“There are a lot of girls in here,” said Mike, suspiciously, as though I’d tricked him into becoming the next human sacrifice at an Ann Summers party, or militant lesbian rally. Clearly, he hadn’t yet realised that these days a restaurant’s ultimate litmus test lies in its popularity with the Ladies Who Brunch. As the old saying goes, find the well-dressed women quaffing gallons of prosecco on a Sunday lunchtime, and you’ve found yourself some good eating.
It isn’t surprising that the venerable Mayfair restaurant, approaching its 90th birthday, is popular. Forget about the food, forget about the cocktails – just for a minute, we’ll come back to those – the setting is one of the most glamorous in London. One descends to the dining tables from the mezzanine via sweeping staircase…which rather makes one wish they’d reached not for their jeans and sturdy ankle boots, but the spangly silver number acquired years ago for cousin Margarite’s Great Gatsby-themed 25th birthday party.
So it’s a bit of a special occasion restaurant, and prices will reflect that. It’s the kind of place that does five different kinds of caviar. Eating a three course dinner a la carte, with plenty of provision for drinks, could easily leave you £100 a head lighter. But the Saturday brunch and Sunday roast menus are a relative bargain, especially as there’s live music to complement those tinkling champagne flutes. We had a wonderful Amy Winehouse lookalike – ask when the music slots are, when you book, and ask for a table facing the stage.
I started with the bisque in the vague hope that it would be nice and light, because I’d seen the size of the roasts on Instagram and was bricking it a bit. (I once ordered bisque in a remote town in Sweden because I was pretty much shitting venison after a couple of days, and what arrived was at least a litre of rich shellfish flavoured cream. It was not in the slightest bit light. Fortified with butter, it was served alongside that special ultra-dense kind of bread beloved especially by outdoorsy types whose bodies guzzle calories like Range Rovers guzzle gas. I, not being an outdoorsy type, left Sweden about 8lbs heavier.)
Mike’s steak tartare was the best-looking I’d ever seen, with golden egg yolks strategically pooled around a piece of melba toast and a mess of hand-chopped venison tartare, made silky with oyster emulsion and acetous with a potent vinaigrette.
It’s a wonderful dish but a bit heavy to precede a roast – unless you haven’t eaten for a week or are particularly gifted in the stomach elasticity department. You could have one of the fish dishes for your main course, of course, but eschewing the roast beef seems like a terrible waste…
It comes medium-rare, thick as a steak, with Yorkshire puddings, spuds and roasted veggies. In the interest of variety I had the lamb with rosemary jus, though I think the beef just pipped it to the post. My only criticism is that the gravy, though plentiful, was perhaps a little thin. (My homemade gravy is the kind that must be chivvied out of the boat with a big spoon though, so perhaps it’s me that’s the problem.)
The deal is two courses for £30 or three for £35 (excluding booze bolt-on), but only the most tenacious of diners will have room for the extra course. Mike, naturally, had the dark chocolate marquise, which came with a surprise scoop of raspberry sorbet. Is there anything more pleasantly surprising than unannounced sorbet? No, there is not. It’s like coming home to find you’ve won £25 on the premium bonds.
With unlimited prosecco for an extra £20 it’s hard to justify a cocktail (Mayfair prices, ~£13 each), but the setting is so uniquely opulent I’d suggest Quaglino’s as a post-work drinking destination too. They’ve recently launched a bunch of new drinks in collaboration with the famed mixologist Simone Caporale, whose twist on the French 75 – gin, champagne, sugar syrup and lemon…with a scoop of sorbet – is a fabulous, fabulous pudding cocktail. (They bloody love sorbet, Quags do. And I’m okay with that.)
I bang on a LOT about the substandard level of Sunday roasts in this town – I cannot fathom how we can smash so many cuisines out of the park and yet collectively suck at doing what is effectively our national dish – but I was impressed by Quaglino’s. (For the record, the only other restaurants worth a damn in this important category are Hawksmoor and The Colonel Fawcett, and I’ve eaten a lot of Sunday lunches.) It’s fancy enough to get dressed up for but not pretentious, buzzing but not rowdy. Go for Sunday lunch next time you’ve got something to celebrate. Take the girls. Take the boys. Take everyone.
Quaglino’s, 16 Bury St, London, SW1Y 6AJ
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.