Published 10 December 2019
We work in an industry in thrall to the new, so sometimes old-school restaurants get neglected. Loyd Grossman visits a London landmark with a very regal association – Kensington’s Maggie Jones
As the latest series of The Crown continues to mesmerise global audiences on Netflix, it is a good time to revisit Maggie Jones, a cosy bistro in a W8 backwater around the corner from Kensington Palace. This west London landmark is named in tribute to the late Princess Margaret – who was allegedly a frequent diner here when she was married to Anthony Armstrong-Jones – aka Lord Snowdon.
Despite endless gentrification and modernisation all around it, thankfully relatively little has changed in this place since the seventies. The decor, located somewhere on the threshold between Fairport Convention and Queer Eye, is as comforting as a vintage Habitat duvet. There are masses of dried flowers, tea roomstyle crockery, hecatombs of basketry, antique agricultural impedimenta galore – is there a rusty rake, hoe or pitchfork left in the West Country? – and old tin signs like the one near my table proclaiming ‘Brooke Bond Tea is good tea’: gosh I miss those prehyperbolic days.
Tables are stripped pine, the lighting is from candles stuffed into champagne bottles, the chairs are farmhouse. The menu is extensive but not ridiculously, so with a few dishes that hark back to the Maggie and Tony era. You can, for example, eat out-of- season asparagus which was a status symbol before anyone had thought of food miles or Greta Thunberg. The prawn cocktail has been updated with spicy sauce and a bed of rocket. The onion soup is legendary with uber-strong stock and a slab of toast smothered in volcanic gruyere.
In the winter there is a welcome emphasis on game. Venison medallions were tender and perfectly cooked, game casserole of duck, pheasant and more venison was succulent, well seasoned and the colour of Georgian mahogany. Such dishes are served up with silky mashed potatoes and proficient red cabbage. For the nonmeat eaters there is very good fish pie or bream or salmon. There are enticing puddings of the bread and butter pudding apple crumble genre, but helpings are so generous that to my regret I’ve never reached the pudding stage.
Maggie Jones has a pretty good wine list, but to really worship the genius loci – the spirit of the place – you had best order the decently drinkable house red, presented in magnum bottles and for which you are only charged by how much you drink. Prices are more than fair and the three-course set lunch is £23 and the service from a young team is as breezy, cheerful and efficient as you can find anywhere in London.
This article was first published in the Winter 2019 Quarterly. To subscribe, click here