QUAGLINO’S: A Taste Of The Sea With Some Great History

Quag Located just south of what people generally consider to be geographically speaking the heart of Mayfair, sits Quaglino's, a restaurant with a grand history and synonymous with style and glamour. Originally founded in 1929, Quaglino's, named after the founder, was created when Mr. Quaglino discovered his lover was having an affair with a fellow restaurateur. Determined to better his love rival he opened his own establishment with a goal of providing better food with outstanding service. Unlucky in love, but lucky in life, Quaglino's quickly became one of the hottest establishments in London and was frequented by royalty of stage, screen, the music world and actual royalty. Indeed it was known as Edward VIII favourite restaurant; not a fan of eating in a tie he would often be seen entering the private dining room with a certain Mrs Simpson to enjoy an evening of casual dining in a not so casual establishment. A fire claimed the original Quaglinio's, but since 1993 they have thrived in their current location, just next door to the original. And The Prince of Wales room still exists, and sits above the dining room; it is available for private dining, for other guests who also wish for the same private liaisons as King Ed once did. Their slogan is everyone has a Quaglino's story; I was ready to write my own this past Friday evening, when I visited Quaglino's to check out the Bafta photography that currently adorns the walls featuring the current crop of hot British tealent including Miranda, James Corden, Chris O'Dowd and Charlie Brooker, to name but a few. On arrival, our tipple was a fine aperitif in the form of the Cucumber Cooler €“ a quenching, smooth beverage, served long, with a sweet aroma complimenting a gin base. The accompanying blue cheese popcorn with hints of celery salt was as unusual as it was moreish. Texturally it was a bit of an anomaly, but one could not deny the blue cheesy punch it packed. Quaglinos Restaurant Bar St James London Sw1 07 The dining room is sunken below the bar, which itself is below street-level; descending down a staircase decorated with fading brass into a double-height basin lit in a dull purplish blue, I couldn't help but feel that Quaglinio's was in need of updating. But I am not an interior designer; the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I was very hungry. Quaglino's menu is not what you might think: though the name is Italian their cuisine is not exclusive to any country or region. "Fusion" is a bit of a buzz term, but it's the best one I can find to describe the eclectic menu, which is a mixture of homely, patriotic foods like Dover Sole, Pan Fried Cod and even the classic Fish and Chips, to equally comforting European favourites such as the seafood risotto and garganelli pasta. Then there's the dishes that one might more commonly associate with an establishment like Quaglino's: the cote au veau, lamb Milanese, steak au poivre and a wholesome selection of steaks. Their piece de resistance is the Fruits de mer €“ a huge platter of clams, mussels, langoustines, king prawns, oysters and a whole crab are delivered to your table on a tray of ice. Equipped with more tools than a skilled labourer, we tackled the mammoth portion, inhaling in the aromas of the sea. Cracking our way through a meaty crab: fleshy, succulent chunks of white gold. Equally meaty are the giant Scotch langoustines, which are bettered only by the buttery king prawns. Clams and muscles packed full of juicy flavour and the oysters fresh, salty and without the slightest hint of any grit. Lr Le Pont De La Tour Tom Cook Gallery4 At £38 it might sound steep, but given the freshness of the crustaceans and the size of the platter this is more than reasonable. But give yourself ample time when ordering, it is a challenge, albeit a rewarding one. Spurning the opportunity to go for their Cote de Veau, and sticking to the delights of the sea, I chose the lobster while my companion opted for the Asian inspired Salmon. The lobster is served in a rich buttery sauce and had been sliced in half and had the grill treatment. While this may have taken away some of the moistness of the shellfish, it certainly did not affect the flavour. The flesh tore easily away from the shell, indeed the entire claw meat came out with little-to-no effort and remained in tact. Buttery and soft, each mouthful barely touched the side and in no time the lobster was no more. The hearty slab of salmon delightfully coated in a perfect infusion of soy, ginger and garlic wafted such heavenly aromas it almost seemed like a crime to eat it. And yet my companion made short work of the bright pink, flaky and meaty Asian work of art. The accompanying mushrooms and bok choi were wilted under the sauce and the mushrooms lacked seasoning. A sad tarnish to an otherwise exceptional dish. At £18 the Salmon is a steal, in contrast with the £34 lobster. The crème brule provided a much needed sugar injection to combat the saltiness of the fish. The caramel top cracked like a thin sheet of early morning winter's ice, with the desired crispy crunch.The custard refreshingly resembled custard, as opposed to a blancmange €“ which is far too common and rested atop a bed of fresh vanilla pods, providing a wonderful end to each mouthful. If the experience Quaglino's were striving for was that of dining underwater to compliment the crustacean and fishy delights they have on offer then they have successfully achieved this. Whether it makes for a suited atmosphere to enjoy an evening of fine dining, I'm not so sure about. I did however, much prefer the softly lit and welcoming atmosphere of the cocktail bar, which we happily adjourned to for some after dinner cocktails, accompanied by live music; a pianist and cellist supporting a singer with an angelic voice. Their rendition of my requested Moondance may not have bettered Van Morrison but was more that suited to the ambience of the evening. My old fashioned did everything desired without any surprise or innovation; suitably strong and bitter with the sweet notes not to overpower the whiskey. The coffee liqueur used as a substitute for Kahlua in my companion's Espresso Martini failed to provide the same thickness and strength. When this was questioned, the barman obliged and re-made it with Kahlua. The result gave my companion the desired post dinner buzz and chill at the same time. While the aesthetic of the dining room looks dated, tarnishing the otherwise, swanky and romantic feel of the venue, the sophisticated menu, which balances hearty portions of haute cuisines that aspire to Michelin star quality at a price that reflects the gap that exists between them and their more expensive and decorated competitors. What is not short of their competitors is the courteous and attentive servers and informative and accommodating bar staff €“ both fit for a king. The Bafta photography will be on show at Quaglino's until the 31st of October. Quaglino's is located at 16 Bury Street, St James', London, SWIY 6AJ. For more information, please visit www.quaglinos-restaurant.co.uk/ Quaglinos Bafta Front
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Frustratingly argumentative writer, eater, reader and fanatical about film ‘n’ food and all things fundamentally flawed. I have been a member of the WhatCulture family since it was known as Obsessed with Film way back in the bygone year of 2010. I review films, festivals, launch events, award ceremonies and conduct interviews with members of the ‘biz’. Follow me @FilmnFoodFan In 2011 I launched the restaurant and food criticism section. I now review restaurants alongside film and the greatest rarity – the food ‘n’ film crossover. Let your imaginations run wild as you mull on what that might look like!