They say a man can’t live on bread alone, but the focaccia over at Margot begs to differ. Forget living — you could sleep on this stuff if you wanted to, with it’s soft-sprung airiness and calming wafts of olive and rosemary. The Italians do bread like the French can’t — a focaccia is inviting and hospitable and unserious, where a fougasse de campagne might steal one of your teeth and mutter under its breath and leave with your sister. And though Margot, over on the furthest edge of Covent Garden, has a terribly french name, it is utterly, beguilingly, charmingly Italian to its core.
Here’s what I mean: the waiters here wear black tie (or tuxedos, as the theatre-going Americans on the table next to us would call them — they’re not wrong, are they, but they’re certainly not right). French restaurants wish they could pull off this buttoned up nonchalance. It’s a deeply formal nod to the trattorias of the Old Country, or perhaps to a night at the opera — but this place would still go for a cigarette with you in the interval, pomp and circumstance be damned. From the moment you step into the dining room, with all that Dolce Vita elan fizzing among the imported wood and good bone structure, you know you’re in safe hands.
Listen, What’s the food like?
We started with some pan fried scallops, bolstered by black truffle and topped with a Nduja crust in some kind of Venn Diagram of the most fashionable ingredients of the past half-decade. This is a fad diet I can get behind, though, and there’s a reason these antipasti so often come in threes — it’s so you can find out just how much the person on the other side of the table loves you. (I was on a first date, however, so I forewent gluttony for manners. Should have stuck to the gluttony, in hindsight.)
Next came a risotto with girolles and black truffle — rich, earthy and pungent — and a taglioni with sicilian prawns that cried out for the Amalfi coast (I’ve never been, but I’ve seen the Instagram posts).
Next came a pappardelle and wild boar ragù — rich, masculine, earthy and wine-spiked — and a taglioni with sicilian prawns that cried out for the Amalfi coast (I’ve never been, but I’ve seen the Instagram posts).
What one dish must I order when I go?
The veal ossobuco with saffron risotto ‘alla Milanese’. The golden yellow of the risotto is quite, quite lovely, and the veal itself makes you wonder why you ever really bothered with grown up cows in the first place.
And the drinks?
The wine list here is long and storied, and spans from individual Italian regions, past France and over to the Napa Valley. We have a mineral-edged Vermentino near the start, and then a wholesome, cherry-kicked Barbera d’Alba as the pasta came over. This is a place to spend someone else’s inheritance from the comfort of the deep-set banquettes. Afterwards, we both went for an excellent Old Fashioned or six, which I think everyone agreed was lovely, but a bit much.
How painful was the bill?
Not so terribly painful, but this is Covent Garden after all, and those ‘tuxedos’ can’t come cheap — I’d say we neared about £150 for two with the wine. But then again, the food is very much in the special occasion category, for all its rugged charm. It would be a wonderful place to celebrate a birthday, or a christening, or a newly-minted affair, for example. And, as any amount of Italian sovereign debt will tell you, there’s no such thing as wasted money when you’re having a lovely, lovely time.