When Two Respected Maitre D's Start Their Own Restaurant

The front of house should get as much of the attention normally given to the kitchen when they open their Italian restaurant in Covent Garden, the pair reckons.

Two of London's leading restaurant managers plan to open their own establishment in Covent Garden — and they're hoping for some of the limelight that usually falls on chefs.

Margot will seat 102 diners over two floors on the site that was home to Moti Mahal on Great Queen Street. While the Italian menu is being created by head chef Maurizio Morelli, formerly of Latium, the service may be as distinctive as the food.

The partners are Nicolas Jaouën, a Frenchman from the Loire Valley, who was general manager at La Petite Maison and helped open Balthazar; and Sao Paulo-born Paulo de Tarso, the face of Bar Boulud in London as maître d' from its opening in 2010.

Paulo de Tarso and Nicolas Jaouën.
Paulo de Tarso and Nicolas Jaouën.
Photographer: Richard Vines

"To think of Paulo just as a great maitre d' is to miss the larger point," says New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, the driving force behind Gramercy Tavern and Shake Shack. "He is a boundless force of nature, oozing hospitality from every pore."

De Tarso and Jaouën will need those skills if they are to fill Margot. Covent Garden is awash with tourist chains offering a £7.95 ($10.36) pizza with a £4.45 glass of wine, instead of a restaurant serving more sophisticated dishes using carefully sourced ingredients.

"There's a place for us," De Tarso says. "There's not a lot going on in terms of good food in Covent Garden, and value for money is very important to us. Everything is going to be available in small and large plates, so you can just drop in for a glass of wine and a dish of pasta. 

"Food can be like a commodity and the guys front of house deserve a little bit more respect. Yes, people are there for the food but how you are greeted, how you are seated, how your order is taken and how you are served is all down to us."

He contrasts the high standards of service in New York with the less-engaged style of some waiters in London. 

"You can go to Brooklyn, you can go to Queens, you can go to a mom-and-pop place and you can be extremely well looked after," he says. "New Yorkers understand how important it is the customer coming through the door."

Daniel Boulud, who owns eight establishments in New York, as well as restaurants around the U.S. and in Canada, Singapore and the U.K., says De Tarso can make it work.

"Paulo exemplifies the art of  customer service," Boulud says. "We all could write a book about Paulo. We love him."

Richard Vines is chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines

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