What made you feel proud recently? Was it nailing that work project? Was it seeing your child take their first steps? Was it seeing a restaurant you opened just nine months ago, go on to be a success?
For one man – Paulo de Tarso – the co-proprietor of Margot – I think it could be the latter. This restaurateur and former Maître d’ of some of London’s most prestigious restaurants opened Italian restaurant Margot just nine months ago. And you know what? It’s got people talking.
Already, Margot has won the approval of some of the most hard-to-please food critics. Jay Rayner had many good things to say about the restaurant when he reviewed it last November, while Giles Coren said it was ‘an overnight Ivy or Caprice’.
With restaurants such as The Wolseley, Scott’s and – more recently – Bar Boulud on Paulo’s CV, it all sounded very promising.
What I also really liked was the story behind it. Margot was opened by two genuine friends: Paulo and his business partner Nicolas Jaouën (formerly of Alain Ducasse and La Petite Maison).
They’d worked alongside each other at Scott’s – a high-end fish restaurant in Mayfair – and after years in the restaurant industry, they curated the recipe for what they thought would make a successful restaurant. A restaurant that they believed in and a restaurant that ticked all the right boxes. It would be high quality and classy, with the slick service they’d spent years honing during their careers. But it wouldn’t be so stuffy or pretentious that it would make you feel self-conscious or uncomfortable.
It would also have personal touches intertwined in the branding – hence the Dachshund symbol you see on the plates, on the breadstick holder and on the crockery. (I’ll leave it to you to find out the story).
The service here was great from the get-go. Jackets were lifted out of our hands and we were ushered to our table and offered bread sticks and a selection of soda bread and squidgily-soft focaccia.
After a really nice chat about the wine with our waiter, we were poured two glasses of fantastic wine – the Barolo Le Albe from northwestern Italy for BC and Gewürztraminer Classico from Cantina di Terlano in South Tyrol for me. For our second course, BC went on to a rich and fruity La Massa IGT from Tuscany and I stuck to the Gewürztraminer I loved it so much.
The starter was an immediate palate pleaser – two chunky pieces of polpo (octopus) in a bed of Umbrian lentils with hot and spicy nduja.
The delicate flavours of BC’s lamb ragu were the polar opposite of my punchy polpo. But we agreed, both were standout dishes.
In hindsight, I wish I’d ordered pasta for my mains because really, that’s what you come to Margot for. It’s what executive chef Maurizio Morelli is acclaimed for. And oddly, the red mullet with burrata sauce, squid ink dressing and roasted baby lettuce, just didn’t do it for me. It was just a little bit too dry and I just didn’t get on with the flavours. I also thought the roast potatoes were a little underwhelming. My dish was stunningly presented though.
BC really enjoyed the veal. It was fall-off-the-bone soft and like his starter, comprised subtle but lovely flavours. It was served on a comforting bed of saffron risotto ‘alla Milanese’ which was a fantastic canary yellow colour.
During our meal, we had a lovely chat with Paulo and some of the team about the thinking behind Margot and the New York-speakeasy approach to the bar.
The restaurant has been inspired by the 20s, 30s and 40s with splashes of contemporary thrown in. So think super-white table cloths, brasserie-style curtains and glass detailing on the wall that resembles the bottom of dozens of wine bottles. It’s highly stylish, but highly comfortable – just as he’d planned.
And with a brunch menu that they’re still tweaking and popular pre-theatre dinner menu, we got the feeling that there are many sides to Margot, which they’re proudly working to perfect.
After two generously portioned courses, we were in need of a breather. But we weren’t leaving just yet.
One word: tiramisu.
The tiramisu here was dome-shaped and had a melted chocolate centre that was – cleverly – in the shape of a heart. (how they do is a mystery). The outer casing was deliciously rich in cocoa and it had a nice kick of coffee. Had it been a tiny bit boozier, it would have probably reached the top three tiramisus I’ve had in London.
We also dug into a Limoncello babà which was basically a sponge cake soaked in boozy limoncello liqueur. With the fruity strawberry mousse, it tasted amazing.
This was the kind of meal that needed walking off.
We left Margot feeling like we’d eaten in a restaurant that had a real story, that was run with passion and that was definitely still evolving, with an owner and team who aren’t afraid to keep tweaking things until they work. Now that, I think, is something to be proud of.
Margot restaurant, 45 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5AA, 0203 409 4777