The London of black and white films is always rainy. Gentlemen wear hats and trenchcoats, holding umbrellas over women who hop in and out of taxis in tailored outfits, secret assignations and lovers’ trysts take place in tucked away restaurants, just round the corner from landmarks like Nelson’s Column.
It was a rainy evening, and I went to meet CC in Covent Garden, wearing an overcoat and smart blazer. She was sitting as pretty as a film star in the lounge waiting, book in hand, looking out of the window at the water bouncing off the pavements.
‘Just before you arrived something very odd happened,’ she said. ‘There was a gentleman sitting here with me, very smartly dressed in an overcoat, speaking fluent French like a native on his telephone. The manager came to greet him, and he asked in unaccented English where he might find the old manager. “I have no idea, I’m afraid,” replied the manager in a smooth American accent. “When did he work here?”.’
The French/English gentleman replied that it was about four years previously, long before the American manager had arrived. Unable to help or to uncover the mystery of where the missing man may be the gentleman left and walked off into the rain.
‘It was like the opening to a great novel,’ said CC. ‘And then I thought, “Why wouldn’t you just look him up on Facebook?”‘
Clos Maggiore has a reputation for being the most romantic restaurant in London. It has a conservatory area at the back decorated up with greenery and sparkly lights, an open fire, cosy tables for intimate conversations. Or secret drop-offs by spies. Sadly, CC and I are not spies or lovers. Nevertheless, eating here was an absolute treat, a feast for the speculative eye as well as satisfying to the belly.
There’s nothing more fun than spying on other couples and trying to work out their stories, whether you’re in a classic restaurant or browsing the Facebook profiles of past acquaintances.
So as we chattered away about the romances and break-ups of our friends, we realised we were the only non-couple in the room. There was a young couple in one corner who looked more Hoxton than Covent Garden – a birthday treat. There was another couple where the woman was wearing such a vile checked suit she looked like an escaped convict when she got up to use the bathroom. The third couple was a man in an entirely uninspiring shapeless beige jumper and his wife, squeezed into in a slashed shoulder black top with large sequins and altogether too much flesh and not enough fabric going on at all. The couple behind us, CC noticed, had such a large age gap, maybe he bought her to live over here?
Interspersed with all this covert whispering, we ate. First an amuse bouche of seared wild scallops, honestly the first time I’ve eaten scallops that weren’t either chewy or overwhelmed by chorizo. Instead they were served with salted cod brandade and a gentle herb vinaigrette.
The damp weather gave me a craving for more wintery food, so I had roasted duck foie gras and crisp confit duck leg to start, which was served unexpectedly strikingly with poached rhubarb. The tartness of the fruit sliced through the richness of the duck perfectly. CC ate smoked salmon with lobster to start which she let me taste and was lovely and light.
For our main course I had roasted Iberico black pig rib, which was served in an Alsace bacon sauce with petit pois, largely because I’d had a giant lamb roast for Easter the day before. The sauce was great, but the meat was ever so slightly chewy, although not enough to spoil the overall effect. I suspect CC made the better choice with caramelised honey-glazed Gressingham duck breast in port sauce with roasted red plums and endives. ‘My only comment,’ she said ‘is that there’s a little too much duck.’ Which isn’t the most devastating criticism ever, but meant we both chose lighter desserts – English rhubarb Eton mess (with pink meringue!) for me, and warm season new berries for CC, which came with some kind of cake-y thing, unnamed on the menu.
All of this was washed down with delicious and carefully chosen wines. For it’s spangly dining area, ideal location for espionage, and excellent food, Clos Maggiore is the place to dine if you like fine wine. Their wine list has more than 2000 wines, and last year won two awards – Best of Award of Excellence by the Wine Spectator and AA Notable Wine List UK 2011.
And then, just like in the films, assignation, dinner and conversation complete, we hailed cabs in the rain, and drove home, past Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament, a proper London night out over.