Why Quaglino’s might be the ultimate society restaurant

The iconic St James’s spot has a heavyweight past — and a heady new cocktail menu to match

Oh, if staircases could talk! The one at Quaglino’s has seen it all (though it has long been discretion herself, and twice as pretty.)

In fact, an embarrassment of names has dropped down its flowing, look-at-me, wrought-iron-and-illuminated-marble steps over the decades. There were Mountbattens and Windsors in the 1920s, and Evelyn Waugh not long after that (actually, some of his Bright Young Things seem never to have left the powder rooms).

Then there was Barbara Cartland in the 1930s, who found a real pearl in her oyster, while Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, the first black Cabaret star, wooed duchesses from the stage during the War. Then came Lizzy II and her sister Margaret (who pretty much invented fun); and soon the swinging sixties set and all the colour and outrage of bohemian London. Judy Garland held her fifth wedding in the Quaglino’s dining room, but it was not well attended — apparently there were more waiters than guests. But what waiters!

(For a more modern reference: my pal once saw Prince Harry here, nose deep in the oysters. There were about 150 girls in his orbit, which seems about right.)

Listen, what’s the food like?

Sure. Name-dropping can only get you so far (believe me). And a socialite’s gotta eat. So my companion and I went dutch over the famous seafood cocktail — me with a watchful eye on my borrowed cashmere jumper, her with eyes as green as the fresh lettuce (nothing better than flirting over mayonnaise-y lobster. Or indeed via a restaurant review several weeks later, now I think of it). It was good and decadent and very fresh. Better even than the waiter implied. And he was almost tearful at the mention of its Marie Rose sauce, sweet boy.

Then came a lovely and wholesome rump of lamb, and some cod, served over earthy lentils, which made me re-think my historic aversion to pescatarians. (Something shifty in the eyes, don’t you find?) Pudding was a panna cotta which didn’t register much excitement. But you can’t win them all (just ask Judy Garland.)

What one dish must I order when I go?

The Nduja devilled oysters. An aphrodisiac, apparently. Didn’t much help me, but good fun.

And the drinks?

The liquid assets here are thoroughly modern. We were there for the launch of the new ‘Science of Sustainability’ cocktail menu. I’m told the bartenders have mastered techniques such as milk clarification, sous vide infusion, and butter washing — clever stuff, and dangerous, too.  

Each cocktail evoked a sustainability issue of the past, present or future, because there’s nothing like mingling some existential dread with a little midweek tipsiness. I particularly liked the Tornados, a Hennessey-based concoction that was all about the power of wind. Heavy stuff in every sense.

The Tornados: heavy stuff

Where should I sit?

Sought after tables are in the shadows down to the right of the staircase, on the banquettes along the left and right walls, or perhaps down by the stage, if there’s a little live action going on. Siberia? Perhaps the floating tables out in the open, though there’s really nothing too terrible here.

Would you go again?

Yes, of course, if only to swan down the staircase one more time.

How painful was the bill?

Not so bad, considering the restaurant’s historic clientele and its St James’s stomping ground. Dinner for two with wine and cocktails: just shy of £150.

While we have you, did you know that Gentleman’s Journal Clubhouse members get a cocktail upon arrival on the house at Quaglino’s? Well, they do. And you can join them here. See you on the staircase.



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