An Art Deco Portal
It is too easy to dismiss Quaglino’s as 1990s celeb hangout but with chef James Hulme offering an excellent contemporary menu, top-notch service and cocktails there remains something fun, decadent and opulent about an evening at “Quags”
Review by Martin Stickley
Quaglino’s was founded in 1929 by Giovanni Quaglino: a restauranteur hailing from Northern Italy who, after a long career as maître d’hôtel across some of Europe’s grandest establishments, settled in London to set up on his own. For the best part of half a century Quaglino’s was the place to be where the rich and famous dined and danced. Princess Margaret had a table permanently reserved here, stars like Judy Garland and Barbara Cartland often graced the bar and it was the first public restaurant visited by Queen Elizabeth II. When the restaurant was reopened in 1993 by Conran Restaurants it quickly became one of the places to be seen in Mayfair, a decadent, star-studded hang out graced by the who’s who of the day. As with all things, tastes and fashion change and the turn of the millennium saw Quaglino’s become less popular until 2006 when restaurant group D&D stepped in to pick this former icon back up and dust it down like a rejuvenated Hollywood starlet.
Entering Quaglino’s is like stepping through a velvet, art-deco portal straight into the 1920’s. After handing your coats in at the cloakroom the sweeping staircase flows serenely down to the main dining area which surrounds the lavish cocktail bar. Gold, burgundy and pewter adorn almost every surface with an opulence which initially made me feel a little self-conscious; I like fine-dining but not the pretentiousness which can so often accompany it. Thankfully, I soon got used to the extravagant surrounds and bustle of the waiting staff putting my initial concerns to bed.
Aside from the quality of the food, there are two things Quaglino’s obviously pride themselves on. The first is the quality and abundance of their serving staff. Whilst the sheer number of them might be slightly off-putting to some diners, I found them uncommonly attentive and seldom invasive; always on hand to top up the wine glass or to replace an unruly napkin. Drinks are also something which Quaglino’s like to pay special attention to. The restaurant has two bars; the Q Cocktail bar on the main restaurant floor and the Mezzanine bar upstairs, both of which serve a great range of spirits and classic cocktails. I would also give special mention to the skill of the waiting staff in suggesting the right wine to go with the menu, a task made easier given the extensive choice on the wine menu.
Thanks to head chef James Hulme the dining menu is bang up to date too with some genuinely interesting and tasty dishes. The butternut squash and pumpkin gratin is an excellent starter, as equally delicious is the beetroot and liquorice cured salmon with cucumber and fennel. Both offer depth of flavour, originality and fine use of seasonal ingredients. With such solidity, the only criticism I could level at the food was that the lamb rump from the main was a little bit lacking in richness, but given the quality of everything else I tried I don’t want to hold it against the kitchen too much especially when you consider the sheer indulgence and craftsmanship of dishes like the pear and caramel mousse which was as much of a joy to look at as it was to taste. The pear itself exquisitely sculpted from white chocolate, so much so that one could be forgiven for thinking that it was the flesh of an actual fruit.
It’s easy to dismiss Quaglino’s on face value and reputation as merely a former playground for celebrities which harks back to days gone by but I believe an evening there is worth so much more. The décor might be a throwback to Quaglio’s opulent past but the quality of both food and service are definitely contemporary. The restaurant also offers a comprehensive events schedule with live music performances several times a week, the perfect combination to a night at the cocktail bar!
Enquiries: Quaglino’s, 16 Bury Street, St James’s, London SW1Y 6AJ / 0207 9306767 / quaglinos-restaurant.co.uk/