Wheeler’s is such a dreadful restaurant that I wonder if Marco Pierre White even knows his name is on it. I suppose, for legal reasons, we must assume he does, and was not held hostage in a cellar while they built and fretted and hung inflated photographs of their prisoner all over it, like the bedroom of a starlet in full madness.
We must assume that White knows that Wheeler’s of St James’s, which was a famous restaurant, was closed, and reopened inside the Thread-needles hotel in Bank, and it does have his name on it, and this is the worst thing he has ever done; worse than promoting Knorr stock for Unilever — ‘the best thing to happen to cooking since me’ — which he sold by implying that if you bought Knorr stock, you would not only get a base for a soup or stew, you might get full sex from White, or at least a grope.
You know the original celebrity chef has reached a nadir of greed and self-disgust when, at the entrance to this newish cave — it opened last year, and I tried to review it then, but they telephoned to cancel, saying they had forgotten they were closed — there is a vast photograph of him in his youthful beauty, that is, in 1987, at Harveys in Wandsworth. He sweats, pouts, and strokes a meat cleaver, as if it were a lover, and maybe it was, to him; two parts anger to one part need, he is the Phantom of the Opera, sponsored by Knorr.
The Threadneedles Hotel was beautiful too once, when it was a bank, which seems preposterous; now it smells of Toilet Duck. The lobby is full of people breathing Toilet Duck fumes and thinking they are somewhere special, because a photograph of White is outside the door, with a caption saying ‘Let’s do lunch’; do they know they are breathing Toilet Duck fumes inside a narcissistic delusion or hoax? The dining room is mid-Victoriana mated with Ernst & Young. The decoration is gauche minimalist, to emphasise its size; it is as if Prince Albert threw out all the gilded furniture in a rage and replaced it at Ikea. Red leather chairs have rings of metal on the back, possibly to detain the clientele against their will.
Inside this room — this deal — is a restaurant that actually angers me. The menu is dull, but you cannot blame a restaurant for lack of imagination, not in the City of London; it serves the usual lunch for the thwarted carnivore: steaks; fish; pastas; salads.
We wait for 30 minutes for our starters in an almost empty room; every five minutes, an orange man sings: ‘Five minutes more!’ It arrives, and it is disgusting: my macaroni cheese is a yellow soup of salt. Thirty–five minutes after the plates are cleared, after further futile interventions from the orange man, the main course comes.
My companion has the pork; it is, she says, OK. I have risotto, which is dotted with pieces of burnt cauliflower and inedible. If that is a dish, and apparently it is, it should be suppressed. I place my plate to the side — one, two, three waiters walk past it; maybe they think I ordered lunch but am not hungry? The orange man has disappeared, possibly to sing an aria to cauliflower. I tell the man who clears the plates: this is inedible. He offers to take it off the bill, but he forgets, or lies.
I wonder how the youngest chef to win three Michelin stars, the miracle of Wandsworth, came to this; when did he stop caring about food? I look at my cloakroom ticket; it is, laugh-ably, a laminated photograph of Marco Pierre White. He is not the first famous man to be eaten by his own myth; but I cannot recommend it.
Wheeler’s Oyster Bar and Grill Room, Threadneedle Street, London EC2R 8AY, tel: 020 7657 8144.