WHO: Paulo de Tarso & Nicolas Jaouen
WHERE: 45 Great Queen Street, London WC2B (nearest tube: Covent Garden/Holborn)
WHY: Front of house industry legends (Paulo & Nicolas) deliver their 'dream' restaurant
It has been a hot summer. And that, perhaps, is the most uncontroversial thing I've ever written on the blog. But there's hot, and there's HOT, and Friday just gone threatened to be the UK's hottest day ever (christened in anticipation 'Furnace Friday' by the media). Friday though failed in that endeavor, leaving Thursday as the year's 'winner', Thursday, the day of our booking at Margot. I note all this because famously, the waiters at Margot wear dinner jackets and bow ties. I'm curious.
Margot has been open almost two years now, serving top end Italian food, but it's our first time there and the visit is not without some expectation. Paulo, who we know a little from his time at Bar Boulud, and Nicolas, who we do not know, are both industry legends, and while most restaurants are currently chef led, it's a rare find indeed to come across a restaurant that has an FOH origin story. Expectations are also high because this is one of the favourite eating spots for a highly acclaimed chef friend of mine and I greatly respect his opinion.
The suggestion is then, that Margot offers the complete package. Of course, the complete package doesn't come cheap, but as I again acclimatise to restaurant prices, it doesn't look at odds with what else is out there at the top end and compared to say River Cafe and Locanda Locatelli, it appears significantly, or at least somewhat, less expensive. But Margot has an ace up its sleeve also in its set menu, which Margot's website lists as available for lunch as well as pre and post theatre, and costs just £25 for two courses and £29 for three, and that has to be seen as a bargain.
But what strikes me as significantly different at Margot is that while every other restaurant opening seems to want to lose the table cloths, dress the waiters in jeans and have the staff be your new best friend for the two hours you spend with them, Margot, rather, wants to offer something that transcends either the food or the service, what we might label, experiential dining. The waiter in a tuxedo becomes a clever device, it invites you to leave your mundane real self outside the door and connects you with a fantasy that builds outwards. Forget that you arrived by tube, perhaps instead you were whisked here by speedboat, straight from the Count's villa.
But inviting such a fantasy creates a bubble that can be all too easily popped, yet wonderfully, Margot keeps everything exactly how it should be. Service is elegant but non intrusive. Despite the heat of the day outside, the air-conditioning did a fine job, but I know that I am sitting there enjoying a glass of ice water (jacket left at home) while the waiters are working hard delivering service, yet if they were stifling under their tuxedos (which they likely were), they gave no hint to that effect and pulled off a class act on a day when I would wish a tux on no-one. But thank you team Margot all the same.
The food offering was also delightful across everything we tried. The menu is full of classics and favourites, so making your choice is likely to be the only experienced angst of the night. A good start tonight is a shared plate of salumi that had a well sourced selection of ham, salami and beef among other things. And then things get tricky: for the starter option, you really do have a massive offering with temptations such as burrata, veal (vitello tonnato), tartares and carpaccios competing with six, all delicious sounding, pasta dishes. And just when you think you've decided, they offer you a special: pasta in butter with summer truffle. And that really is going to be the test, the dish with nowhere to hide. We both ordered it and would have been happy to simply eat that all night until we had to be rolled out. An Italian restaurant is always going to be judged on its pasta and at Margot, it's divine.
We enjoyed mains of ossobuco with saffron risotto, as well as grilled sirloin of beef with fig balsamic vinegar, Pecorino and rocket. A side of tomatoes was recommended by our waiter and proved a valuable suggestion providing some fresh acidity to both dishes. And the risotto, a danger dish for so many restaurants executed flawlessly here. Puddings? Oh go on then. I definitely felt the winner with my milk chocolate sphere with Frangelico mousse and caramelised hazelnuts. The sphere, dissolving into a gooey mess is the picture that heads this post and is a chocolate lover's delight. Caramel mousse was less dramatic but equally enjoyed.
This visit to Margot was long overdue and despite high expectations, it delivered at a level more than I hoped for, leaving me happy not just with the food and service, but with an experience beyond that. As such, I think it's a wonderful place. For many people, I recognise that the full shebang might be special occasion only, but with the set menu allowing you to have an early or late dinner of three courses for £29, that's cheaper than a three course meal (with lobster main) at Burger & Lobster! Don't get me wrong, I love Burger & Lobster too, but at Margot, you'll enjoy divine Italian food brought to you by a waiter wearing a tux. What's not to like?