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 ComtĂ©, 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.


Clos Maggiore on Urbanspoon


Ollie said...

Gosh, I had no idea this place was that good. One for the list.

Looking forward to reading about Japan.

Caviar_girl said...

I have had the same experience with duck before. The waiter seems to know exactly what to say re how it is cooked (which was obviously passed on to him by the chef), yet the chef seems to somehow forget this little detail. Gordon Ramsey would certainly have a comment about that one!

Lizzie said...

There are loads of places that trot by without the need or help of bloggers - Andrew Edmunds, Bar du Marche in Soho for example. Perhaps bloggers aren't as important as you think ;)

Anonymous said...

You had this little loaf at the incredible bread basket... Clos Maggiore is a great little place and amazing that it's maintained such high standards despite its tourist trap spot. I have heard bad reviews from some but then that goes with the territory of an old institution - I adore Andrew Edmunds but know people who have had an awful experience too.

Gregory said...

I have always wonderred what this was like as I have heard many good reports despite it's absence of press.

Great to see a restuarant can be successful in it's own right with minimal press endorsement.

and thank you for the insight.

MeLikeyUK said...

I absolutely love Clos Maggiore -it's one of my favourite restos. I often recommend it to friends and family visiting London. I think the food and service is of very high quality and I love the intimacy of the dining room in the back. I've never had a bad meal there.

catty said...

I've heard good things about Clos Maggiore, but like you said, something about it just doesn't make me want to go in! Maybe because of the touristy location as pointed out.. I dont know, I can't put my finger on it, but it's good to know that it's a great place if I'm ever in need in the heart of Covent Garden.

Paul said...

Recently had lunch here. The set lunch menu for 27 pounds for three courses was pretty good value I would say, for genuinely good food in a pleasant ambiance, with attentive and professional service albeit with occasional hiccups (a pantomime act among three waiters who couldn't recognize which lamb was medium well done and which was medium rare, despite the obvious hint provided by its colour!). Also, credit is due for having quite decent wines at prices as low as 23.00 for Chateau Ksara La Prieure - a considerable mark-up of course, but going nicely with the lamb without adding massively to the price.

Melanie Seasons said...

I went a few years ago and really liked it. Shame about the duck breast though - I had the same and it was cooked perfectly.

I was actually thinking of going again to review it (since I didn't have the food blog back then), but you've beat me to it!

::watches as all London food bloggers scramle to review Clos Maggiore::

German said...

I ve been in that place and for me was quite plain food, but next time try the italian Orso (27 Wellington Street)