It’s been a busy eating week for Elldrew; we’ve lunched at old favourite ‘The Wolseley’, suppered at Bruno Loubet’s ‘Grain Store’ and last night we had the pleasure of dining at the newly reopened Quaglino’s. And despite The Wolseley retaining its crown as Elldrew’s favourite dining spot, it’s Quaglino’s that gets the honour of our attention and review.
Quaglino’s has to be one of the grande dames of the London dining scene. Currently celebrating her 85th birthday, she’s been “in” and “out” so many times that she’s rather like one of Soho’s less salubrious residents, and Elldrew remembers Quaglino’s well, from her last revival and hey-day in the nineties. Back then she was an airline hangar of a room; the jewel in Conran’s fledgling restaurant group. She was white and bright, vast and opulent, and symbolised all the decadence of the early nineties and optimism of the approaching millennium. But she withered and floundered, struggling to attract the crowds in the noughties as the new hip, young and trendy joints around the London restaurant scene emerged – like every elegant lady of a certain age she long ago needed a little bit of, errm, “cosmetic maintenance”. Fortunately for Lady Quaglino, D&D Group came to her rescue and treated her to a full workout and makeover, reopening mere weeks ago with a fierce new look and a drinks and food menu to boot!
Elldrew were excited to get a table so early in her revival and as we approached St James’s we reminisced that it was probably 20 years since either of us last graced her with our presence. Drew noted that it used to be his local ‘day’ and ‘evening’ work hangout (his office then only two streets away), and that he probably spent most of his salary, and his clients marketing budgets, sampling every drink on the menu on a daily basis. Oh the memories, and oh so many forgotten ones from over indulgence!
Stepping through the doors the first thing we noticed was that she was dark; not in a gloomy way but in a sultry and sexy way. There was a lot of black. And gold. The staff, the furniture, the walls, all with black and gold touches. “This isn’t a daytime venue” Ell remarked to Drew, “this is a place to drink and eat and stay late behaving badly.” That was perhaps a good prediction for the rest of the evening.
We were offered a seat at the downstairs bar; the new Quaglino’s now has two bars that suggests D&D don’t want it to just be a ‘two hour sitting’ dinner venue. The original bar on the mezzanine remains but in the centre of the main dining room (where there used to be banquettes) is another bar…it’s sleek with lit bench tops, swivel leather chairs, all complementing the room perfectly. Perched high on bar stools it’s the perfect point from which to observe your fellow diners as they make their way down the equally elegantly lit grand staircase. For anyone loving a Gin & Tonic we have three words: dill and tonic. Try it, there’s no going back and worth a drinks visit just for this little beauty.
Earlier on in the evening (it being a Thursday) we noticed the restaurant was mainly full of corporate tables; men in braces, pink shirts and pinstripe suits. For a moment it was like being back in the nineties, but then St James’s is the heart of the Hedge Fund district these days, so not unexpected. As the night wore on, the clientele changed; the hedge fund managers left for their homes and their wives, bidding farewell to their colleagues and [cough] female companions [cough], and in their wake came the sexy young things, and the elegant older Mayfair Madames. When we made it to our table we were sat between a group of ‘rich kids’ in their twenties, celebrating a birthday, and looking like the cast from ‘Made in Chelsea’, whilst on our other side, an older couple that were so European, so elegant and so bejewelled, they could barely lift their fingers for the weight of their diamonds (think Daphne’s restaurant for those who have been).
Big grins, we relaxed into our plush seats eyeing up the drinks and food menu. God it was good to be back with the old girl!
So, enough praising the décor and atmosphere – did we mention the staff are equally gorgeous and delicious? What about the food (always an important element of a restaurant review)?
Drew started with a Scallop Ceviche which had a lime and chilli dressing and smoked herring roe. Ell went with an unusual and hearty hand chopped Venison Tartare with smoked oil and Sourdough Melba. One of our dining companions had the Clarence Court 63° duck egg with salsify, leek, trompette mushrooms and a truffle crumb (a posh scotch egg). All dishes were perfectly balanced with great flavours and a joy to eat. For main both Ell and Drew opted for the White Risotto with shaved white Alba truffle (we are after all somewhat obsessed with truffles). Our friends enjoyed the Highland Wild Red Deer with parsnip puree and braised red cabbage and the equally good looking Sea Bass with fennel purée, lemon confit and a back sesame dressing. They didn’t share with us so we can’t comment on the flavours, but everything looked superb.
Even the sides we ordered; French green beans, a tomato salad, Gratin Dauphinois and the endive, Fourme d’Ambert, walnut dressing salad were great accompaniments with our dishes. Our lovely waitress did mention that the sharing plates were Quaglino’s signature dishes…we will have to come back to vouch for that. Dessert was equally divine; a Valrhona Tropila Chocolate Fondant with crème crue and a Pink Almond Pavlova with Chantilly (that the waitress waited for us to smash open before pouring over a mandarin dressing – we do love some theatre). Elldrew thought the pavlova was the star of the show; both crunchy and chewy – it was a sexy dessert and after all, everything about Quaglino’s is sexy.
So we’ve covered the refurb [tick], the décor [tick], the food [tick], the beautiful staff [tick], what more could Quaglino’s have to offer we hear you ask? Well, how about some live music? You see once the meal’s over, Quaglino’s turns itself into more of a nightclub-cum-cabaret. Playing up to the current fad ‘for all things cabaret and burlesque’, where there once was a crustacean bar there’s now a glowing stage and small intimate dancefloor. Just as we were considering paying up and leaving an all-female act, “High-on-Heels”, emerged onto the stage.
“Let’s have a nightcap, is there a table nearer the stage?” and with that we were ushered right up front, in prime view of DJ “Miss Kelly Marie” and her fellow accompanists. Interesting is the word we would use to describe the entertainment. The stage consisted of Kelly, along with a lead vocalist, a violinist and a saxophone player (naturally all in high heels), each playing together or doing solos to remixed classic dance tracks. They were good, if not a little surreal, but it was a fun way to end the night. As the ‘rich kids’ from the table next to us took to the dance floor for some booty shaking, Elldrew realised it was time to put older bones to bed – it was a school night after all. And with that the bill was paid and we reluctantly commenced our departure.
On our way out we walked past a cabinet displaying some of the history of Quaglino’s; right in the centre was the famous ‘Q’ ashtray (back in the day everyone knew someone who “inadvertently allowed one of those ashtrays to slip into their pockets”). It’s just possible that fuelled by that last glass of wine, and the memories the ‘Q’ ashtray conjured, that a 2014 ‘Q’ metal coaster might have inadvertently slipped into Elldrew’s pocket. Note that we said “possible” not “probable” – we’ll leave you, the reader, to work out whether it did happen or not…but we can’t help but think that the ‘Q’ coaster could in fact be the new ‘Q’ ashtray! Whilst writing this we were tweeted and informed that circa 25,000 ashtrays were rumoured to have ‘walked out the door’ during their circulation. Without wanting to give management a heart attack so early after reopening, Elldrew might have to start a “Save the ‘Q’ coaster” campaign before they all ‘walk out the door’ also?
Quaglino’s have just confirmed via Twitter that they are in fact “up for the demand, but we are watching” and added #LetTheGamesBegin so I think they have officially started the challenge!
Go go go go go, this girl needs you, and she will smoother you with sexiness and leave you wanting more. Quags (that’s how we’ve always referred to you so we are dropping the full title from here on in) we bloody love you, we missed you and we can’t wait to see you again REALLY soon!
16 Bury Street St James’s, London SW1Y 6AJ
Restaurant interior stock images courtesy of Quaglino’s website.