While the last hundred years have seen innumerable restaurants opening and closing throughout Central London, one Mayfair venue has truly stood the test of time by remaining open through it all to this day.
First established by Italian restaurateur Giovanni Quaglino in 1929, the prototypical ‘society restaurant’ went on to become one of the capital’s most famous in its swinging thirties heyday, later attracting the likes of the then Prince of Wales Edward VIII and Queen Elizabeth II (for the latter it was the first time a reigning UK monarch had eaten at a public restaurant.)
The sixties saw former Secretary of State John Profumo and his wife visit Quaglino’s, not long after the Profumo scandal had engrossed the nation, while later that decade American actress Judy Garland held the wedding reception here for her nuptials with Mickey Deans, her fifth and final marriage.
Though reinvented in the 1990s by the Conran Group and relaunched by D&D London in 2014, today it still feels very much as if one has entered a time-loop when descending the grand Gatsby-esque staircase onto the main floor, transported back to its buzzing halcyon days in full Friday-night swing.
The dining room itself is still as dramatic as old photos portray, retaining its vintage grandeur with painted columns and rich decor colours, its lighting configured to really bring out the best of them.
There is also a stage setup for intimate live music performances (so make sure to book earlier than 7:30pm if conversation is more a priority than entertainment). My own visit was a later-evening affair so my dining partner and I were serenaded throughout our meal by a three-part-harmony female group, performing reworked pop hits and standards to a jazzy accompaniment. It definitely added to the retro atmosphere I thought.
The food at Quaglino’s is primarily a selection of bistro classics, and leaning more towards ‘classic’ than boundary-pushing or overly sophisticated, which is no bad thing in my opinion. I enjoyed a silky-smooth parsnip veloute with kaffir lime and pomegranate to start with, followed by an ample main of ox cheek bourguignon with pomme mousseline, sprout tops and a sticky red wine jus, which was keenly mopped up with some warm crusty bread served in a basket.
The accompanying wine list is extensive but can be simplified for your taste by the in-house sommelier, while our waitress was friendly and attentive without being obtrusive. It was nice to catch up on some conversation with my partner during the house band’s interval, and after they had finished, while amusing to observe some attendant couples who had remained largely silent throughout. Our waitress also tempted us with details of the venue’s bottomless champagne brunch every Saturday, which I made a mental note of for any future weekends when I’m able to write the whole Saturday (and Sunday!) off.
Following your meal, the mezzanine-level cocktail bar is a destination in its own right, where from the comfier option of a leather chair or banquette you can continue imbibing the atmosphere of the restaurant and any continuing live music below with your post-prandial nightcap.
By the end of the night it becomes clear that, with less than a decade to go to its centenary, Quaglino’s doesn’t look like losing its position among the select set of veteran restaurants leading the way on London’s higher-end dining scene.
But, out of those remaining, none quite come close to creating a sense of occasion with such consistency as this place has shown through the last hundred years, and long may that continue.
Address: 16 Bury Street, St. James’s, London SW1Y 6AJ
Phone: 020 7930 6767