Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Clos Maggiore, Covent Garden
This post is an extended bout of procrastination disguised as a restaurant review. Instead of writing up the two weeks I've just spent in Japan, a terrifying task due partly to the number of places we ate at but largely because I recognised next to none of what I put in my mouth, I am wrapping myself in the comfort blanket of more familiar territory - a Mediterranean fine dining restaurant in Covent Garden. Clos Maggiore is one of those peculiar places that despite being very good, positioned right in the centre of the busiest part of London and certainly no more expensive than anywhere else doing this sort of thing, survives despite being completely ignored by most bloggers and restaurant critics (with certain exceptions), at least judging by their remarkably brief page on Urbanspoon. I chose it because it was handy for myself and my dinner companion and the online menu looked interesting, but tried not to get my hopes up - in this most tourist-trodden and unreliable part of town, for every Rules there's a thousand depressing places like Incognico.
Fresh house bread is always a good sign of a confident kitchen, and the Clos Maggiore focaccia was verging on brilliant, moist and light inside and coated in a thin, salty tapenade. Even better were some firm breadsticks dipped in white truffle paste, with a flavour so powerful it clearly contained a good amount of the good stuff. I flicked through the telephone directory of a wine list, briefly kidding myself I knew what the hell I was looking for, then gave the job to the sommelier who was quite happy to recommend a £35 Chilean Malbec. Which was very nice, in case you were wondering.
Stuffed morels with chicken mousseline was exactly the kind of dish you hope you're given when you visit a restaurant like this. Generously proportioned morels, sliced underneath to reveal a solid filling of firm chicken mousse, it was seasoned aggressively and dressed with nice fresh greens and I absolutely loved it. Chicken and mushroom may be a pairing that's been done to death in dishes all over the world but only for a very good reason - it works. Even the vinaigrette on the lamb's lettuce was out of the ordinary, containing walnuts and I think some kind of chicken cooking juices. My companion's starter of marinated wild scallops was, by all accounts, equally good.
Duck breast main was less impressive, but only slightly so. In a repeat of the incident at Simpson's, I was told "the duck comes medium-rare, is that alright?" only to be presented with a piece of meat cooked to grey all the way through. I didn't send this one back though, as despite the lack of colour it was nevertheless moist and tasty and I finished it off quite happily. A dainty square of sugary oatmeal biscuit matched the duck well, as did some sharper lumps of plum and roasted chicory hiding underneath. I suppose the biggest criticism you could have of this course was that it was straightforward bordering on unoriginal, but that doesn't mean it wasn't tasty. My companion I think did better with his lamb, which came in the familiar roast loin/confit belly arrangement and was also very edible, particularly the confit belly which had all kinds of lovely textures.
I'm afraid I forgot to take a picture of the cheese course but I'm sure you can imagine what six neat wedges of cheese arranged on a plate look like. The brie was my favourite - the fact they all looked like they had been sitting around warm for quite a while seemed to affect the brie less than, say, the Comté, which was beginning to sweat - but it was a decent, varied selection and well worth the £6 odd. We washed them down with a glass of sweet port. Well, why not.
Service was attentive but unpushy, and I should make a special mention of the rear dining room itself which, lit by a large skylight and framed by white flowers and fairy lights, created a remarkably luxurious and un-Convent-Garden-y atmosphere. As is so often the case in London, only the bill seemed slightly incongruous - at £70 a head for 2 and a half courses and one of the cheaper bottles of wine, Clos Maggiore could never be described as a bargain. But considering that, after all, we had at the very least enjoyed the food we were given, paying the Central London Premium seemed almost reasonable. It was a thoroughly pleasant meal in a thoroughly pleasant restaurant and made a thoroughly pleasant evening. Right, that's enough of comfort and familiarity. Now to Japan.