Glamour is what was promised, and glamour is undoubtedly what we got. My dining companion and I were attending the pre-launch of the just-refurbished 85 year old London institution, Quaglino’s, due to re-open officially on 17th October.
The door to the art deco style entrance was swung open by the doorman decked out in glitzy gold brocade, and the old school Disney theme continued as we descended into the underground palace. Hostesses sashayed around in their gold and black, clearly enjoying the swish of their gold pleated trains – an OTT style more suited to a Middle Eastern restaurant, according to my companion.
The bar features undulating black leather seats, creating an intimate space for a large number of people: an impressive feat, bearing in mind the hugeness of the space. A show was put on for us, with the warm-spiced, citrus scent of the house-made vermouth drifting seductively from its glass vessel. Our charming Italian barman readily poured us each a shot to try. Delicious. A test tube of mossy green dill liqueur was held up for us to smell, and we were presented with crystalline ice globes chiselled from the block of ice displayed prominently on the bar counter.
The cocktail menu is extensive, divided into past, present, future and prestige, designed to emphasise Quaglino’s solid place in London’s restaurant history. I asked the barman for something containing lychee, and received this beautiful gin and cucumber creation:
I liked the fact that it wasn’t too sweet, but all in all, I thought it tasted a bit too healthy. My dining companion went for a whisky, vermouth, and apricot concoction on the rocks – very strong and very good, a dangerous mix. The drinks are certainly not cheap (£12-15), but as my friend pointed out, one’s paying in part for the knowledge and skill of the barmen.
N.B. my camera broke at this point so quality is lower hereon.
Unfortunately, we had to remind the bar staff ten minutes after our booking time that we were waiting for a table, but we were swiftly joined by a uniformed hostess. She led us down the gleaming gold front lit staircase to the dining room.
I only narrowly avoided tripping on the train of her dress. The space is sprawling, with thick white columns on each side, and lit up panels overhead. From this point on, service was immaculate, with no eye avoidance, and no pestering. The sommelier, waitress & waiter were all helpful and willing. Slippers of bread still warm from the oven arrived immediately. To start, I had the London smoked salmon.
The accompanying horseradish cream, capers, and finely chopped onion were served separately by the waitress, which was a nice touch. The salmon looked good, but it wasn’t extraordinary. The dish would have been made more refined by cutting the slices more finely. My companion chose the Lobster ravioli in a marmite bisque – an interesting mix which made sense with the delicate initial sweetness of the lobster cut through by the later saltiness of the marmite infusion.
I then chose the chicken with girolles, Jerusalem artichoke, and a truffle-infused jus.
The positives: The chicken breast was elegantly frenched, cooked well, and served in a stylish white bowl. It was pleasing to find a dish containing Jerusalem artichokes, so often under-used. Finely sliced, these added an earthy, savoury depth to the dish which was complemented by the girolles and jus.
The negatives: the waitress told me that the only meat was chicken breast, but hidden underneath the breast, I found a piece of rubbery, goose pimpled chicken skin wrapped round some of the brown meat. I had to set aside this unpleasant surprise, almost losing some of the girolles, too, which had been camouflaged. In my opinion, if skin is to be kept, it should be crisp, and used to add texture to the dish. This wasn’t the case here.
My companion ordered the venison with parsnip purée, braised red cabbage, and sauce Grand Veneur. The venison was tender and pink, and the other classical pairings were done well. He thought the portion size a little mean, however. The side of Gratin Dauphinois was disappointing – the crisp golden crust promised joy, but gave way to slices of potato floating in an overly runny, cream sauce.
Valrhona chocolate fondant was the obvious choice for dessert, and met our high expectations: rich velvety, and molten. A twist of added ginger, or another exotic ingredient, would have been welcome to cut through the richness, but even without it, the fondant was greatly appreciated. The Colston Bassett cheese course was also good – the pairing of a mustard-infused quince jelly worked well, and the house-made fruit and nut crackers were very good, although too few. The waitress, however, willingly brought us a few more.
The experience was slightly Disney and with a few errors, but enjoyable all the same.
Suitable for: dates, celebrations, reunions, family, friends