‘Margot. A proper restaurant. Not many of these opening any more. You walk in off Great Queen Street (where I used to live back in the 1990s, when there weren’t any restaurants in London at all, not one) and immediately sigh, because you know you’ll be okay.’ Giles Coren reviews Margot in The Times…
It’s the sigh you do when you walk into Scott’s or La Petite Maison, which is where a couple of the guys behind Margot came from: your wallet creaks a bit in woeful anticipation of the bill but before it comes to paying, you know there will be nicely oiled service, beautifully plated, colourful food, properly dressed waiters and tables, the occasional white glove, a wine list that rhymes and scans …
Despite its French name, Margot serves Italian food (the chef is Maurizio something, from a place called Latium that I meant to go to for about ten years but never got round to), so we ordered up a crisp bottle of gavi di gavi (well, the wine inside it was crisp; I guess the bottle was just … a bottle), skipped the weird front page of charcuterie and cheese because I get that stuff from the shops, wrapped and ready for sandwiches, and yodelled out for vitello tonnato.
It came to us upside down, with the pale, thin (but not too thin) slices of roast veal fanned out on top of the light tuna mayonnaise rather than under it. A fingerful of sharply dressed frisee with slivers of carrot and green bean and a slice of black truffle sat on the top. Olive oil sploshes around the edge gave a vernal shine. It was delicate, wan, gently flavourful, friendly with the gavi. I quite like vitello tonnato rough and ballsy like the leftover surf’n’turf bubble and squeak it is, but these dainty iterations are standard and it’s a great start to a weekday lunch in very early spring.
Tuna tartare, cubed quite large, pressed into a circle, covered with a soft quail egg set like jelly and scattered with bottarga was a little too cold and unyielding, but warmed in the mouth and developed some flavour. Dressed crab came in a circular puck too, on a pat of moussed avocado with black flicks of tapenade, prettily plated on black crockery – good-looking but with flavour again in the backseat. It was very classy though, and class often comes at the expense of really eye-popping flavours. Except at my local kebab shop, of course.
My red mullet main was a cracker: three meaty wedges of warm, ruby-skinned fillet, fanned over a cool, creamy burrata sauce, speckled with green olive oil and black slashes of squid ink, plus half a very small gem lettuce, grilled. Perfect.
Big, sweet scallops came barely touched on a searing pan for a golden edge to the pale pink flesh with young artichokes sliced fine and both braised and dry-fried. And there was a dish of tonnarelli, freshly made and cooked very firm, tossed with olive oil, garlic and chilli and then drenched with shavings of black truffle.
These mains we had with a not stupidly expensive Isole e Olena chardonnay, followed by excellent black coffee. Throughout we were pampered and cosseted. Our bums and eyes and ears were as comfy as can be – please hear that, you oldies who complain about my imagined predilection for hard benches and thumping soundtracks. Waiters hovered and hummed. They didn’t interrupt but bowed and retreated to a respectful distance, awaiting the merest inclination of a head to spring into action.
Barely six months old, Margot comes as a ready-made classic London restaurant that might have been here for years. It’s an overnight Ivy or Caprice. Which, of course, means our modest little Monday lunch cost well over £200.
On the plus side, it wasn’t remotely irritating.
45 Great Queen Street, London WC2 (020 3409 4777; margotrestaurant.com)