What’s in a name? Great expectations, for sure, when that name is weighted with decades of gilt-edged history. Quaglino’s has been a royal favourite for more than 80 years, and with Hollywood royalty frequenting too in its heyday the name has become the stuff of London legend.
But legends evolve if they are not to die, and today’s Quaglino’s, relaunched first by Terence Conran in 1993 and again by D&D in 2014, is more millennial watering-hole than the discreet dining spot once priced to keep out the riff-raff. In spite of the regrettable removal of snowy table linen in the pursuit of modernity, It remains one of London’s most glamorous restaurants. Or more accurately that genre of venue which is the stuff of MGM musicals, a showroom serving up live entertainment with the food and drink.
The show must go on, even while changing times have made it hard to sustain top-drawer dining on a grand scale, and this summer Quaglino’s has democratised its offering with bargain basement set menus to take the chill off the silly season. The basement venue itself is the main bargain; just getting to descend the illuminated central staircase into a breathtaking, art deco-style vaulted space is a theatrical thrill, even before the curtains part to reveal the stage where live acts perform several nights a week from 10pm into the small hours.
A cocktail is called for, and Quaglino’s excels at everything from a perfect Negroni to exotic concoctions like the 5h Marriage referencing Judy Garland’s 1960’s nuptials on the premises, although it’s doubtful bartenders were mixing up cachaca, pisco. mango sorbet and passionfruit all in one frosted tumbler back in the day. The room is anchored by a huge oval central bar; you can nibble here as well at tiny tables for two, larger ones for small groups.
Three courses for £30 is a tough act to deliver when you have SW1 overheads, and the set summer menu relies on inexpensive ingredients served up with a flourish. A veloute of sweetcorn lent depth of flavour by a sprinkling of girolles and a Parmesan tuile is faultless, but the short rib which seems the most enticing choice of mains is a little dull, albeit well-executed.
Breaking away in search of the traditional Quaglino’s fare Edward VIII, Princess Margaret, Diana and latterly Prince Harry are more likely to have enjoyed, my other half bags a whole Dover sole properly taken off the bone after presentation and perfectly cooked with an elegant little butter sauce bearing capers and tiny brown shrimp. A buttermilk pannacotta with iced blackberries is a fine choice from the set desserts.
While service can be uneven – even a basic question like: “Is this butter salted or unsalted?” met the response: “I’ll have to check”(answer: salted, and as good as the excellent bread) – the sommelier is a star, and a great guide to some less well-known bottles available by the glass. A Rothschild viognier he recommended perfectly partnered the veloute, and a sumptuous grenache, syrah and carignan blend from Roussillon was more toothsome than the meat it accompanied.
No doubt the set menus are subsidised by pricier ticket nights for events in the Q Legends series running throughout August. They feature live acts with a disco era history viewable from the bar as well as the restaurant, and a screening of that modern movie classic The Godfather on August 22. Given the special cocktails created to pay homage to guests of its star-studded past, the bar may be the star for these events, as while it does remain a legendary restaurant, today’s Quaglino’s is more about drinking a decent drop dressed to the nines and being seen to be doing it than the food.
Tell me more about Quaglino’s
16 Bury Street