I trotted through Covent Garden Piazza on the arm of Tall Dark and Handsome, carefully negotiating the cobbles in a pair of killer heels and with high expectations for the evening ahead. With accolades such as ‘Most Romantic Restaurant in the UK 2012’ and ‘Sexiest Restaurant in the UK 2012’, Clos Maggiore seemed sure to furnish an ideal opportunity to combine languid gazes with decadent fine dining.
The restaurant is discreetly situated just off the Piazza. Stepping inside, there is an air of luxury with immaculately presented staff, dark wood and atmospheric lighting. The place feels old-fashioned and well established, and I was surprised to learn that it only opened in 2001. Clos Maggiore is split over several spaces; with tables upstairs, in the bar area and in the famous conservatory. All the areas are cosy and softly lit, with tables close enough together to create a warm and buzzy atmosphere, but not so much so as to intrude on the privacy of those who have come to indulge in all that famous romance.
We were swept efficiently through the bar area and ushered into a booth that could have comfortably accommodated a group of six or eight. As I extended my arm to take TDH’s hand in mine I realised that he was at such a distance from me that I was leaning right across the table with this ever more ungainly advance, so I settled back in the vast mirrored booth to peruse the menu, contenting myself with the occasion glance at his delectable (if distant) visage. We were seated on the edge of greatness – tantalisingly close to the ‘inner sanctum’ of the conservatory; able to spy on the happy families, friends and couples that were basking in its legendary ambience while ourselves on just the wrong side of its venerable threshold.
Armed by now with excellent cocktails – a Peach Bellini for yours truly and TDH with his favoured Negroni – we peered around the edge of the booth into this alluring space. The area is plastered in fake flowers and fairy lights and might be described as magical or kitsch, depending on individual taste. Whatever your feelings, the room benefits from the clever use of mirrors and very soft lighting to create a cosy ambience. The glass roof retracts during the summer and in colder months the central fire is lit to create a soothing cosiness.
The menu is very well thought out. An ample yet contained selection of enticing and not overly complicated dishes afforded the ideal minute or two’s genuine head-scratching indecision without any greater and unwanted challenge. So far so easy with the food selections; not so, however, with the wine. Clos Maggiore is known for the size and quality of its cellar, and the telephone directory of a wine list bears fine testimony to this. It was too large for even the keener amateur to consider making any sort of informed choice. At this stage, however, Daniel – the efficient sommelier – stepped in, and we decided to leave ourselves in his hands. He initially proffered a white wine made from the lesser known Albariño grape, indigenous to the Galicia region of Spain. A subsequent glass of Benito Santos was full of citrus and apple tones with a mineral quality to it.
The Clos Maggiore focaccia, brought as an accompaniment to the cocktails, was verging on perfect, so we were ready to be wowed by the main events. There followed, however, a quite unexpected pre-starter of pressed Scottish smoked salmon and ‘Fines Herbes’ pancake with marinated Maine lobster and Lemon. I can only imagine that the chef was so dismayed at our abject failure to choose this, his pièce de resistance, of our own accord, that he decided that we should have it thrust upon us without further negotiation. And how grateful we were! I can happily say without exaggeration that it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. It was exquisitely light and tasty; simple yet with a perfect combination of components; elegantly presented without being too fussy.
TDH had opted for a vegetarian starter of Sicilian aubergine and fig Caponata, fresh Burrata with a white onion Pissaladière, which was a great success with its unusual yet perfectly accessible blend of flavours. My braised shoulder of Loire Valley rabbit sweet and sour black radish, wholegrain mustard mousseline was similarly impressive. The succulent meat could barely wait to fall off the bone, and its simple yet considered treatment in the kitchen allowed for the quality of the meat to speak for itself, while the radishes entered the mix as a crisp counterpoint.
I went for the slow cooked fillet of Cornish cod ‘Rougaille’ seated on Vermicelli and shellfish, Iberico Chorizo sauce for the main course. The cod had a fine texture and a subtle flavour that was mercifully complemented rather than overpowered by its accompaniments. TDH’s Oven roasted Elwy Valley lamb fillet, braised shoulder and pistachio cromesquis chickpea and young Carrots was not quite such a success. The meat was perfectly cooked and as delightfully tender as you could ever hope, however, it lacked somewhat in flavour, and was not helped by the chickpeas et al. We enjoyed a glass or two of La Flor from the Pulenta Estate. This ruby red Cabernet offers up red pepper and red berry jam notes with oak hints and was intense with ripe tannins.
We concluded with marinated English strawberries, Rum Baba, Chantilly cream and the dark Valrhona chocolate and pistachio Dôme with Griotte cherry sauce. The Rum Baba was heavy and stodgy – I pushed it around the plate debating whether to attempt to eat it before deciding to allow it to return virtually intact to the kitchen. The dome, however, was absolutely delicious; amply satisfying our hankering for something sweet with which to round off the meal and providing an apt and welcome accompaniment to the port.
We left the restaurant hand in hand and floated home on a pink cloud of amorous delight. While I confess that TDH seems without fail to have this effect on me, there can be no doubt that fine dining certainly adds to the romance of it all; and happily suggest that you wouldn’t go far wrong on the road to love with a stop-off at Clos Maggiore.
33 Covent Garden
London WC2E 8JD