In the heart of Covent Garden is reportedly the most romantic restaurant in London: Clos Maggiore. This was obvious when we dropped in for dinner: on every table a gooey-eyed couple was ‘being romantic’ – every table, that is, except the one just across from us, where four businessmen seemed oblivious to the temple of love in which they were signing off on their deal to ‘go hostile’.
The restaurant offers two distinct areas: a dark and intense corridor with tables and banquets for clandestine encounters (and just the right amount of space to go down on bended knee) that opens up through an arch of box hedge into an atrium of hanging flowers and greenery. The latter was light and airy when we arrived since it was still daylight and the retractable roof allowed in the evening sun; as dinner wore on, the stars twinkled above us and the stage was set for romance to bloom.
The maitre d’ at Clos Maggiore is a hilarious stereotype, a cartoon character full of flourishes but with flawless service and charm who looked utterly crestfallen when I, a non-drinker, and my seven-month-pregnant wife declared that we would not be taking wine with our meal.
Grissini with olive tapenade and mousseline of goats’ cheese and truffles were brought to the table while we looked at the menu. Excellent bread soon followed: little earthy-brown swirls (much like the rolls at Harry’s Bar) and the cheesiest focaccia bathed in a duvet of molten cheese – so good I had to have two.
We both agreed that a starter of new-season English pea and fresh mint soup with a crispy wonton of feta cheese tasted like ‘spring in a bowl’. The amazing electric-green, silky-rich soup was ceremoniously poured over the oozing cheesy offering. I opted for the pan-fried duck foie gras and crisp confit duck leg, which was as rich as I’d hoped for and chaperoned by some perfectly tart poached rhubarb and pain d’épices that cut through this heavy blessing.
Our main courses were classics: oven-roasted Elwy Valley lamb fillet and slow-cooked suckling pig belly. The lamb, accompanied by a vegetable millefeuille and some magical piemonte gnocchi, was rolled and perfectly pink. The pig dish boasted rolls of crispy pork with wafer thin slices of boulangère potatoes layered in the most delicate stock and caramelised onions.
The short but excellent pudding menu meant we could not refuse a third course. Cutting into a Valrhona chocolate and griottine fondant revealed a chocolate-and-cherry lava of decadence. Meanwhile, the vanilla and praline cream vacherin with butterscotch sauce was a sensory overload with crispy caramelised bananas, crunchy meringue, soft-cold vanilla ice cream and warm-soft butterscotch sauce that was consumed in record time. Both were outstanding.
I groaned at the site of the petits fours but managed a delicate macaroon after a cleansing Mao Feng green tea. While many seem to focus on the romance at the expense of the food, Clos Maggiore does a good job of classic French cooking, which is perhaps why so many of its loved-up customers come back for more.