"Lunch?" says Marco Pierre White.
Hmm, I think, I do have some time, and our photo shoot is finished.
"Sure, why not?"
I had just spent two hours photographing him for my book, My Last Supper, The Next Course (and four years trying to arrange the shoot). We jump into his Range Rover and are whisked to Wheeler's of St. James's in Central London. (Marco has more than half a dozen restaurants in London and many more in the UK. He keeps buying them, so it's hard to say how many he has exactly. I put the number at six in my book.) I realize where we are immediately as I spot the Wolseley, one of my favorite London breakfast spots, just around the corner. We walk into a elegant, large, sunlit room and head immediately to a table I suspect is Marco's Table.
As the menu arrives, I am struck by the photography that adorns every wall, all created by Marco's late friend Bob Carlos Clarke. The prints are huge and slightly erotic, a nice surprise in a traditional restaurant. If I have learned one thing when dining with chefs, it's that it's wise to let them order for you, or you will have food envy for the entire meal. Two pints of beer arrive lickety-split, followed by the most incredible plate of smoked salmon I have ever seen. It was perfectly arranged, piece by piece slightly overlapping, crowned with lemon and capers. It was a religious experience. I almost felt bad attacking it, but the amazing English bread and butter were begging me to eat them. A few pints down, punctuated by Marco's cigarette breaks, the Dover sole arrived. It was perfection, perfectly cooked and delicious. Wheeler's was established in 1856, and the menu is quite traditional, with a strong emphasis on seafood. Simple, Marco kept repeating, simple.
Pudding? Pudding? I am about to burst, but I could not refuse the Eton Mess. Regretfully declining one last pint, I had an excuse to leave: I had to photograph Heston Blumenthal in one hour. But I knew full well I'd be back.
FOR YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE
My Last Supper: The Next Course, Melanie Dunea
My Last Supper: The Next Course: 50 More Great Chefs and Their Final Meals: Portraits, Interviews, and Recipes, by Melanie Dunea (Amazon)
The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness, and the Making of a Great Chef, by Marco Pierre White (Amazon)