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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
All British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
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

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager - Bristol

    £31000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the UK, the major project fo...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Executive - Meetings & Events (MICE) - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achieving...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Account Executive - Hotel Reservation Software - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A rapidly growing Hotel ...

    Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

    £15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game