Quaglino’s is an iconic London restaurant-cum-nightclub that reopened in October 2014 after a multimillion-pound renovation by Russell Sage Studio. Established by Italian restaurateur Giovanni Quaglino, it originally opened in 1929, making it 85 years old this year.
“It’s remarkable to think that when Quaglino’s first opened, Londoners were dancing the Charleston and King George V was on the throne,” said Des Gunewardena, CEO of parent company D&D London.
Over the years, it hosted many famous people, from the Prince of Wales to Barbara Cartland, and became known for its highly-prized Q-shaped ashtrays that diners used to steal.
In the early 1990s, Quaglino’s was relaunched by Sir Terence Conran. But in 2006, he sold a 49 per cent stake in his Conran Restaurants firm to D&D London, which later bought him out entirely.
D&D today has more than 30 restaurants, mainly in the English capital but also in a handful of overseas destinations. In 2012, it opened South Place hotel in the City.
Tucked away just off Mayfair’s St James’s, Quaglino’s retains an art deco mis en scène, but one that is pumped up to such an extent that it could almost have been a set in Baz Luhrmann’s Disneyfied Great Gatsby movie.
On arrival, guests arrive at a sweeping mezzanine balcony that looks down on to the main dining hall. A glowing gold, oval-shaped bar – festooned with vases of flowers and buckets of champagne – takes pride of place in the centre.
Polished wooden tables follow the trend for no cloths, and the 240 covers are seated on Scandi bar stools, banquettes or crimson armchairs. The crowd is electic – from business people to hen parties, couples to Russian models. It feels like a Las Vegas casino without the slot machines. It’s otherworldly, in a decadent kind of way, but in reality it’s rather mainstream, borderline tacky.
Quaglino’s was humming the Friday night I visited with friends for dinner. We descended the staircase from the sultry mezzanine bar, jostling with office workers, down to where we were taken to our table.
The waiter was a little condescending and abrupt; we didn’t feel welcomed. And the house red (a 2012 Cuvée Jean Paul, IGP PAYs Vaucluse, France, for £21) was barely drinkable – for a restaurant of its caliber that prides itself on a 300-bin winelist there is no excuse for anything being bad. But you obviously have to pay more for quality.
Later in the evening, Quaglino’s has live music, DJs and dancing, but I didn’t stay long enough to find out what the party vibe was like. Check out the toilets, which are done head to toe in black and white stripes.
There are two private dining rooms ideal for corporates with seating for 14 and 36.
The varied European menu has been drafted by executive chef Mickael Weiss. It harks back to the days of the grand brasserie, with grand-sounding dishes that are at once hearty and posh. There is a lot to choose from and seafood plays a big part (there are oysters and caviar to whet your appetite), and I enjoyed the anticipation of what was yet to come.
To start, options included a Clarence Court duck egg cooked at 63-degrees with salsify, leek, trompette mushrooms and truffle crumbs; a terrine of game, apricot and pistachio with cranberry chutney; and hand-chopped venison tartare with smoked oil, pickled enoki and sourdough melba.
Fancying pasta as a main, I went for a light salad of heritage beetroot, mini dollops of goat’s curd, and a scattering of cress, “winter leaves” and toasted hazelnuts (far from original these days). It was fine but nothing special. The pumpkin soup with toasted seeds and crème fraiche might have been more satisfying.
My parpadelle with a sauce of smoked tomatoes, aubergine and toasted pine nuts was delicious and rich, although the pasta was slightly overcooked so stuck together and was a disappointingly small portion.
One friend enjoyed the gnocchi with butternut squash, sage and pecorino, while another tucked into a fillet steak au poivre with a side of spinach. All that was missing was a good glass of red.
On another occasion, one might try the 800g whole lobster with fresh herb butter and Catalana salad; the pork belly with creamed savoy cabbage, bacon and pickled grape jus; or the roasted south coast cod with fennel and curried mussel broth.
Unable to face the pink almond pavlova, chocolate marquise or à choux a la crème, I finished with a slice of creamy, zesty passion fruit tart glazed with caramelised sugar, before heading into the night to hail a cab.
Quaglino’s looks suitably glamorous after its revamp but has lost some of its class in the process. That said, being big in the eighties, I wonder if that disappeared some time back. It has the potential for being a really fun place to entertain clients if you are willing to splash the cash, but the food and drink doesn’t always live up to expectation. The service could also be warmed up. I’d go back to see if it was better sometime.
- OPENING HOURS Restaurant: Mon-Sat 12pm-3pm, 5.30pm-11pm Bar: Mon-Thurs 12pm-1am, Fri-Sat 5.30pm-3am Late bar food: 11pm-1am
- PRICES Three-course evening menu £30 including cocktail. Starters £7.25-£11.25; mains £12.75-£35, sides £3.75, oysters £3.25-£4 each, caviar per 30g £98-£390. Desserts £2.50-££9.
- CONTACT Quaglino’s, 16 Bury Street St James’s, London; tel +44 (0)20 7930 6767; quaglinos-restaurant.co.uk