Harden's survey result
D&D London’s “fabulous, shimmering dining room from the Jazz Age” – which, in fact, owes much of its glam looks to Sir Terence Conran’s 1993 revamp of this massive, subterranean, 1920s ballroom in St James’s – is unusual amongst high-end venues nowadays in making “fantastic entertainment” and live music a regular feature of its ritzy offering. After many years on the skids, its standards of service and posh-brasserie fare have been somewhat on the mend in recent times, and – though ratings are still in middling territory – all feedback in the last survey was upbeat. Top Tip “Sunday brunch is worth the trip”.
D&D London’s “fabulous, shimmering dining room from the Jazz Age” – which, in fact, owes much of its glam looks to Sir Terence Conran’s 1993 revamp of this massive, subterranean, 1920s ballroom in St James’s – is unusual amongst high-end venues nowadays in making “fantastic entertainment” and live music a regular feature of its ritzy offering. After many years on the skids, its standards of service and posh-brasserie fare have been somewhat on the mend in recent times, and – though ratings are still in middling territory – all feedback this year was upbeat. Top Tip “Sunday brunch is worth the trip”.
D&D London’s “spectacular” Mayfair basement – dating from the 1920s but revamped in glam style by Sir Terence Conran in 1993 – put in a much better showing this year: the criticism of recent years was notable by its absence, and instead it generally “exceeded expectations” as a “buzzing and fun venue” with “delicious cocktails”, lively entertainment and “OK” food. Even so, “in the evening, the very loud music and the McMafia clientele can combine to be a little oppressive!”
This vast and “plush” St James’s basement – an age-old venue (est 1929) that became an icon of the ’90s restaurant boom when it was relaunched by Sir Terence Conran in 1993 – can still seem like a “smashing environment” for an occasion. “It could aim higher in the food department” though – the cuisine is “acceptable but no more” and comes at intimidating prices – and while fans love the music and entertainment, it can be so loud as “to kill the conversation”.
For 30 years we've been curating reviews of the UK's most notable restaurant. In a typical year, diners submit over 50,000 reviews to create the most authoritative restaurant guide in the UK. Each year, the guide is re-written from scratch based on this survey (although for the 2021 edition, reviews are little changed from 2020 as no survey could run for that year).
Have you eaten at Quaglino’s?
|Wine per bottle||£23.00|
Quag's’ - a vast restaurant of some 300 seats, hidden away in the heart of St James’s - has, since its opening in the ’20s, always had the potential to be a special sort of place. In the ’50s, the Queen went, which was as rare a mark of recognition then as it would be today.
The site had various owners over the years, and was relaunched by Conran Restaurants in 1993 - a brave move when there was no West End restaurant ‘scene’ in the way people now take for granted. It has remained in the same ownership (now under the name of D&D London) ever since.
Conran, or Sir Terence as he subsequently became, certainly knew a bit about marketing, and the glamour of this vast restaurant, - and the cigarette girls, of course - soon made it the talk of the town. Perhaps he was too successful - in our 1993 guide, one reporter was already sniffing that “the hype hit the suburbs so fast that they have taken over”.
And so began a long period of decline and, it seemed, neglect. By 2009, the guide was describing every aspect of the restaurant as “embarrassing”; in more recent years, we began explicitly to call for a relaunch.
And lo and behold! Out has gone the rather spare and ’90s interior, and in comes a dark and clubby feel which is much more congenial - when the band kicked off (around 10.30), the transition felt entirely natural. So does the fact that the uniforms of the friendly staff all seem to incorporate some element of (literal) spangle - it’s rather as if this heart-of-SW1 spot has recognised from the beginning that its future lies in the suburbs, and has decided honestly to embrace it.
In that context, the menu is appropriate, in the sense that there’s nothing new or interesting on it, but it reads enticingly enough, and includes some quite reasonably-priced dishes. The bread rolls and the starters set a consistently good note: a lobster velouté, for example, had an impressive depth of flavour.
Meaty mains up-and-down - a rib eye and a pork belly dish were approved, whereas the duck was chewy and the venison rather lacking in taste. The only pudding we had space for, a Crème Catalane as it was described, was a touch sickly. But the espresso was much better than at many more obviously foodie establishments. It’s early days, and only time will tell whether our glass was half-full or half-empty.
The wine list is a bit of a disappointment - how odd that a restaurant with such a history boasts a list on which most bottles are barely out of nappies! - but at least it kicks off sub-£20. Well done for that.
So, should you go? Well, the presence of Prince Harry at an adjoining table suggests that Quag’s is again going to have a moment in the sun, at least as seen through the lenses of the paparazzi. Only history will relate how long that moment can last.
16 Bury St, London, SW1Y 6AJ
|Number of Diners:|
|Monday||12 pm‑3 pm, 5:30 pm‑11 pm|
|Tuesday||12 pm‑3 pm, 5:30 pm‑11 pm|
|Wednesday||12 pm‑3 pm, 5:30 pm‑11 pm|
|Thursday||12 pm‑3 pm, 5:30 pm‑11 pm|
|Friday||12 pm‑3 pm, 5:30 pm‑11 pm|
|Saturday||11:30 am‑2:30 pm, 5:30 pm‑11 pm|
|Sunday||11:30 am‑2:30 pm|