Founded in 1929 by Giovanni Quaglino, its website describes the recent £3,000.000 refurb, and also, rather bafflingly as being in Mayfair despite it being on the wrong side of the Mayfair demarcation line that buries it in no less swanky “St. James’s”, but I can see why its heart yearns for it to be associated with its much cooler and fun-filled neighbour’s patch. St. James’s is all gentlemen’s clubs, snuff parlours,
pharmacies and ties and sock purveyors after all. But the old-girl reckons the party’s not over yet and still lives for the night. When I knew it in the 80’s and 90’s one somehow ended up there at the back end of a group, hardly ever was it an intended destination but fun all the same.
The restaurant looks familiar only filled out with some bling, three million pounds worth, to be precise, an extra cocktail bar and a curtained stage which comes alive with music in the evenings; with all those hard edges I can’t imagine what the acoustics must be like.
Unsurprisingly at lunchtime when we came, a blazing heatwave at work above, it was rather quiet with less than a third of the tables in use in its impressive size.
Rather than it being much smaller than I remembered, it appeared huge. I seem to remember the old menu as being more “Italian”, today there’s only a single pasta dish available, which also doubles up as the only vegetarian main course. J. who is a vegetarian, but has been known to do fish, chose the Harissa and Peanut roasted aubergine, whipped coconut milk, pulse tabouleh (£6.50) as a starter and it sounds cheerful enough to eat, which she did and declared “delicious”. NS started going with the Prawn Cocktail (£10.50) which I always imagine to eat it is to be complicit with some act of cultural satire; the neo-post-irony tittering has died down and forgetting what the original reference point for the Joke was, it’s now nailed firmly back on the menu; restaurants like it because it’s easy and quick to prepare but to my mind it epitomises the industrial repetitive slog of catering. NS slumped a little, ate half of it and spoke about having to pick up his granddaughter in an hour. I went for the Red Wine Marinated octopus, grapefruit and avocado salad (£9.25). The octopus tasted fresh and the red wine made it interesting, it reminded me of salmon poached in red wine that I’ve had in Italy. Unfortunately the avocado lacked so much flavour, I,d forgotten that it was even there.
For the main course, for J. there was really little else but the Wild mushroom tagliatelle (£12.00), straight forward enough but I thought it looked to have too much liquid in that old fashioned British-run bistro style. NS made a fine gesture and ordered the recommended Double lamb cutlet, mini ratatouille, rosemary jus and pomme fondante (picked from the Set Menu). Quite good and pink. Had the Fish and Chips been haddock instead of Cod, I would have gone for that, instead I chose the Hand chopped (is there any other way?) beef tartare, chips, green salad (£14.50). While I was waiting for the waiter to ask me how spicy I wanted it to be, it arrived, the meat sitting on a puddle of egg yolk instead of its rightful place, properly perched, and lacking of any real kick in the heat department at all.
But all in all, when you realise that this is evening food, when all the senses are distracted with music, voices and probably lots of drink, the high-end gastro-pub quality makes sense.
Quaglino’s seems to be concentrating on being an evening “venue” event, a sort of night club eaterie so at lunchtime one feels as though you’re bound to be leaving when all the fun begins and guiltily slink away, a bit of a party pooper . Through the Dubai-style VIP lounge glittering interior, a trace of its art deco past dimly breathes, but not enough for nostalgia freaks to worry about. Something played on my mind about the place from years ago, and a day or two later it struck me. The famous fat, chunky “Q” shaped ashtrays that were on every table I recall then that seemed to pop up all over certain young ladies Radnor Walk basement flat coffee tables, oddly enough, that defined the place more than any brilliant advertising campaign, and, of course, now a distant memory. I suspect you can find them in that great Westwood Village Memorial Park cemetery of forgotten objects, ebay.