FOOD / So nostalgic, so voluptuous, so hip: Grand vision or folie de grandeur? Emily Green savours the glamour of Quaglino's, Sir Terence Conran's new restaurant

SIR TERENCE CONRAN has been fashioning London restaurants since 1954. His CV includes the Soup Kitchen, the Neal Street Restaurant, Bibendum, the Blueprint Cafe and Le Pont de la Tour. For almost as long, he has nursed a grand vision of a Parisian-style brasserie on the scale of La Coupole or Le Train Bleu.

There would be great banks of fruits de mers, rotisserie, salty chips, steaks and crisply finished tarts. It would seat hundreds: not 100, not 200, but 300. No, add a bar and make it 400. There would be noise. Waiters would dash. Platters would crash.

He is far from the only British restaurateur to indulge such a pipe dream, but he is the only one to carry it off. Last Sunday he opened Quaglino's, set on the site of what once was the ballroom of the old Quaglino's hotel.

If it works (and it is a gamble), it will be a triumph. The attempt alone should qualify him for Freedom of the City. It will be a much-needed shot in the arm for a St James's back street which, before his arrival, was so polite, so full of foreigners and so rich it was damn near dead.

No host, they say, will ever surpass old Giovanni Quaglino, who opened the hotel in 1929. He drew the Duke of Windsor as a client. Novelists ate there, from Evelyn Waugh to Barbara Cartland, who claims to have found a pearl in her dish of oysters. By the time Roxy Music sang of it in the Seventies (in Do the Strand), Quaglino's had already slipped into obscurity. Trusthouse Forte bought it in the early Seventies. It shut in 1981 and stayed dark until Sir Terence and his partner, Joel Kissin, sank pounds 2.5m into refurbishments and unveiled it last week.

This new Quaglino's nods deeply and lavishly to Thirties glamour. There is no contemporary restaurant quite so voluptuous, or quite so nostalgic. One enters through a sleek bar where a pianist plays; drinks are poured, light meals are served. There is even a dance floor and trios and quartets will play during the evenings at weekends.

Below is a vast sunken dining room, the size of an Olympic pool. It is approached down a sweeping, gently spotlit staircase. Staring is not only permitted, it is invited.

The dining room is dazzling, but it will undoubtedly provoke jealousy over 'good tables'. Those placed along the edges at bare laminated tables may find the lighting so dim they can scarcely make out their food, never mind read the menus. (The owners are addressing this problem.)

Pointing up the dilemma, just next to them will be a sumptuous table laid with linen and creamily spotlit. Last Monday, Bryan Ferry ate with a group that included a stunning woman with a jet black feathery cap and great display of cleavage.

She was utterly in tone with Quaglino's, especially that aspect of it designed by Jasper Conran, son of Sir Terence: staff uniforms. A cigarette girl was also bare-armed and bosomy in a fetching black tulle flounce. She did her best to drift effortlessly in high heels up and down the stairs. This will take practice: with the case hanging from her shoulders, she cannot see her feet.

All the staff are handsomely kitted out. Waiters wear blue and white jackets with gold buttons. Runners wear dark blue. Bartenders and managers wear variations of black and white. They look the part but also need practice, just as a chorus line needs grilling by the likes of Bob Fosse. Ideally they will dash, trays held high. During their first week they moved a bit gingerly and many were touchingly amateur, especially with the wines. Glasses were refilled too rarely and poured backhandedly, as if to conceal poison in a signet ring. And a request for chianti was greeted with: 'You mean the one from Italy?'

The pace must quicken, and not just for the dramatic effect. The owners intend it to take two sittings each service: 600 every lunch and dinner, 1,200 every day. To lure such numbers, prices must be approachable. So far, they are. Soups start at pounds 2.95, tarts at pounds 4.50, shellfish platters at pounds 14.50, and wines at pounds 8.50, with most costing less than pounds 20. Average spend? From pounds 25 to pounds 40.

In time that sort of price should buy pleasing food - time being the operative word. The 33-year-old chef, Martin Webb, is breaking in a team of 60 cooks. A similar operation in Pont de la Tour, where Mr Webb worked, took more than a year to settle. The menu of this six-day-old restaurant is already changing, starting with the layout. Mr Kissin has noticed customers squinting and is having new menus printed. Gnocchi proved too tricky and have been struck off. An attempt to serve mackerel with lime and coriander butter has been abandoned.

Some dishes were superb and may end up highlighted in red as house specialities. One was tender mussels heady with basil and cooking juices with julienned carrot and courgettes. Half of a roast poussin was properly cooked, resulting in a good salty skin and, oddly, served with sesame oil mayonnaise.

All the vegetables - rich spinach, French beans, mash and especially the chips - were excellent. Each is highly seasoned: taste before adding more.

Other dishes were diabolical: a roast Canadian lobster was mushy and oozing water. Even the shell was collapsible. We were slow to complain but, when we did, it was whisked away and a replacement cheerfully offered.

Other dishes simply need fine tuning. According to the chef, juices were exploding through the pastry of the first batches of sweetbread tarts. They attempted a less juicy filling. The one we ate was was perilously dry.

'Pasta e fagioli' proved to be a light bean soup, the stock slightly anaemic, but studded with a wide, reasonably tender ribbon of pasta, well-cooked beans, celery, carrots etc, and generously topped with shaved parmesan.

The bread rolls are not quite right, but there is more right with them than wrong: the body tastes wholesome, as if good flour has been used. The chewiness and slack crust will surely change.

Among the desserts, there are classics, such as lemon tart and creme brulee. In addition, Mr Webb has adapted a Lancashire parkin cake to a pudding. It is slightly rubbery, but rich with oatmeal and spiced with molasses, ginger and nutmeg. Coffee, as in all Conran restaurants, is excellent.

Unlike La Coupole, we must book tables at Quaglino's. Sir Terence would, no doubt, prefer the spontaneous French style, but he is probably right to suspect the British would not wear it. It is more than worth the phone call to book. Sir Terence has realised an extraordinarily sumptuous dream which invites us to dress up and revel. We would be fools to refuse.

Quaglino's, 16 Bury Street, London SW1 (071-930 6767). Vegetarian meals. Children welcome. Wheelchair access to restaurant only (also wc). Pianist. Band and dancing Fri-Sat. Restaurant open daily lunch and dinner (last orders 12 midnight, 11pm Sun). Bar open 11.30am-12 midnight Mon- Sat, 12 noon-11pm Sun; from May 14, open to 3am Fri-Sat. Major credit cards.

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape