Quaglino's at 90: From the Queen to Prince Harry, how the restaurant became a royal favourite

Megan C. Hills

Few dining destinations in London have a history as rich as Quaglino’s, which has served as the place to be and be seen for decades.

Over the years British royals including Princess Margaret and Prince Harry have taken a regular seat at the late night dining spot, while celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Elton John and Judy Garland have also been known to frequent it for everything from their personal wedding receptions to boozy film premiere after parties.

One of the Big Smoke’s biggest stalwarts, the restaurant dates back to 1929 when a Northern Italian maitre’d named Giovanni Quaglino opened its doors to the public.

Designed to evoke the cosy glamour of a French brasserie, the restaurant exploded onto the scene and swiftly became an obsession with London’s elite for its late night dining hours and stellar cabarets with legends including Leslie Hutchinson performing.

Judy Garland celebrating her wedding reception at Quaglion's with former husband Mickey Deans and Johnny Ray in 1969 (Getty Images)

Giovanni Quaglino initially made his name as the maitre d’hotel at Martinez Hotel in Cannes at the age of just 17 years old - a spot where Princess Grace of Monaco visited during the 1955 Cannes Film Festival (on the same trip where she met her husband-to-be Prince Rainier III of Monaco).

After Quaglino moved on to open his own London-based establishment, it wasn’t long before a royal relative helped create one of the restaurant’s early legends. Princess Diana’s illustrious relative, Dame Barbara Cartland, visited the restaurant in the 1930s, which helped cement its place as one of the most sophisticated night spots in London.

The romance novelist, who is Princess Diana’s step-grandmother, is claimed to have said, “One night in Quaglino’s, I found a small but real pearl in an oyster.”

A special menu for the 1937 coronation of King George VI (Quaglino's)

The royals' love affair with Quaglino's was clearly a mutual one, as the restaurant even released a dedicated menu centred around the coronation of King George VI and the Queen Mother in 1937, which featured an illustration of the crown jewels as well as a smart crown-embellished velvet cover. In 1953 another regal menu was created when Queen Elizabeth was crowned.

British aristocrats soon began filling the establishment and a spokesperson for the restaurant revealed to the Evening Standard that Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and the Queen Mother even once bent royal protocol to visit in 1956. It was apparently “the first public restaurant ever visited by a reigning monarch”.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at Quaglino's in 1956 (Quaglino's)

The trio visited Quaglino’s to celebrate the British equestrian team’s gold medal at the Stockholm Olympics. Never one to skimp on glamour, Quaglino’s even created a menu with pun-worthy dishes based around the horses that had won the gold. One dish was named “A Countryman’s Sole” after rider Bertie Hill’s horse Countryman III and another was called “A Duck’s Wild Venture” after Arthur Rook’s horse Wild Venture.

It swiftly became a staunch favourite with the British monarchy, as the restaurant went out of its way to accommodate for its regal patrons. The restaurant, which has a smart casual dress code, found a loophole for Prince Philip by creating a separate area for him to dine in.

Model Ann Gunning at Quaglino's in 1952 (Getty Images)

The spokesperson explained, “The Prince was not fond of dressing for dinner, which was necessary at Quaglino's, so Giovanni created a special private room for him.”

“There he could come and go, eat with his friends without ever being seen by the other customers,” they continued.

Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon dancing at Quaglino's in 1962 (NPA ROTA)

Queen Elizabeth’s sister also became one of the restaurant’s most steadfast patrons with “a table permanently reserved for Princess Margaret”. Her table was nicknamed “The Royal Enclosure” and was located close to the dance floor, with the royal dipping in and out via a side door.

Drag performers Hinge and Bracket preparing for their 1975 Quaglino's performance (Getty Images)

Princess Anne is also believed to have attended a fundraiser hosted at Quaglino's in 1975 in support of Action Research for the Crippled Child. Quaglino's, which is renowned for its cabaret, would see drag performers Hinge and Bracket take to the stage and they were photographed ahead of their performance prepping for their royal audience.

As the years went by, the restaurant continued to attract modern royals with the late Princess Diana taking a leaf out of Princess Margaret’s book, as she was known to “make her entrance by sneaking through the kitchen” to avoid paparazzi.

Quaglino's in 1993 (Times/Shutterstock)

After Quaglino’s was purchased and relaunched by Sir Terence Conran’s restaurant group in 1993, the establishment’s new face lift saw one of Princess Diana’s sons pay the restaurant a visit.

Prince Harry used to be a regular customer, with Quaglino’s claiming he was “one of the first visitors through the door." The Evening Standard's restaurant critic Fay Maschler spotted him during her Quaglino’s review in 2014.

Prince Harry leaving Quaglino's in 2014 (SplashNews.com)

She wrote at the time, “The zeal of his female companions, the seamless way in which, as one pretty girl leaves, another is slotted in like a substitute on a football pitch is riveting. But even more completely engrossing is that Harry’s party was seated before us and he has to wait just as long as we do for his order — a plate of oysters. Democracy, innit?”

Princess Alexandra with Joan Collins at Quaglino's (Richard Young/Shutterstock)

Other royals who have been photographed at Quaglino's include Princess Alexandra and Sarah Ferguson.

Quaglino’s turns 90 this year and, royals aside, the restaurant has seen plenty of A-listers leave their mark.

Quaglino's in 2015 (Quaglino's)

From Judy Garland’s ill-attended wedding reception to former husband Mickey Deans to many of Elton John’s flash after-parties for projects like Billy Elliott and Rocketman, there’s a lot of life to celebrate on its 90th anniversary. Just make sure you book.

Quaglino’s is located at 16 Bury Street, London, SW1Y 6AJ and tables can be booked online at their website here.