By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
First opening its doors almost 90 years ago, tucked just back from St James’s famous Jermyn Street, Quaglino’s became a real dining and nightlife institution back in the 1990’s, having been taken over by Sir Terence Conran. Re-launched in the same year that I was born, unfortunately I never managed to experience the restaurant’s golden-era, however following another refurbishment – this time from D&D – Quaglino’s still seems like the ideal venue in which to party like it’s 1929.
Upon entering and descending just one of the staircases illuminated by stylishly sophisticated light fittings, you’ll instantly find yourself in the “modern art-deco” bar, leading into the restaurant via another staircase. During our visit, however, the bar is the main port of call – sampling the Prohibition Afternoon Tea that’s on offer. The drinks are a little bit pricier than they would’ve been during the Prohibition-era, but the cocktails are just as classy, and here you’re far less likely to encounter a run-in with the Mafia. It does have to be said, however, that within an area of Afternoon Tea institutions – namely The Ritz, Fortnum & Mason, and Claridge’s, all of which are nearby – the offering at Quaglino’s is of extremely good value. £29.50 per person covers a cocktail, a trolley of bite-sized savoury and sweet treats between two, scones and a pot of tea, plus you don’t have to wait for months on end to secure a booking.
To begin there’s a selection of three cocktails, plus two more luxurious champagne concoctions. Personally I’ve never been a fan of both champagne and tea in one sitting, so we choose from the classics that Quaglino’s have placed their own stamp upon. The ‘Raspberry Ricky’ is presented in an aesthetically pleasing tin can that’s brandished with an Andy Warhol style Campbell’s Soup label, boasting a hit of fresh raspberries that complement the Gin astonishingly. On the other hand, the Manhattan Under Smoke is poured long in two servings from a hipflask-like decanter. Almost triggering the fire alarm, the Bulleit bourbon is smoked with oak chips and joined by cocchi torino, orange curacao and a sliver of orange peel within a classic old fashioned glass. The result is truly magnificent, needless to say.
As for the tea selection, there’s surprisingly no mention of quintessentially British breakfast tea (or anything of the like) on the menu, however it’s later apparent that a more soothing jasmine or peppermint does provide a better accompaniment to the sheer amount of cake that’s included. Beginning with the savoury, there’s a real selection of upholstered classics, notably the egg and cress sandwich that features a perfectly poached quail’s egg as a garnish, a less-exciting spoonful of prawn cocktail is placed atop a bed of baby gem lettuce, and a lightly toasted chicken and basil sandwich is very tasty, its just a shame there isn’t a little more. The real savoury highlights, however, are the light rosti that’s topped with smoked salmon, and cured ham grissini, which resembles a delectable meaty lollipop.
Next the buttermilk scones provide a catalyst into the sweet territory. In fact, there’s so much in the way of pudding that the overall richness is overwhelming – either less cake or more sandwiches would have provided a far better balance. Although plenty, the sweet treats are appetising. The bitter chocolate marquise and coffee choux are extraordinarily heavy and do adhere to an acquired taste, the macaroons are executed well – both soft and chewy with a crispy exterior, and the strawberry frangipane tart is fantastic, as the fruity sweetness from the strawberries manages to cut through the overall indulgence. Our waiter explains that the Black Forest trifle is often the most popular, majestically taking pride of place atop the trolley. Combining sweet custard and sharp berries, the result is perhaps even boozier than both of our cocktails, combined – but this is ‘Prohibition’ Afternoon Tea, after all.
Quaglino’s can be found at 16 Bury Street, London SW1Y 6AJ. The Prohibition Afternoon Tea is served in the Bar and available between Monday – Saturday from 3pm to 5pm and all bookings must be made at least 24 hours in advance.