Quaglino's, St James's: restaurant review

A modern relic off St. James's Street is restored to its past glories with the arrival of Nuno Goncalves, a head chef with serious credentials, and a renewed focus on ambitious cocktail-making

What's the draw

Ask most people who've been, and they'll likely tell you that there are many reasons to visit Quaglino's. Whether it's the Great Gatsby-esque sweep of the dining room's iconic staircase, the blood-red velvet curtains that seem like they may well conceal a few Peaky Blinders, or the crooners and jazz bands playing you off to dinner, the vibe is unashamedly fun, with trappings of hundred-year-history more than evident. For a restaurant, though – and not a cheap one, at that – the food and drink hasn't always been near the top of that list of reasons. Until now, that is: with new head chef Nuno Goncalves at the helm and a focus on sustainably sourced produce, Quaglino's now blends traditional Mayfair dining with modern London touches. And as for that keen sense of fun? It's still very much at its heart, too.

What to drink

Even for the view over the bustling dining room alone, you'd be remiss not to start with a cocktail at its revamped bar. The menu, named The Science of Sustainability, takes a Dandelyan-influenced approach to high-concept drinks. Its aim is to make you consider complex aspects of modern food systems – but, importantly, the drinks it compiles taste good, too. Take Tornadoes: coming on like a fire at a beehive (in a good way), it's a mix of cognac and rich madeira mingled with peat smoke infusion and floral chamomile aromas. Wine-wise, we enjoyed a rich, spicy Altano Tinto 2016 from Douro Valley producer Symington, bursting with purple fruits.

What to eat

There are still elements of old-school Mayfair to be found here, but there's modern thinking, too – case in point: four of its eight starters are vegetarian, like the excellent baked beetroot with a whipped goat's cheese, acerbic chicory and an almost pesto. The classic cocktail is still there – a kind of seafood greatest hits – with crab, lobster, tiger prawn and brown shrimp jostling for elbow room along a rich marie rose and crisp baby gem. And for main, despite the shock of the new, if you don't love the gamey, salty richness of slow-braised ox cheek with lardons and pearl onion, you're probably in the wrong place.

Mains from £21; wine from £8 by the glass. 16 Bury Street, SW1Y 6AJ;