Leoni’s Quo Vadis restaurant: ‘no better place in the world to dine or lunch’

Leoni printed this praise from the film actress Evelyn Laye in a tiny promotional booklet reprinted to coincide with the Festival of Britain in 1951.The year before, journalist, S. Jay Kaufman, a veteran American, in a letter to Leoni, revealed that from 1911 to July 1914 no 27, Dean Street, Soho, which under Pepino Leoni became the Quo Vadis restaurant in 1926, had been home to himself and the painter Horace Brodsky. Back then, Kaufman explained, the domestic arrangements might have been pretty basic, but the good company had made up for this:

'The cuisine ? Ours! The charwomen ? Ourselves! And to this Adam house came Harry Kemp, John Flanagan, Augustus John, Jacob Epstein, J.T Grien, Lillian Shelley, Nelson Keys, Lily Cadogan, David Burton, Louis Wolheim Arnold Daly, Sir Charles Cochran , Leon M Lion, Constance Collier, Granville Barker, and Frank Harris…’

That’s quite a crowd! Laye’s encomium from 1948 is joined in Leoni’s booklet by 'appreciations' from a number of very satisfied customers, including big names, such as stage designer Edward Gordon Craig (‘ I eat better there than anywhere else’) and Max Beerbohm. As for Kaufman himself, he testifies that in his day American stars like Jimmy Durante, Hoagy Carmichael and Joseph Cotton were also regulars at Quo Vadis.

In addition to these big-name recommendations, Leoni’s, booklet features photos of Italian beauty spots, adverts for other restaurants in Europe‘ and a feature on wine. However, most of the space is taken up by ‘Recipes of Specialities’ from the Quo Vadis that readers could try at home. These included simple veal and pasta dishes which back in 1951 would have been considered high-end metropolitan cuisine, but which today are available in just about every small provincial town in England.

It just shows how we have moved on since 1951. Following Leoni’s departure, his restaurant passed through a number of hands, but continued to offer high quality Italian food. Then, in 1996 Quo Vadis was bought by brilliant but irascible chef Marco Pierre White and Brit artist Damien Hirst, who offered great British cuisine. They sold out in 2007 and today, under the Hart brothers, it has retained its reputation as one of the top restaurants in London.

Incidentally, bankers with a sense of irony might be tempted to spend some of their bonuses in the private Marx Room, so named after the poverty stricken Dr Karl Marx, who with his family occupied two overcrowded rooms at no 28 in the 1850s.(Blue plaque).There is also, of course, a Leoni Room.

[RMR] Photo by Ewan Munro via Wikipedia's Quo Vadis listing. For which much thanks.

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