Margot is an Italian restaurant on Great Queen Street in the still interesting part of Covent Garden. The uninteresting part is the piazza, once the first classical square in London but now a shopping district so devoted to famous brands that it is essentially Westfield in WC2, and WC2 has no need of it, already having a superior culture of its own. Even so, I expect some day to find St Paul’s church a smouldering pile of ash waiting for an Audi concession. Margot used to be Moti Mahal, an unlamented Indian restaurant next to Freemasons’ Hall, which posed as MI5 in Spooks, a BBC drama in which a one-nation Tory called Harry repeatedly saves the city from apocalypse with his one-nation Tory goodness. (Those who call the BBC Marxist propagandists don’t watch Spooks, or any of the royal coverage.) I am so devoted to Spooks I cannot approach Margot without a thrilling sense of peril.
Margot is from Paulo de Tarso and Nicolas Jaouën. They look like men who look have walked off a David Beckham Emporio Armani pants advertising hoarding. They are very handsome if you like that sort of thing; that is, men with blinding white pants laughing at squid. They met at Scott’s in Mayfair, which serves baby food to ageing celebrities; they have also worked at Balthazar, again in Covent Garden, and the Wolseley. They are front-of-house men and their native habitat is beautiful restaurants. Margot, therefore, is beautiful in its pale Victorian box; it had to be. The staff are equally handsome. They wear tuxedos — and not ironically — and the website is essentially a photograph of two models in black tie sitting on a white motorcycle with the spindly promise of spindly model sex. There is also a photograph of a bellboy staring out a dachshund, but I cannot divine its subliminal message; I have tried. Perhaps the dachshund is Margot.
Even so, I do not judge Margot for pretending its clients are more attractive than they are. Margot is not selling salami, not really; you can get salami at Lidl these days. It is selling that incalculable thing called lifestyle, and they will pay £100 a head with wine for the scent of it. I distrust lifestyle-seekers because I suspect they do not know what they want, and so must ask their gurus, which are advertising hoardings. At Margot, though, they triumph, for it is an excellent restaurant.
The interior is brown, it is true, but it is not a terrible brown. (The decorating company Fabled Studio, which designed Margot, also did Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, which is too brown. The line between good brown and devastating brown is narrow.) Its brownness declares it is, essentially, a man’s restaurant: a mix of booths and banquettes with good art, good lighting and good service. There is a silver breadstick holder with a dachshund’s head on the table.
The chef is Maurizio Morelli, formerly the chef-patron of Latium in Fitzrovia. Margot’s current rivals in London are Savini at the Criterion, a haunted grey restaurant, and Sartoria in Savile Row, which is just grey.
We eat a plate of pecorino di fossa and a fennel-flavoured salami, both as good as you will find in the city; then an exquisite Cornish crab salad; a couscous salad with pomegranate, buffalo mozzarella and tomato which is, miraculously, not wet but wondrous; a fine risotto of mixed mushroom; and — as tribute to The Godfather, who would never come here, because it features whimsical tableware, and he is a fictional character — some cannoli. (‘Leave the gun, take the cannoli.’) The portions are not vast; we are not stupefied or poisoned with carbohydrate, which is a danger in lesser Italian restaurants with their weaponised bread baskets; we leave content.