Clos Maggiore, Covent Garden, London
Gushing reviews about how romantic it is have been putting me off this place for a long time. As a lone female diner, being surrounded by couple gazing fondly into each other’s eyes – or even worse, engaged in suggestive arm-stroking and throaty giggles - makes me want to get up and pour the contents of my water carafe over the lot of them. So I have walked past Clos Maggiore many times and never even looked at the menu.
On a raining night in January with the street outside dug up and blocked with wooden partitions, it looked just unromantic enough for me to swipe the very last table from under the noses of two ladies (possibly romantically-entangled, but probably not) who followed me in through the cramped and cave-like doorway. I was just wishing I had borrowed a head-lamp from my own Compleat Angler back at home in the Northern wilds when a charming waitress emerged from the gloom to guide me. The tables at Clos Maggiore are draped with linen so luminously white that it almost made up for someone having forgotten to pay the electric bill. I’m not sure about the plastic box hedging though. When my eyes had got used to troglodyte living, I was childishly delighted by the twinkling little lights (OK, could have done with more of them), the general air of quiet efficiency and the lovely fireplace – flames dancing – which unfortunately disappeared from view once I sat down.
The service was charming (not quite faultless as they forgot my aperitif and had to be reminded) and efficient. The bread was lovely bread , fresh-baked, moist crusty and both the focaccia and plain while roll were better than I bake at home. (What a blow.)
The set earlybird menu starter was young chicken with stuffed baby artichokes – I see that I managed to write “mushroomy, earthy, pan juices –“ and nothing else, before gobbling the whole thing up greedily. I do remember that the chicken was beautifully moist.
A main course of belly of lamb (which looked more like breast to me) had been rolled and almost all of the fat cooked almost out. The notes say “ unctuous, soft shreds of delicious meat, deep flavour, beautifully presented, chickpeas firm, good counterpoint to soft meat, carrots, tomatoes, tenderstem broccoli”. I have to admire my own self-control in managing to write that much before falling on the food.
I resisted the pudding and any extras as I wanted to see how the set two-course menu performed without any added frills, in terms of value for money. It included half a bottle of wine, and with a glass of Prosecco to start, the bill came in at £29.95 including service. A bargain in my opinion –though I wouldn’t come on Valentine’s Night (or not without a hosepipe).
33 King Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 8JD Tel : +44 (0)20 7379 9696