Sally Webb shares her thoughts on Marco Pierre White’s newest venture…
I’m impressed. Thoroughly. At the launch of Marco Pierre White’s latest Wheeler’s of St James’s – his growing collection of smart country pubs and hotels – I was surprised and genuinely chuffed to find that it’s all Marco.
We’re talking about the youngest chef ever to be awarded three Michelin stars, who downed tools at the very top of his game, before venturing into the realms of television and numerous other enterprises. He’s a big, big deal. So a cynic (myself included) might expect an establishment bearing his name to be, well, simply that – and there the connection would end. Not so at the renamed (Marco dropped ‘Hall Hotel’ in favour of the less grand, more friendly ‘Arms’) and revamped Rudloe Arms in Corsham in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside.
At the Rudloe Arms (as with its sister venues), Marco is everywhere. He has hunted down the interior’s various adornments; created the concept; chosen the chef. It’s all measured and meeting of his exacting standards, demonstrative of a meticulous attention to detail. The traditional style of the building is intact. The original woodwork remains. It’s all very British somehow, but certainly not in a ‘stiff upper lip’ way.
As Marco shows us around, he is keen to point out the various pieces that make up the unique look of the interior: caricature drawings, photographs (many from his own collection), a model aeroplane, a wacky wall light he salvaged from Blackpool Pleasure Beach and further lighting courtesy of upturned street lamps suspended from the ceiling. A 17ft Chesterfield rescued from a Brighton hotel sits beneath a huge mirror that took seven men to lift into place. The bar doubles as a games room, complete with vintage fußball table and a proper pool table that means business. Wooden ducks from a fairground shooting game adorn the fireplace in the dining room – Marco is enthralled by them, wanting us to enthuse along with him. And it’s easy to do so. His clear passion for the place and unexpected sense of fun are rather contagious. He knows what he likes and isn’t afraid to display personality at every turn.
Marco is not in the kitchen – that was never the idea – but he is the perfect host, ensuring everything is just so throughout our meal. The food is excellent, naturally, and the menu is, of course, seasonal. This is proper food in good portions – roast partridge with bread sauce, bread crumbs and roasted juices, for example. The wine has been carefully chosen and the price tag is very reasonable considering the quality on show.
Every building that’s now home to a Wheeler’s is as such because Marco discovered it, fell in love with it and made it happen. So will there be more? Even the man himself can’t answer that question. But I suspect that as long as there are neglected period buildings in lovely country settings begging for a little TLC, Marco will be falling head over heels, picking them up, dusting them off and injecting a huge dose of, well, himself. Visit the website to find out more about this quirky venue.