“It has always been the dream,” says Paulo de Tarso when I ask him about why he decided to open up Covent Garden restaurant Margot with business partner Nicolas Jaouën. The two met whilst working at London seafood mecca Scott’s where de Tarso was the maître d’ and Jaouën was the bar manager.
Their individual careers saw them taking on front of house roles at some of the capital’s top establishments such as The Wolseley and Bar Boulud for de Tarso, and La Petite Maison and Rivea by Alain Ducasse for Jaouën.
However, making the leap from working in restaurants to opening up one of their own was not one that happened overnight. “Since I started to work in restaurants at a young age, opening my own has always been the goal. So although scary, it felt natural. I have been training my whole career for this,” says Jaouën.
Food writer Ina Yulo chats with the restaurateurs to learn more about the vision behind Margot, what their working relationship is like, and their favourite London spots.
Margot has now been open for 3 years. Is there anything you would do differently if you could turn back time?
P: Can we take back Brexit? Aside from that, nothing really, apart from some of the compromises and delays during construction.
N: No, it’s been tough but rewarding. Exactly the way a challenge should be.
What is the working dynamic like between the two of you? How do you play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses?
P: Like any relationship, there are cycles. Sometimes, we are on the same page and in sync, and other times, we have to battle to see eye to eye. But that’s partnership and the whole point of wanting to share ideas and build something together from our combined backgrounds. I think when it comes to service, standards, quality, and what we stand for, we are similar. There are some aspects of the business that Nick likes better and some are more my areas, so together we balance out. Nick is great with numbers, and I’m a motivator, or depending on your view, I like to drive everyone crazy.
As front of house experts, what do you think is the key differentiator in the service guests experience at Margot?
P: I think we truly understand the difference between service and hospitality. Service is a technical ability—how you deliver a product to the consumer—whilst hospitality is how you make someone feel. It’s the intangible, and it’s what we work hard to deliver in a way that feels effortless. We make all our guests feel special like the beautiful human beings that they are, choosing to spend some time with us and share an experience. That’s the goal.
N: Recognition, knowledge, consistency but, before all care. All we do needs to look natural and simple to the guest; service shouldn’t feel like a demonstration of skills.
Paulo, you lived in Brazil and the US before coming to the UK. Are there any dishes in your former homes that you crave for that you just can’t find in London?
P: In Brazil, I loved the feijoada of my childhood, but finally I have learned how to make it, so we are ok now. My family loves it. From my teen years in New York, I miss the deli sandwiches and the pastrami! And then later I moved to California for the weather and the surfing. So Mexican food features strong.
Nicolas, as a Frenchman in London, what made you decide to open up a restaurant serving Italian fare?
N: Paulo was thinking to do Italian food and I thought why not give it a try!
Paulo, what would be the one thing that would get someone thrown out of Daniel Boulud’s kitchen immediately?
P: We are driven by discipline and respect, so as long as you take ownership over your station and responsibilities, and are a team player, everyone can deliver their parts. Values, discipline, respect. I don’t think you reach Daniel Boulud’s level without those traits, and he’s an incredibly inspiring leader.
Nicolas, if you could choose any city to open your next restaurant, where would it be?
N: There are so many to choose from! Paris, Berlin, Edinburgh, Belfast…all European capitals really!
Favourite dish and wine/cocktail on the current menu?
P: This is hard to answer for us when we have put together a menu of things we truly want to eat. But the Ossobuco is one of my favourites and I have to also add the Pappardelle. If I’m sitting down to eat with friends, I always order the Burrata to share—it’s creamy and flavourful, and perfect when paired with the tomatoes. I always love the beef carpaccio too. Our wine list is varied with 45 percent Italian, 35 French and 20 rest of the world, so its hard to choose a favourite. Cocktail-wise it would have to be the Mr. Greene: non alcoholic, with cucumber juice, apple, lime. I have one every day.
N: I can’t pick! Our new menu is full of my favourite things! Honestly, I’m now very proud of the food in general and its consistency.
When not at Margot, where can we find you drinking and dining?
P: I love Frenchie in Covent Garden. Greg Merchant is a special chef and friend. Adam Handling’s The Frog is brilliant. The Rosewood’s Mirror Room is a beautiful place for breakfast, afternoon tea, or a meeting. Farmstand around the corner kindly allowed us to set up office in their backroom during our construction, so that will always be my favourite coffee spot.
N: Everywhere. I live for food and am constantly trying new places.
Address: 45 Great Queen St, Covent Garden, London WC2B 5AA
Phone: 020 3409 4777