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REVIEW: Quaglino’s, London

Written by gaytourism

I often marvel at London and think about the lives which have been lived in the capital over the centuries. Which is why, as the nostalgic type, I long looked forward to experiencing Quaglino’s. This iconic eatery takes prime position straddling the well-heeled districts of Mayfair and St. James’s in the West End of central London.

During the Golden Age of Hollywood, Quaglino’s boasted a long list of celebrity and royal patrons. These include gay icons like Liz Taylor to Judy Garland. Furthermore, The Queen, Edward VIII and Wallace Simpson have all walked through its glitzy doors. Princess Margaret actually had a table permanently reserved for her.

More recently, Princess Diana, Naomi Campbell, Gwyneth Paltrow and the late George Michael have been photographed after socializing here.

The restaurant has been lovingly coined Quag’s, and is referenced as such in iconic BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous. (Speaking of which, a Q Decades Ab Fab Bottomless Brunch is scheduled for 25 August). As with many of the trends Eddie and Patsy followed, Quag’s has fallen in and out of fashion over the decades, and undergone several makeovers.

However, the restaurant has entered a a new chapter since its last relaunch in 2014, with Prince Harry being one of the first through the door. And it’s got to be said: it’s looking spectacular.

The lavish and extravagant Art Deco interior, the fantastically high ceiling and grand staircase are brilliantly ostentatious echoes of decades past. The decor reflects the sense of occasion and history of the place.

There is live music played most nights at the back of the restaurant, with most tables facing the music. The added sense of performance and spectacle is yet another reason to visit Quaglino’s.

It’s less intense that Ronny Scott’s Jazz Club; you’ll have to decide for yourself if the music is of the same calibre, but the legendary Jocelyn Brown played here in July. Meanwhile one of the country’s most prolific musicians Will Young (who just so happens to be gay), will be performing on 30 August.

Next, the bar. Quaglino’s is the type of place you can, and should visit for just drinks and cocktails. The cocktails are named referencing Quaglino’s past, including ‘The Affair’, referring to John Profumo attending Quaglino’s after the Profumo Affair hit the press. (With his wife, I hasten to add, and not Christine Keeler).

Meanwhile, ‘The 5th Marriage’ refers to the wedding reception held here of Judy Garland’s. Our favorite, though, was the flawless and refreshing Conte Cavour. Like all the best concoctions, it’s jam-packed with ingredients, creating an at once complex and simple taste. Itt’s comprised of London Nº1 gin, Cinzano Bianco and Rosso and vanilla. Then some lemon balm, a showy verbena leaf and some Cinzano Asti to finish. It and all the drinks on the Aperitivo menu are £12.50 ($16.17, €13.95).

The bar also does an interesting, modern sharing food selection, although these bites are very light. The Burrata Surf & Turf, pairing creamy mozzarella with Sicilian red prawn and caviar, and then with Calabrian ‘Nduja (a tough, spicy salami) tasted divine, but barely touched the sides.

The main restaurant menu impresses, especially with its plentiful seafood options. To start, the salmon gravlax was zingy and light. A liberal dose of herbs didn’t overpower its punchy, intensified flavor and firmness. The quality of the fish shined through.

Meanwhile the scallops tartare, served with green apple, daikon, Avruga caviar and crispy seaweed, is a richer, saltier, more decadent take on a classic starter that can often look boring on the plate. Not this time. Both come highly recommended.

Thus far, the price point – from oysters to the caviar options to the actual starters – will alienate some. However, the mains range in price, and there are currently a few pretty affordable options. The cheapest, currently, is a wild mushroom ‘orzo mantecato’ risotto, with king oyster mushrooms, watercress and shaved tete de Moine, at £18.50 ($23.93, €20.64). In fact, most of the mains are under £30 ($38.81, €33.47).

If on a budget, Quaglino’s offers an off-peak set lunch and dinner menu: two courses and a glass of wine for a very reasonable £23 ($29.76, €25.66).

Our truffle and goats cheese agnolotti – a deliciously chewy cousin of ravioli – was rich and delicious, lightly laced with pine nuts and parmesan emulsion. I could’ve eaten it twice. Next the fine Dover sole, probably the most delectable item we tasted. However, make sure you order it with some sides.

Although this is unusual for me to say, the desserts were the highlight of the meal. Don’t miss the Baked Alaska, served on a stick like an ice cream you’d buy in a corner shop, but about 15,000 times more luxurious. With its delicate notes of mandarin and pistachio, the sponge-cake-ice-cream-browned-meringue has never been such an elegant choice.

Like the cocktails, it’s a fun, curveball presence on weighty series of menus, even upstaging our intoxicatingly decadent Valrhona 70% chocolate fondant, served with tonic bean ice cream.

The food and atmosphere at Quaglino’s are very good, and compliments to out knowledgable sommelier, who suggested perfect wine pairings throughout. But ultimately, its greatest selling point is that preserved sense of occasion. It is a historic destination rather than a just restaurant where good times continue to roll.

For more information about Quaglino’s, visit the official website here.

Words: Jennifer Betterton, with additional words by Jamie Tabberer

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