French fancy

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There are restaurants that are big and buzzy, giants built in or on the ethos of the ‘90s. Clattering pans, steaming plates and red-faced chefs bringing the business of show to the restaurant trade. There are small, boisterous family-run affairs with tables and good humour spilling out onto the pavement; and then there are dark and intimate jewels, restaurants for lovers and liasons, all low lights and high hopes for the end of the night.

Clos Maggiore is one such jewel, an intimate restaurant, a hidden treat, which in itself is very impressive as it sits in the heart of  London’s Covent Garden.

The French translation of Clos is a simply a walled vineyard so you won’t be surprised to find the menu full of Gallic flavours with interiors to match.

The country inns of Provence and Tuscan Italy  are a clear inspiration. Dark wood ,heavy patterns and amber liquids glint in the bottles lining the walls. There is an intimate lounge and a cosy first floor dining room, but the true star of the restaurant is the conservatory, a central room with a glass ceiling and a tree lined canopy literally shining with lights.

It is under this canopy that we dined on food that was as rich and inviting as the restaurant itself.

Clos Maggiore is a small restaurant but it’s big on full flavours. Truffles took centre stage in the meal from the butter in our appetizers to the mash with my lamb, the menu is rich and you better forget the diet when you sit down.

The shoulder of rabbit to start was one of the best I have ever had. It slid off the bone and was enveloped in a whole-grain mustard mousseline, brought back from cloying the palate by fine slices of pickled black raddish. My guest’s seared scallops were partnered with an excellent salt cod brandade and were cooked to perfection.

Mains were equally impressive. Roasted Main lobster came bathed in a bisque so rich it should have come with a inappropriately young date, but it came instead with a buttery Artic Char: Saucy indeed. The roast Elwy lamb fillet and confit belly that was placed in front me, was quite simply divine. Pink and flavoursome they were accompanied by meaty snails and the afore mentioned truffle mash was so light it belied the calories it contained or the amount of military-style fitness I would have to participate in to them burn off.

The food was accompanied by excellent wine and the head sommelier Edoardo Amadi runs an impressively stocked cellar.

The list is of course French and his choice for my meal, an impeccable 2010 William Fevre Chablis accompanied rabbit, a 2005 Bodegas Altanza Lealtanza, Rioja Reserva was served with the lamb and 2005 Tezza, Recioto della Valpolicella, a wonderful dessert wine, accompanied the Valhronna chocolate fondant that I really shouldn’t have had.

Billed as London’s most romantic restaurant, an evening at Clos Maggiore is rich, dark and incredibly – calorifically – bad for you, a definite destination for potential liaisons. You may not fall for your date but you will find the food irresistible.

by Marie-Louise von Haselberg