7 months ago
Opulence, plain and simple. With a grand staircase that dips into a sunken dining room and a platform for a band, Quaglino’s is a Titanic-esque dining room with a hefty dollop of Mayfair bling.
And boy does it have a history. Opened in 1929 by Giovanni Quaglino – a restauranteur from Northern Italy – it attracted a fashionable crowd thanks to great Italian cooking and a lack of stuffiness. In 1993 it was taken over by the Conran Group and patronised by Princess Diana and a swanky London crowd, and in 2004 D&D London took over and once more breathed life into the place.
What most remark about Quags is that it’s a glitzy affair but not crazy expensive. The touches like the grandiose flower displays and house band are a charming nod to the Old World of Mayfair dining, while the newly launched bar – with its faux animal skin touches, dim lights and sparkle, adds a good does of shamelessness to satisfy any young aspirant.
One thing D&D really know how to do elegantly are bottomless brunches. 2 courses fo £25 or 3 for £29, with the addition of unlimited Prosecco for £15.
On a date, share with 4 Rock Oysters with shallot vinegar, and cured smoked salmon on melba toast. Then for a delicate main, the sea bream with sauce vierge on a bed of crushed potatoes is light with a citrus sharpness balancing indulgent potatoes. For something more brunch-like, the cured ham Croque Monsieur is the stuff of legends.
Dress for brunch. Men in crisp white shirts and women mostly in trousers, heels, blouses and fancy bags. Even better, wear a goddamn frock.
Wait for your date outside the restaurant so you can descend the staircase together and grab a hand for the journey down. Try to mirror the restaurant’s vibes – smart but not stuffy – with casual chit chat and playfulness. Swap stories from your Friday nights and make plans for the afternoon. Go for the bottomless option but stop after 2-3 glasses (stay classy).
Before you leave, grab a peck on the lips at the top of the stairs and head out for a walk around St James’.
If it’s sunny outside, the windowless vibe may not work for all.
3 for brunch. 5+ for dinner.
2 years ago
This Grand European café in St James’ has a history that, for want of a better phrase, is really rather ‘money’. Originally an expansive marble showcase for expensive motors, The Wolseley Car Company sadly never made it through tough financial times and the building was bought by Barclays in the 1920s. Then finally, once the world had tired of banks and bankers, restaurant titans Corbin and King transformed the Wolseley building into what it should always have been – a haven for decadent dining.
In the great European tradition, you can take breakfast, lunch, tea or dinner here. Interiors are high and fancy – arches, pillars, gold touches, embossed crockery – and the atmosphere is as buzzy as the dining section of a posh Victorian railway station. It’s London meets Vienna and, for dates, a vital tick box if showing someone the town or simply treating them.
Rich food, simply presented on large white plates. For breakfast, an Eggs Benedict is the classic. They present it on only one muffin half, piled high with treats – a nice alternative to the quantity over quality of other breakfast joints. Similarly, a poached egg arrives on a single slice of toast with a quiet ‘whatsup’ of mushrooms on the side – delicious and to the point. For a light Saturday morning date, order 2 glasses of champagne, several pastries, a caramelised grapefruit and a pot of black coffee. Morsels of the good stuff.
Whilst the lunch and dinner menu are great, this tends to be the time of tourists, wealthy families, business men and fashion editors. What you want on a date is to meet for breakfast, as part of a longer day of activities. Pick them up in a taxi and alight directly opposite the restaurant. Tell them in advance to dress up a little – crisp shirt, fur stole.
Coax them into the champagne and talk intelligently on a couple of pre-prepared topics. Use up your full 90 minute sitting, then wander to Dover Street to window shop and end up at the Royal Academy for an early show. Then make your way to the Curzon Mayfair for a naughty morning film in an empty cinema where anything can happen….
Rien (nothing). It’s classic glamour.
2. Pre-game my friend.
4 years ago
Show me another experimental/creative/pop-up restaurant in London and I’ll show you the door. We are in a moment of fickle food experiences where dates like to show off their knowledge of the food scene by picking a restaurant that is only going to be around for a week and boasts interiors adorned with the couture second-hand garments of some socialite stylist. Sketch is a complete breath of fresh air and a bit of an institution on the creative restaurant scene, a place that reassures you that you can fuse interesting food with genuinely nuts interiors, and make it last.
The place has been around for ten years now, and boasts three bars and two restaurants, as well as the most exciting toilets in town. The Gallery restaurant is an eclectic delight, designed by contemporary artist Martin Creed. Tables, chairs, glasses and plates are an array of different designs; you’ll find a Versace armchair next to a plastic garden seat. Gimmicky yes, but it works to create a space that is both playful and decadent. The staff demonstrate the attentiveness you would get at a very posh restaurant, offset by casual charm and silly bow ties to put you at ease. The sommelier may flinch at the necessity of having to serve his fine Sancerre in a steel goblet or plastic beaker, but he does so with humour and a shrug of amused resignation. This is demonstrative of the basic vibe that strives to marry culinary achievement with a crazy design principle. And the toilets: giant eggs resting on a big white platform, just about the weirdest/most wonderful thing about the place.
The food is by French Master Chef Pierre Gagnaire, so perhaps read up on him to impress your date. There’s an impressive spread of fish on offer, from Poached Turbot to pan-fried gambas with vodka and Champagne. The portions may be delicate but the food is rich, so choose carefully if you are planning on making a big night of it later, or carrying on in one of the cocktail bars. Although the prices average around £26 for a main, you really have to go all out and try every course as they all have their relative merits. The starters are hugely creative, with a fluidy and perfectly al dente risotto with Gorgonzola and Marsala-infused pear, and the desserts are where the chef has the most presentation fun, indulging in macaroons by the piece and plates painted with chocolate. Have it all, but have it with wine not cocktails, as one Cosmo too many could be the tipping point between pleasantly full and mildly concerned.
There’s nothing you have to do here, they do it all. Regardless as to whether you play the part of banker, scruffy artist type, or glitzy ad exec, you’ll be welcomed with the same pomp and flurry. The only way to mess this up is to talk about the prices or spend too long in the toilets (which is tempting). Make sure your date gets to pick which kooky seat they’d prefer, which wine glass, which plate. Then suggest a drink in the bar afterwards and from there, order them a cab, kiss them lingeringly on the cheek and send them on their way. Follow up with a casual text and make a joke about another ‘low-key’ date night next week.
The price perhaps. It also might be a little over the top for a first date, as you’ll be peaking early. With so much stimulation around it’s much harder to figure out whether you’re having fun because you’re with them or because you’re in that room.
3. Much about it is sexy, but there’s a chance that the staff, food and interiors may peacock you out of the game. Linger in the bar after the meal and it’s back up to 5.