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Muddy eats: MPW Steakhouse Bar & Grill, Windsor

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I was really interested to review this place, newly opened in the last few weeks, because I am always wary of chain brands but keep going back for more in the hope of being proved wrong. A bit like a foodie Weeble – I wobble but I won’t fall down. Getting consistency across a chain is probably the hardest thing for a restaurateur to get right, and if they get it wrong… well, it’s us who suffers dear reader. But two words enticed me in – Marco and steak – so I joined a group of lifestyle bloggers at the Castle Hotel where Marco’s latest venture resides, and tucked in.

Since hanging up his apron in 1999 Marco Pierre White has turned to opening restaurants rather than cooking in them. He now has 26 branded restaurants across the country – New York Italian; Steakhouse Bar & Grill; Wheeler’s and Chophouse – all of them based in hotels. Given that nameless, faceless hotel restaurants are usually blander than a rice cake (ok, maybe not those ones topped with dark chocolate) MPW brands have helped to change that assumption. Hotel guests are encouraged to stay and eat in, rather than head out and search the streets for something better, and the restaurant stands alone just enough to draw outside diners in without them thinking it’s too hotelly.

And it definitely wasn’t too hotelly – it’s been done really well and I was sold as soon as I walked in. The restaurant was probably about half full (on a Thursday night) with a large group of businessmen on a jolly, a few couples and smaller groups of friends. It had a lovely atmosphere and a buzz to it that felt you were in THE place to be. Plus, it’s in a brilliant location virtually opposite Windsor Castle. Anyway, look at these interiors, they’re stylishly done don’t you think?

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Lots of nice touches, including the service bells – 21 to mark each of the original rooms (as opposed to the 108 the hotel has now)

According to our host for the evening, the MPW ethos is classic affordable dishes, simply cooked using the best, well-sourced, seasonal ingredients and served in a glamorous setting (he describes the future of eating out as ‘affordable glamour’). Glamorous setting? Tick. Now, what of the food?

I’m often asked by readers if I ever feel I can’t write about places or events and the answer is, er, YES, and more frequently than you might think. We have a policy on Muddy not to trash people’s businesses – because everyone can have a bad day – but I’ve been to pubs with service so bad I’d never recommend them, and restaurants where the food was truly shocking – I could have cooked better myself with one hand stuck in a blender and a tea towel over my eyes. I’m therefore pleased (and relieved) to say this is a chain I can hand-on-heart recommend. Hoo-flippin-rah!

There’s a new menu launching soon, but I was very pleased we got to try this one before it goes. There’s an impressive range of starters including rillettes of duck, French onion soup, baked Camembert and a panzanella salad. I tried the beetroot and goats’ cheese salad with walnut dressing (£7.75) and it was excellent. Beautifully presented, the beetroot was in mandoline-thin slivers, dotted with goats’ cheese and walnuts and the dressing was light and delicious.

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Uh, taken at a jaunty angle – the Argentinian red at our table might have had something to do with it…

As for the mains, if you’re not in a steak mooooood (gotta let me have that one, surely?) there are some comforting classics including a mammoth burger, haddock and chips, chicken Kiev and pasta too – gnocchi primavera and macaroni of wild mushrooms with poached egg.

But what of the steaks? Well fillet, sirloin, ribeye, T-bone and Chateaubriand (for two) are all excellent quality – I know because between us we tried all of them – 28-day aged from master butchers Campbell Brothers. The flavour and texture was just right and whether you’re a ‘nuke it please’ or a ‘just let the cow see the flame’ you’re in safe hands. Here’s my medium-rare sirloin, and I had buttered spinach on the side. Steaks are served with a large grilled tomato, onions rings, triple-cooked chips. Sauces are extra at £3.50, a bit cheeky I thought, but I’ll let them off because they were delicious and generous. Lashings of peppercorn. Get in.

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Medium-rare. That’ll be a big helping of YES PLEASE!

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Ok, anyone NOT having steak?

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Triple-cooked heaven and buttery spinach

We had a very nice Malbec with it – Argentinian Salentein, Barrel Selection 2014. It was phenom. Service too was absolutely charming with Aaron from the hotel team joining us for the meal (he was a scream – make sure you look him up when you go) and Karolina front of house was a true pro making us feel well looked after. Call me a diva (many have) but I do love to be made to feel special. And I was.

The desserts stay totally on point and are as American as apple pie. Uh, this is awkward, there’s no apple pie. There is however a stonking New York baked cheesecake (MINE), warm chocolate brownie, sticky toffee pud, Cambridge burnt cream, Knickerbocker glory,  a section of ice creams and sorbets and a cheese plate.

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New York baked cheesecake coma

The quality of the food being what it was, I was surprised to hear that Marco doesn’t bring his own team in – he uses the existing kitchen brigade. But training does go on for weeks until Marco and his people are satisfied that the team can deliver the standards required for the brand.

Apparently, despite his terrifying reputation in the kitchen, with guests and the general public he is charm personified. Charisma and star quality shine bright. Whatever you think of the commercial path he’s chosen, he is one of the greats and will go down in history for being the most gifted and volatile chef of his generation, and the man who changed the way we eat out.

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THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: smart dining with friends and family; cocktails and dinner with the girls – the hotel bar is buzzy and nicely set to the side of the restaurant area; long business lunches if you want to impress; a treaty lunch before hitting Windsor high street with your flexible friend; overnighters, as you obviously have the hotel at your disposal if you hit the cocktails too hard. I’ll be using it for special occasion dinners with Mr Muddy B, or Sunday lunch with the kids or extended family. There is a private dining room which seats 10 comfortably and the the restaurant can easily cope with larger tables of up to 15. Afternoon tea is meant to be EPIC.
Not for: Michelin foodies looking for exquisite  offerings, this is the new Marco – more crowd-pleasing classics done well. Families with younger children might find it a little more challenging, although there is an excellent kids’ menu, there isn’t a lot of jiggle room for fidgety kids and pushchairs. It felt like a grown-up space, though I was eating there in the evening. Midweek or Sunday lunch might feel more relaxed if you have children in tow.
£££: Reasonable for this quality of food and cooking. Marco says his menus offer ‘something for everybody, for every price point and budget’ and I think it’s fair to say they do, although his Steakhouses are usually in smarter hotels because of their higher price point compared to his other brands. Starters £6–£10; Mains £13–£26; Steaks from £26; Desserts £5–£8.

MPW Steakhouse Bar & Grill, Castle Hotel, 18 High Street, Windsor SL4 1LJ. Tel: 01753 641321. www.mpwrestaurants.co.uk

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