Flavours of Provence dominate in this cosy-yet-romantic restaurant in London's theatre district. Neil Gerrard reports
You'd have to be very low on emotional intelligence to fail to spot that Clos Maggiore is a pretty romantic setting, even as far as high-end London restaurants go.
With a profusion of cherry blossom branches bending over the tables, a flagstone floor and an inviting fireplace, the main dining room is cosy, to say the least. It's little surprise that the restaurant has won the title of London's Most Romantic Restaurant in the 2014 Harden's guide, as well as being named one of the 20 most romantic restaurants in Britain by The Times in 2013. Undoubtedly it's an important part of the restaurant's appeal
but, as head chef Marcellin Marc is keen to point out, there's far more to it than that.
"If we were just about romance, the food would be average and the service as well," he says. "But because we have good-quality food, good-quality service and a great atmosphere, it becomes really romantic."
Certainly, there is cooking here at a standard high enough to make Cupid swap his bow and arrow for a knife and fork. Marc spent five years at the two-Michelin-starred Le Clos de la Violette in Aix-en-Provence as senior sous chef before joining Clos Maggiore. He has been at the helm for over nine years, working with owner Paul Corrett, and his food is steeped in the traditions of Provence. That style comes to the fore in summer, when The Caterer visited, with light, fresh dishes and an emphasis on seafood and Mediterranean flavours.
"Summer is a perfect time for me to cook what I really love," he says. "At the moment is young vegetables, olive oil, fruit like nectarines, peaches, strawberries and raspberries, fresh herbs, and shellfish, crab, octopus and tuna."
Dishes that epitomise that approach include his starter of marinated Spanish octopus and smoked anchovy salad 'ProvenÁ§al style' (£11.90), which benefits from a hit of citrus from lemon, lime and orange, as well as chargrilled fennel.
Then there's slow-cooked fillet of Scottish cod 'rougaille', which draws not just on ProvenÁ§al influences but Spanish ones too.
"The rougaille is made up of diced vegetables, like celery, fennel and sun-dried tomato, as well as chilli and basil," Marc says. "We season it with olive oil, lemon juice and a bit of kaffir lime so it is very fresh and fragrant. When the cod is cooked, we put the vegetables on top, like we are creating a skin - it is crunchy and fresh." It is served on fideuÁ , which is similar to paella, but made with thin noodles.
Marc also permits himself a few references on the menu to the region of France where he was brought up - the Loire - and one of the restaurant's best-sellers is the starter of braised shoulder of Loire Valley rabbit (£9.90), which he has served all year round for nearly 10 years.
"It is a tweak on the classic of rabbit and mustard because it is made from a boneless shoulder stuffed with onions and herbs. We confit it for many hours and afterwards I just roast it and glaze it and it is served with a light wholegrain mustard mousseline," he says.
For him, it's a dish that sums up exactly what he is trying to achieve with the food at Clos Maggiore. "It is not about creating things that no-one has seen before - this is proper food," he explains. "When people read the menu, I want them to know what is going to happen. Everyone knows that rabbit and mustard work well together. It is our job to cook it really well at the right temperature, with the right seasoning and the right presentation."
The team of nine chefs, including two pastry chefs, also keep a close eye on how their food marries up to Clos Maggiore's collection of 2,500 wines, all of which are stored on-site (Clos Maggiore has installed a Coravin wine preservation system). The restaurant is one of just two in the UK and only 74 in the world to hold a Wine Spectator Grand Award, and Marc and his team ensure the food and wine complement each other on both the Á la carte
menu and also for the regular wine dinners.
Looking to the future, Marc, who praises his kitchen team, many of whom have worked with him for several years, would love outside seating. "What I miss the most here is a beautiful terrace," he says. "With the kind of food we have and the location, it would be great if we had five or six tables outside."
From the menu
Starters Chilled English beetroot and horseradish soup £6.90
Sicilian aubergine and fig caponata £9.90
Roasted duck foie gras and crispy confit duck leg £13.50
Mains Hand-rolled fresh pappardella, grated fresh truffle £17.90
Pan-roasted line-caught sea bass 'Grenobloise' £22.50
Oven-roasted breast of Lancashire wheat-fed guinea fowl £18.90
Desserts Praline 'Paris Brest' and toasted, salted hazelnuts £6.90
Grand Cru Valrhona milk chocolate 'mille feuille' £8.90
Marinated Gariguette strawberries £6.90
33 King Street
London WC2E 8JD