Will “the most romantic restaurant in London” melt your heart?
Us Londoners are not known for our ability to woo through the magical weaving of romance. Rare is it that you’ll find a London local penning poetry (pertaining to the perfection of the Paula or Peter they happen to be tapping) as they’re pressed against the sweaty glass of the Northern Line to Morden. Less frequent still the impromptu serenading and spontaneity one might expect from our neighbours in gay Paris, la vie en Rome or the obviousness of Venice.
No. London is stout and serious, or else eccentric and edgy. We have tradition and proper old buildings and the City and Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Then we have East London trendies, a veritable legion of human cocktail sticks shrink-wrapped in electric-blue leggings, embellished with ironic children’s T-shirts and multi-coloured hair. Yes, we do serious and business, and then we do creative and fashionably odd.
But romance? Nah, not for us, thanks. We’d rather have a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit. Or a pint of bitter and a hearty roast before napping by an open fire. No roses, thanks. No lingerie in tissue paper.
Of course, there will always be those pesky tourists and first-date locals who are looking for a little je ne sis quoi in among our cobbled streets. And luckily for them, there’s Clos Maggiore.
Brandishing the title “Most Romantic Restaurant in London” (as voted by Harden’s, Open Table and Top Table), the clientele are almost as you might expect for a Covent Garden first-date spot. Not so much lost French saps with big brown eyes as Putney and Parsons Green types who seem to have drifted in straight after work, via of quick slick of lipgloss and blast of hairspray for the ladies and possibly a quick office-loo-change into a fresh pastel-coloured shirt for the guys.
Flanking the professional types are a more demure older crowd, including some pre and post Theatre-goers (of the private box variety rather than the marginally lower grade far-left stalls genealogy).
NB and I, who have chanced upon Clos Maggiore on a Thursday night, don’t fall into either of the above camps, really. But this is, thankfully, not one of those awful types of London restaurant where you don’t feel welcome if you don’t dress a certain way.
Completely the opposite, in fact – the Clos Maggiore staff are buoyant, attentive, genuinely enthusiastic, acceptably fawning and rather witty too. Which is nice. The maître de and sommelier are (I think) both called David, and I recommend nabbing them both for your table. I’m sure they will visit you anyway.
And, dare I say it, the place is romantic. We sit by an open fire. The ceiling is an enchanting web of fairy lights and fake forestry, that somehow pulls off the incredible feat of not being remotely naff, but actually rather lovely.
We are brought rissole with some kind of goats cheese and truffle mousse, and black olive and anchovy tapenade, both served in endearingly miniature copper saucepans.
And so to the food. Clos Maggiore is obviously reaching for the Michelin star. And why not – head chef Marcellin Marc has arrived from Michelin 2 star Le Clos de la Violette in Aix-en-Provence.
The menu sings with unusual ingredients in unusual combinations, anchored by enough French-style familiarity to make you feel comforted, but with a slightly adventurous edge. It is the culinary equivalent of a well-tailored suit with purple floral lining. Maybe even a leopard print scarf. But maybe something more tasteful.
I begin with Braised Shoulder of Loire Valley Rabbit with Sweet & Sour Black Radish, Wholegrain Mustard Mousselin. It is pretty on the plate: artistic, but not pretentiously so, and generous in serving size. The rabbit is tender, and I love the idea of the black radish. To quibble an otherwise accomplished dish, the sweet and sour radish lacks about one PH level of acidity for me, which it does need to balance out the rich rabbit.
NB sampled the Marinated Wild Scallops Ceviche with Charlotte Potato & Seaweed Tartare Salad. The scallops (uncooked) are what I can only describe as soft and flubbery, but in an enjoyable way. The flavours are pleasant and interesting, but a little more crunch wouldn’t have gone astray among the mushiness of potato, raw scallop and seaweed.
A stream of wine and bread continues to flow. Both are nice, though I have to admit, my affections err on the side of the wine. It has all been carefully matched but I stupidly forget to make notes on my imbibing (too caught in the romance of the moment, perhaps). Suffice to say each glass is tasty and well paired.
Onto mains: Oven Roasted Elwy Valley Lamb Fillet & Confit Belly with Provencal Vegetable Bayaldi, Piemonte Gnocchi, Light Lamb Jus for me. NB has Slow Cooked Suckling Pig Belly with Caramelised Onion & Potato Gratin, Tender Stem Broccoli, Mustard & Tarragon Sauce. We both have food envy, which is always a good sign.
His is spot on – heavy, filling and buttery. An unashamed bear hug for the stomach, as we had hoped for.
My lamb is pleasingly melty, rich but not fat-saturated. It falls away perfectly. The bayaldi (a kind of stacked ratatouille, FYI) doesn’t quite flavour-pop for me – it may have been under-salted. There is the merest sprinkling of magic lacking in the overall combination on the plate, if I’m going to be terribly pernickety.
Mains are £17.50 to £23.50, starters £6.90 to £13.90. It’s almost worth it. For my palate, the dishes were generally just a tads short on balancing acidity or sharpness. The plates were well presented, and the combinations suitably tempting, but occasionally fell a stone’s throw short of delivering.
That said, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, because overall the food was much better fare than your average, and miles ahead of the vast majority of other Covent Garden eateries. Plus, the staff were all incredibly nice.
And as for the romance? Dear reader, please, I’m British. We wouldn’t dare talk of such things.