Just off the Covent Garden piazza, the restaurant is split over a couple of levels, and is much larger inside than it appears to be from the pavement. A first section is a fairly cramped area near the bar, but there is a more attractive dining area further through with a skylight and fireplace. There is much use of wood panelling and grass-like greenery on the walls, which is a little weird but worked OK. The ornamental flying pig on the bar is apparently a reference to a advice the owner received when considering opening in Covent Garden: he was advised that pigs might fly before he would make a success of the place, which is in fact regularly packed out. There is also a further room upstairs. The European menu is appealing, with sensible ingredient combinations. Starters were £6.90 to £14.90, mostly around £9. Main courses were £16.50 - £24.90, mostly around £19, and desserts mostly £6.50. A set lunch for £19.50 for three courses was available, and in fact we tried a mix of this and the a la carte on my visit.
The wine list was exceptional, over 80 pages in length, and featuring some very fine producers. Markups vary but are not excessive by London standards, and indeed there are a few relative bargains tucked away. Kistler Dutton ranch 2020 is listed at £132, yet retails at £68, for example, so is not even twice retail (if you can find it). At the lower end things are much less generous e.g. the pleasant Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc 2007 is £6 a glass, yet is only £6.89 a bottle retail price. Sudairaut 1996 dessert wine is priced at £12 for a 75 ml glass (one tenth of a bottle) yet retails at just £20, a six times retail markup. Trimbach Cuvee Frederich Emile 2003 was priced at £89 compared to a retail price of around £21 a bottle, over four times retail. This is a very enjoyable wine list in terms of breadth and depth but with serious pricing pitfalls for the unwary.
An amuse bouche of smoked eel with Alsace bacon, lambs lettuce and new potatoes was a well constructed dish, the strong flavours of the eel and bacon working well together, complimented by the potatoes. Sea bass cooked whole served with Charlotte potatoes, sauce vierge and wilted English watercress was perfectly pleasant but perhaps the least interesting dish tried (14/20). A trio of scallops were plump, sweet and carefully cooked, each on a bed of Jerusalem artichokes and winter truffle sauce, garnished with a potato crisp (15/20). Venison (from the Duke of Westminster Estate) was cooked pink and had plenty of gamey flavour, with a rich sauce of winter berries poured over the meat at the table, served with Brussels sprouts and chestnuts, ad a fricassee of chervil root (15/20). Service was excellent, headed by a gentleman who until recently headed the team at Helene Darroze at the Connaught.
The notes below are from a meal in February 2008.
Bread is made on the premises, and was either small white or brown rolls or foccacia, the latter in particular having good taste (14/20 bread). My starter of slow-cooked Cornish mackerel was very tasty, served on a bed of vermicelli with saffron sauce. The pasta was fine and had pleasing texture, the saffron adding a hint of richness to the dish (15/20). A trio of scallops from the a la carte were served each on a little heap of crushed ratte potatoes, along with slivers of winter black truffle (which in itself did not add much for me as it was surprisingly lacking in fragrance).
For main course my set lunch menu featured an etuvee (slow cooked in a covered pan with minimal liquid) of pulses with basil pesto, topped with beignet of St Maure goat’s cheese. This was a light and refreshing lunch dish, the beignets nicely made, the goat cheese not overpowering, and the pesto, which I was worried might dominate the dish, was carefully controlled (14/20). Slices of Gressingham duck were caramelised with treacle and nice cooked, served with a well made sauce from the cooking juices and a pleasantly crispy bak choi which my companion found a little too flavoured with garlic but I enjoyed (15/20).
Dessert was vanilla cheesecake with blackberry sorbet, very capably made (14/20). Slow cooked pineapple tart had good pastry and smooth coconut pearl and mango sorbet, the effect avoiding any over-acidity which could so easily have happened (14/20). Coffee was pleasant rather than great, but served with a quartet of good petit fours (e.g. a little chocolate macaroon). Service was excellent throughout. My only caveat is that dessert wines are served in mean 75 ml measures, but this is at least clearly stated on the menu. Overall I found this to be a very pleasant experience. Head chef Marcellin Marc has worked at Clos de Violette in France (a 2 star Michelin place) and the good technique showed through. Presentation was also excellent.
I visited 'Clos' recently and while I do think it is a bit of a gem, the food was average at best. I went off menu and tried the specials of the day. My starter of foie gras and oxtail terrine tasted wonderful, however the terrine had been so compressed that all the tenderness in slow cooking the oxtail had disapeared. I then had a grilled lamb dish with vegetables. The lamb was sinewy and the vegetables (mainly carrots and beans) so overcooked that they turned to mush. This will not prevent me from returning, but I shall be choosing 'on menu' for well practised dishes.
I've been here several times after the ballet or opera as is one of the few decent places near the ROH. We've never had a bad experience and especially in the days of the post theatre menu it was a 'bargain' for these parts. Food has always been very good and on a par with many 1*'s - maybe the new chef will shift it up that final gear and bring the inspectors calling... Service is also very good making sure we always get our regular table, remembering our normal apertifs, good efficiency etc... The young female somelier however is a bit less pleasing with a face like thunder most days and normally making poor and expensive suggestions from the (as noted) steeply priced list. However overall this is really a rare 'hidden gem' of which J Sheekeys is the only comparison in the area. Oh nearly forgot - highly romantic in the conservatory and has got me out of many a tight squeeze with the (normally) good lady! :-)