Clos Maggiore

Mr Jones and I went to see La traviata the other night at the Royal Opera House.  The stage set was exactly the same as when we saw it last year, which perturbed me a little because I like to think that the huge fairytale fantasy worlds which we see at the opera are constructed freshly for each one. The soprano singing Violetta was very competent, but couldn’t compare to Renee Fleming who was playing this role last time we saw it – so few people can. But as always the opera left me enchanted. I love how Traviata has all these big pop hooks – in every act there’s a tune that you end up singing to yourself later, even if the glorious and agonised swell of  ‘Amami, Alfredo‘ doesn’t stay in your ears and heart for weeks afterwards.

Although you know – once, just once, I would like to see an opera where there’s a man with a dissolute past who falls in love with a powerful woman, but then she leaves him and he dies of heartbreak/TB/hara-kiri before she returns having seen the error of her ways. Also I would like to see an opera or, let’s face it, any story ever in which a lady has a dissolute past and then goes on to enjoy her life, spending her hard-earned money and dying peacefully at an advanced age, surrounded by admirers.

So the music was lovely, although the audience were rather ill-behaved. Not one but two mobile phones went off and there was an outbreak of unbearably loud coughing. Here’s a tip, Traviata audiences: the only person who is supposed to be coughing in here is the lady who’s dying of consumption on stage. Got it? Thanks.

Afterwards, Mr Jones and I pondered where to go for a brief bite to eat. ‘Oh well’, he said with that insouciance that I like so much about him, ‘we could go to Clos Maggiore if you like’. I nodded like a little nanny-goat. I didn’t know what Clos Maggiore was.

Well, friends, it’s a jewel. It’s dark and French and cosy, all made of stained wood, tasteful red leather banquettes, coloured glass and brass. It has a pig with wings on the counter at the front. About fourteen people say good evening to you as you walk in, and they smile while they’re doing so. And then at the back…well, look upon this grainy camera-phone photo and try not to sigh.

so preeetty

It’s the best teeny dining room I think I’ve ever been in. The space is tactfully-lit and intimate, with none of the tables elbowing each other, but cosy nonetheless. It’s lent a sublime airiness by the glass skylighted ceiling, by the large windows and by the impression that you’re in some kind of indoor garden. All of the walls of the dining room are covered in sprigs and saplings of some live shrub and with it being May-time they are simply covered in big white blossom. As if this weren’t enough, they are all twined about with fairy-lights, which dapple the room with subtle twinkles as though the trees were alive with fairies or fireflies. It is absolutely breathtaking – no wonder it’s been listed as one of the most romantic restaurants in London.

The menu is almost as charming as the decor. We were served two teeny copper pots containing, respectively, puree of black olives with anchovy and goat’s cheese blended with truffle oil, plus some breadsticks to dip in them. If you are wondering who on earth eats breadsticks any more, I should point out that they were ideal vehicles for the ferocious but divine olivey paste – imagine the dark astringent richness of olive with a fishy understone, it’s better than you think – and the creamy goaty whirl.

We omitted starters, because the day had been too hot for eating much and besides it was late. I had some Scottish monkfish tails, roasted to take on a slight golden firmness which brought out the dense, meaty tone of the fish. They were arranged on a mound of dark green squid ink linguine, strewn with fat, flavourful Cornish mussels and some sunblush tomato halves which didn’t quite go with the composition of the other flavours but were tasty nonetheless. Mr Jones tucked civilly into rolled-up suckling pig belly, praising it with a nod. ‘This piggy did not die in vain’.

Mr Jones wasn’t in the mood for desserts, which always makes me a little sad.  But I talked him into some cheesy cheeses and it’s a good thing too, because I couldn’t have finished them. Instead of a slab of three indifferent cheeses, we were served a clockface of six small portions surrounding a dab of cinnabar-red, cinnamon-warm quince membrillo.  They came with too many home-made crackers (in various colours) to eat. It would have been a crime not to finish the cheeses though, particular the pungent Camembert and a Cashel Blue so ripe it just about walked off the plate itself.

But never mind all that – let me tell you about the TEENY MACAROON. With our coffees came an ornamental slate with some very petit petit fours on. Look!

Giant hand swipes teeny macaroon

Very petits petits fours

The teeny macaroon won my heart, but the velvety, cinnamon-tinged innards of that mundane-looking square truffle seduced the rest of my organs. It was everything other truffles should aspire to.  The waitress and I giggled over the irresistibility of the petits fours and Mr Jones chose a cognac from a brandy list as long as the love letter I could write to the teeny macaroon. (Dear teeny macaroon, you are so very little but I love the scrunchy way you are both crisp and gooey inside, please stay with me forever and be there when I wake up…’)

This is my new very favourite special-occasion restaurant in Covent Garden. Nowhere nearby comes close.

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 10:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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