When you just can’t book

This article was also published in the Financial Times.   Over a glass of Dom Pérignon 2003 at the Room to Read dinner in Sydney, which raised over AUD1 million for this estimable charity, I heard something that will delight restaurateurs everywhere. The comment came from Katie Jacobs, whose job selling Dom Pérignon in the US and now in Australia has taken her to many a restaurant. We were discussing the increasingly common practice of restaurants operating a no-bookings policy in the evenings, a policy that has had the not…






Mothers’ boys taste Fleet Street success

This article was also published in the Financial Times. Daniel Land and Jeremy Sanders have been each other’s closest friends for 25 of their 28 years. They were separated only by stints at different universities and briefly afterwards when Land went into investment banking at Merrill Lynch while Sanders attended INSEAD Business School, Paris, before working as a consultant for Bain & Co. At 5am every weekday now, however, they meet near Baker Street for a bus which 15 minutes later drops them outside their first branch of Coco di…






Le Pain Quotidien and other cheap eats in London

Le Pain Quotidien and other cheap eats in London – 2005 For the growing number of self-employed, the first half of February is the most financially painful time of the year. A cheque has just gone off to the Inland Revenue which puts into the shade anything spent over the Christmas period and, although this is sadly a bi-annual affair, somehow sending the second cheque off at the end of July, when the British climate is less grim, is bearable if certainly not enjoyable. Happily, there has been a cluster…






St John Bread and Wine

St John Bread and Wine – 2003 Where customers once paid in cheques bakers bake and chefs cook; the former safe is now a dry goods store (the three-inch thick door was too expensive to remove so it is left permanently open); and where documents were housed is now home to buckets of fermenting starter, initiated three months ago, so that they can now yield magnificent, crunchy wholemeal, rye and sourdough loaves. This is St John Bread and Wine, formerly a bank, opposite the rapidly changing Spitalfields Market with as…






The Honest Sausage

The Honest Sausage – 2003 Michael Lucy has the most enjoyable walk between restaurants of any restaurateur I know. He starts in Hyde Park by The Honest Sausage close to Speakers’ Corner, (which provides the logo for his sandwiches Free Range – Free Speech), and within ten minutes is at a window table of The Dell Café with a splendid view across the Serpentine. Lucy deserves these bonuses because over the past decade he has set standards for eating out in the Royal Parks for the competition to follow and…






The man behind Ping Pong

The man behind Ping Pong – 2006 The growing number of Ping Pong dim sum restaurants across central London offer good food, good design and good value. Their creator, Kurt Zdesar, explains how he has achieved this. Kurt Zdesar decided to leave his highly paid job as GM of Nobu Restaurants in Europe because of an advertisement he saw for a Jaguar car. “The car was on offer for sale in the US at the same price in dollars as it was in pounds in the UK although it was…






Throgmorton’s

Throgmorton’s – 2004 Over the past decade Fontaine, as chef/proprietor of The Quality Chop House in Farringdon Road, EC1, cooked in equally modest albeit more characterful premises. But after selling the Chop House to his partner and then travelling for a year, he has fortunately resurfaced in the rather wonderful Throgmorton’s in the City. Fontaine and his business partner Farika Skilton are the first to admit that the initial allure of this vast complex of deli, bars and restaurants (they reckon it is just under a kilometre from the front…






Good value on the Edgware Road

Good value on the Edgware Road – 2001 The journey from Kandoo to Maroush takes about half an hour if you are a quick walker. Despite these enchanting names and the fact that along the way you pass Babylon Stores and the Cleopatra Unisex Hair and Beauty salon it is not a particularly romantic journey. Nor is it as dangerous as these unusual names may imply. The most hazardous aspect of this trip is crossing the road as the various double-decker buses come hurtling down the Edgware Road from Maida…






Dealing in chefs

Dealing in chefs – 2009 David Nicholls, the Food and Beverage Director for the Mandarin Oriental, arrived for lunch at London’s Fino restaurant, looking distinctly uncomfortable, although we have known each other for the past 20 years. He wasn’t, I was to learn, distracted by what was going on in the kitchens of the 23 hotels he is ultimately responsible for around the world, whose annual combined sales are US$600 million. Nor were there any last-minute hitches in the contracts he had recently put together to bring Heston Blumenthal and…






Lemonia

Lemonia – 2009 As the waiter at Lemonia, a Greek Cypriot restaurant in Primrose Hill, north west London, that has been hugely popular for the past 30 years, arrived at our table with plates of meze, the woman opposite me dropped out of our conversation and started talking directly to him. She wanted to know how he was; how the rest of his family were; and whether he would be working tomorrow as she had already booked to come back the following evening for dinner. Then she turned to me…