db Eats: Margot

db’s Lucy Shaw, heads to Margot in Covent Garden for silky Sicilian prawn carpaccio, butter-drenched pumpkin raviloli and a sprightly Rosemary Collins.

The concept: There’s a sweet story behind the dachshund motif you’ll find on everything from the cloakroom tags to the business cards at Margot.

The Italian restaurant is named after co-owner Paulo de Tarso’s diminutive mother-in-law. Margot’s husband, Hans Joachim Hamann, was six foot four, and referred to her affectionately as his ‘dackel’ (dachshund) given their considerable height difference.

The restaurant, which opened in Covent Garden in October 2016, has serious front of house pedigree behind it. The dashing and debonair de Tarso is the former Maître ‘d of The Wolseley, Scott’s, and, most recently, Bar Boulud at The Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge.

His business partner and co-owner, Nicolas Jaoüen, is the former general manager of Ian McNally’s all-day brasserie Balthazar in Covent Garden. Having worked together at Scott’s, with Margot the pair hope to elevate service to a new echelon in London.

The décor: Interiors are sleek and inviting, and in no way feel Italian. This is an Italian restaurant in food and drinks alone – it’s about as far away as you can get from the ‘Papa Loves Mambo’ Roman Holiday stills on the wall love letter to Italy that is Richard Caring’s Harry’s Dolce Vita in Knightsbridge.

At Margot, navy blue leather booths abound and traditional fine dining cues like white tablecloths and tuxedo-wearing bar staff are present and correct. Hints of copper are weaved throughout, from the sign above the door to the lamps lining the counter, where you can watch the action unfold from the open kitchen.

The food: The kitchen is headed up by Roman-born executive head chef Maurizio Morelli, who was most recently at Latium in Fitzrovia, but has also chalked up stints at The Lanesborough and The Halkin hotel,

Morelli’s menu riffs on regional Italian classics made with quality seasonal ingredients and begins with tempting nibbles like fennel-flecked Tuscan salami and 24-month aged Parmesan.

The highlight of the night came early on in the form of a Sicilian prawn carpaccio with fresh raspberries and a raspberry vinegar dressing.

An odd combination at first glance, it worked incredibly well. I first encountered the pairing four years ago at the two Michelin star L’Abeille (the bee) at the Shangri-La hotel in Paris.

When served as a carpaccio, Sicilian prawns have a silkiness to them that’s hard to put into words. Their inherent sweetness was wonderfully offset by the sharp fruity tang of the raspberry in an elegant and accomplished ensemble.

Signature dishes: A plate of pumkin and ricotta ravioli with sage butter, roasted hazelnuts and Grana Padano cheese was equally joyful, the generous squares glistening with butter and topped with crispy sage leaves, while the Parmesan-like cheese added a lick of salt and the hazelnuts welcome crunch.

Also unmissable (but only on the menu for a few more weeks) is the wild mushroom risotto made with funghi foraged from Normandy forests. Dispensed onto the plate by Paulo’s fair hand, the portion was gargantuan, the rice perfectly al dente, and the mushrooms full of forest floor flavour.

The drinks: The wine lists features over 350 bins from around the world, with close attention paid to Italy. But before that you should sample one of the signature cocktails on offer, which tip their hat to Italy.

My Rosemary Collins, made with Tanqueray, fresh lemon, rosemary and soda, was lip-smackingly fresh and the kind of thing I can imagine F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald enjoying poolside while soaking up the sun in Long Island.

As for the wine, half of the list is formed of Italian drops, taking in everything from Timorasso from Piedmont to Zibibo from Sicily, while the other half highlights treasures from the rest of the wine world, including Hungarian Furmint, Australian Arneis, and show-stoppers like Chave Hermitage and Château Palmer 2005.

On our visit we enjoyed an ebullient flute of Bellavista Alma Gran Cuvée, whose notes of ginger, peach and white flowers sharpened our appetite, while a generous glass of Donnafugata Sherazade Nero d’Avola was a juicy blend of sour cherries and wild strawberries. 

Who to know: You’ll find Paulo working the room most nights. It’s worth cornering him for a chat. Having worked at some of London’s most prestigious and star-studded establishments, he’s full of colourful stories.

Junior manager Tommaso Li Vigni, a young man with old school manners, is an asset to the Margot team and embodies the restaurant’s philosophy of offering impeccable, approachable service.

Don’t leave without: Sampling some of the homemade ice creams on offer. My trio of blood orange, pear and pistachio were as good as anything you’d find in Italy. The blood orange refreshing and citric, the pear sweet and grainy, and the pistachio impossibly creamy and a world away from the soapy styles you sometimes find in England.

Last word: Elegant and refined, head to Margot when you’re in the mood for something smart but not prohibitively expensive in central London. The atmosphere is laid-back and the cooking consistent.

My only criticism would be that Margot seems to be playing it a bit too safe at the moment. With its Italian menu, French name and understated décor, the place cleverly covers all bases, but as a result seems to lack a strongly defined identity.

Margot, 45 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AA; Tel: +44 (0)20 3409 4777

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