25 in just under a month. In denial. I'm going to eat birthday cake for breakfast for the rest of my life...
The Berkeley, Wilton Place
London SW1X 7RL