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Class act: Paulo de Tarso and Nicolas Jaouën on making great service the focus at Margot

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Class act: Paulo de Tarso and Nicolas Jaouën on making great service the focus at Margot
Written by:

Class act Service is second nature to Paulo de Tarso and Nicolas Jaouën. At their new outlet, Margot, in London’s Covent Garden, they have created their ideal restaurant: a timelessly elegant space with an extensive menu that exists to please its diners. Katie Pathiaki pays a visit

It may seem as if good manners and etiquette have all but disappeared from today’s society, but restaurateurs Paulo de Tarso and Nicolas Jaouën are quintessential gentlemen. When I meet them at the Rosewood hotel,
weeks before the opening of their beloved Margot on Great Queen Street in Covent Garden, both immediately stand to greet me and Jaouën compliments me on my handbag.

The pair treat people with a heartfelt respect, and it is clear that they extend that respect to one another, too. While one is talking, the other stays quiet, patiently waiting for the appropriate time to speak. “It’s not always like that,” Jaouën admits. 

“It’s like any relationship – we have our good and bad days. We are different, but also very similar. One of our biggest traits is that we question everything we do. We can sit in front of a design for half an hour and fight about it before coming to a conclusion.”

De Tarso and Jaouën became friends while working at Scott’s in Mayfair, and the decision to open a restaurant together came through their similar approach and outlook on business.

Unsurprisingly, given their pedigree, their restaurant majors on great service – almost a curiosity among so many chef-led ventures. De Tarso explains: “I’m happy to be working with Nicolas on this. He has a lot of wisdom and he is quieter than me, so he often observes a lot of things that I miss. He’s like my wife – they’re both right all the time!”

Both men are obviously very busy, so it is surprising to see them lay their phones facedown on the table – where they remain, silent, throughout the entire interview. If I even think about picking up the water bottle on the table,
Jaouën is already pouring it into my glass.

Putting their guests at ease and making them feel comfortable and welcome is exactly what the duo want to achieve with their new restaurant, Margot. The 104-cover Italian eaterie is set across two floors and aims to celebrate the elegance and charm of authentic Italian cuisine and focus on a friendly, attentive and knowledgeable service.

“Italian food and culture is amazing,” de Tarso says. “People always think that Italian restaurants are about having checked tablecloths, salami hanging up in the room and serving pasta. But there is a lot more to Italian culture than that.”

He makes no secret of being inspired by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King – renowned restaurateurs and owners of the Wolseley in Piccadilly as well as Bellanger in Islington and Brasserie Zédel in Piccadilly Circus – and it’s
easy to see the correlation between the two service-led restaurants.

“I admire Corbin and King greatly,” de Tarso says. “They are creative and just as respectful of service and quality as I am. They are masters, so any comparisons are welcome. I cut my teeth in the US, so a lot of my personal approach is perhaps more American, but I learned a lot from my conversations with Jeremy particularly, and admire him as a leader.”

Superlative service
At Margot, he says, the staff won’t be at the table “showing off”, explaining what is in each dish or carving in front of the diners. As a rule, the front of house staff won’t interrupt cus-tomers for more than 10 seconds at a time.
Taking a step back and making the seven-day-a-week operation more accessible for diners is something the duo feel passionately about. “For me, good service is something you almost don’t realise or notice. You don’t feel
interrupted or out of place – you feel as if you’re in the right place at the right moment,” Jaouën explains. “If you go to see the ballet, you don’t see the orchestra, but you can feel it and you can hear it. You go to look at people dancing, but the music is what really makes it. And it’s the same for us.”

“When customers walk through the door, it’s like they’re coming into your house,” de Tarso says. “How do you treat people in your home? You open the door with a smile, take their coats, offer them a drink and give them a kiss goodbye.

And that is what we are going to do. “Our restaurant is about creating an environment that makes memories. When people walk out of our restaurant, we want them to think, ‘Wow, it’s the 21st century, but I feel like
I was treated with the utmost respect.’ That is really important to us.”

Classic style
In today’s world, that kind of service can feel like a rarity, with a generation that craves fast, casual street food. What de Tarso and Jaouën are offering looks almost like something you would see in an old movie.

Jaouën says that when creating the concept, the pair didn’t want to follow trends: “Italians have an incredible culture, from food and wine to the craftsmanship of cars and clothing. They are remarkable at what they do, and that’s what we wanted to relay. We were inspired by designers such as Carlo Mollino and Giò Ponti, but it was also very important for us to step away from what has been done so far. We wanted to create something unique.”

To make their vision a reality, they enlisted the expertise of designer Tom Strother and his company, Fabled Studio. “The design company became a blender – we threw in the ideas and materials that we wanted to use,” de Tarso says. The outcome, which was revealed on 10 October, is an elegant combination of deep blue tones, tranquil greens, light marble and rose copper.

After looking at more than 20 different sites across London within a six-month period, de Tarso and Jaouën finally landed on Covent Garden. Here, Margot’s chic and stylish atmosphere would target not only shoppers
visiting designer stores such as Karen Millen, Kurt Geiger and Adolfo Dominguez, but families going to the theatre, too.

“Importantly, we wanted the menu to be approachable – one that everyone can understand,” Jaouën says. “More often now the waiter has to explain the menu to you for five minutes. You shouldn’t have to have a degree
to order food. We also didn’t want to impose the sharing concept on guests, so we encourage diners to create their own experiences.”

In terms of the menu, it would be outrageous to assume that Margot would only serve the Italian staples of pizza and pasta. The executive chef is Maurizio Morelli, from Latina near Rome. He is the former chef-patron of Latium restaurant in Fitzrovia, London, and has been given the epithet ‘king of pasta’ by Jaouën and de Tarso. He has created an authentic Italian menu, including scallop carpaccio with lime, pickled artichokes, sweet
red chilli sauce and basil (£15); roast Cornish monkfish wrapped in pancetta with cannellini beans, black truffle and quail eggs (£25); baked veal ossobuco with saffron risotto alla Milanese and veal jus (£28); and tiramisu with
chocolate heart and Amaretto sauce (£6.50).

The pair found Morelli though Francesco Mazzei, chef-patron at Sartoria in Mayfair, and a friend of de Tarso’s. Jaouën says that Mazzei convinced Morelli to meet up with them: “He had just sold Latium and was not looking to move on to anything new. After an hour or two he said he felt inspired by the project and was on board straight away!”

Diners can select dishes in two different sizes from various sections of the menu. De Tarso says he was tired of waiters telling him, “No, you can’t have that,” and wanted to break the boundaries of standardised ordering.

“For example, if someone wants to have the grilled veal chop but doesn’t want the sauce or anything with it, that’s fine. They can even have a side of pasta if they want. Whatever it is, we want to make it happen. Our menu is
extensive for a restaurant of our size.

” 

Extensive is the right word. In a bid to cater for everyone’s tastes, Margot also offers over 350 wines. The list ranges from a Pinot Noir from Burgundy to super-Tuscans. The offering is about 45% Italian wine, 35% French and 20% from the rest of the world.

“Our wine list is designed for the customer – it’s about giving choice,” de Tarso says. “A good sommelier should be offering the best product available rather than the most expensive. Sometimes you want to spend £30 on a
bottle, and there are amazing wines out there for that price. How often do you get a sommelier that only looks after you if you spend £200 on a bottle? That’s not right. We have built our names because we look after our clients, love them and adore them. It’s not about upselling, it’s about the quality of the product.”

The pair dream of owning a farm in Tuscany with a boutique hotel, but for now they are focusing on this first joint venture. With their combined years of training, along with a little help from de Tarso’s contact book, they intend to take Covent Garden by storm with Margot.

Nicolas Jaouën
Nicolas Jaouën grew up in Les Sables d’Olonne, France. He moved to London in 2006 to work at the Ivy in London’s West End. At the time, the Ivy was doing 300 covers a night.

“I was just blown away,” he says. “I was at the Ivy for a week, and I thought to myself, how do these guys do this? I was shown everything during my time there. It was like I had been working for small mechanics all my life and then I was suddenly thrown into Formula 1.”

Jaouën was then part of the opening team at Scott’s in Mayfair, where he met Paulo de Tarso. He worked in all positions, starting as a commis through to bar manager. He left to open Rivington Grill in Souk Al Bahar, Dubai, for Caprice Holdings, but returned to attend management school.

In 2013, Jaouën was taken on by Keith McNally to help open Balthazar in Covent Garden. He then moved on to work for Alain Ducasse at the Rivea restaurant at the Bulgari Hotel, Knightsbridge, London, as restaurant
director and assistant F&B manager before becoming general manager at La Petite Maison in Mayfair.

“I always jumped on opening a new restaurant. For me, it’s where you learn the most because that’s where so many roblems arise at the same time. You always have so much to do. It’s very demanding, pressurised and physical, but that is what I love about it.

“It has been an incredible journey and although it has been tough, I look back now and only see incredible things. It was an honour to work with such amazing people – Keith McNally really changed me and Alain Ducasse is just incredible.”

Paulo de Tarso
Paulo de Tarso was born in Brazil, but lived in the US from the age of 15. In 2004 he moved to London and began his career as maître d’ at the Wolseley in Piccadilly. After three years, he moved to Scott’s in Mayfair, where he met Nicolas Jaouën.

“I started my career washing dishes,” he says. “I fell in love with the industry, worked my way through the ranks. I was a financial consultant, I tried my hand at acting, but always went back to the restaurant business,
because it is where my foundation lies.” In 2010, he took on the challenge of opening Bar Boulud in Knightsbridge with Daniel Boulud, who became one of his biggest influences. “Opening a restaurant teaches you
a lot because you are dealing with so many things at once. It’s like playing tennis and several other balls suddenly come into play.

“Opening Bar Boulud was extremely difficult. Not only were we opening with the hotel, which sees things differently to how we do, but the best chefs in the world were going to be there and expectations were high – that put a lot of pressure on us. But pressure is part of the territory and you just have to do the best you can. Daniel taught me to work hard and pass on what you have, and to be humble.”

De Tarso left Bar Boulud in January 2016 to embark on his journey with Jaouën.

From the menu

Tartara di tonno tuna Tartare, quail eggs, grey mullet bottarga, candied orange £13.50

Polpo stufato Stewed octopus, chickpea purée, escarole and marjoram £13

Burrata Pugliese Burrata from Puglia, heritage tomato salad, basil pesto £14.50

Controfiletto di manzo Grilled sirloin of beef (280g), wild mushroom sauce £29

Spigola in crosta di sale Salt-crusted whole sea bass for two to share £60

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