16 | squaremeal.co.uk
RESTAURANTS + BARS
ILLUSTRATION: GEO PARKIN
Does the rise of high-end restaurant chains with financial clout spell
the end for individuality in Mayfair and St James's? WORDS BEN MCCORMACK
ave Mayfair' might
not have quite the
same ring as 'Save
Soho', but I'm
beginning to wonder whether
the Monopoly board's most
expensive square needs
someone to stick up for it.
With the Sexy Fish-ication
of W1's restaurant scene,
I worry that local stalwarts
are being left behind.
In February, Pescatori fried
its last Dover sole on Dover
Street, and Simon Parker
Bowles announced that he
was closing Green's after 34
years in St James's (admittedly
SW1 not W1). Then in
March came the news that
The Square has been sold to
Marlon Abela and that, after
25 years, chef-proprietor Phil
Howard is to leave.
"When I opened Green's,
there were several one-off
restaurants in my immediate
area," Parker Bowles told me. "If I was
to start again on my own today it would
be impossible to open a restaurant that
had any hope of giving a decent return,
regardless of how successful it became.
The massive premiums, inflated rents,
stringent rates and staff costs crush any
hope of financial success."
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
It's a sentiment echoed by Gavin
Rankin of French restaurant Bellamy's
on Bruton Mews. "Since we started
Bellamy's, 16 new restaurants have opened
in the area, all fishing in the same pond
- only with bigger rods," he says. "Almost
all of them benefit from being part of
large operations with several outlets."
Do we really want
central London turned
into a gastronomic Dubai
or Las Vegas, with highend
operated by a coterie of
globally recognised chefs?
Rob Meadows, director at
restaurant property specialist
Davis Coffer Lyons, reckons
one in three enquiries he
receives about Mayfair
restaurants comes from
foreign companies; for Josh
Leon, head of central London
restaurants at commercial
property agents Colliers
International, it's 70 per cent.
"There are only a handful
of home-grown operators
operating solely in London
who compete financially in
Mayfair," Leon says.
There's an argument that if
you don't change, you die.
And certainly Ewan Venters'
rehabilitation of Fortnum
& Mason has made the Queen's grocer
(est. 1707) seem relevant for the 21st
century, nowhere more so than in spiffy
new restaurant 45 Jermyn Street. But what
of the rest of this exclusive street? Will
restaurants such as Wiltons (est. 1742)
suffer the same fate as Green's?
I hope not. Restaurants aren't just
about food, but the life they contain.
Parker Bowles has been quite moved by
customers' expression of sadness: "Rather
like at a memorial service, everyone says
nice things about the deceased." And as
Rankin says, "It's the differences in an
area that charm, not its uniformities."
So next time you're out for dinner
in Mayfair, put your money where your
mouth is and eat in a one-off.
"IT'S THE DIFFERENCES IN AN
AREA THAT CHARM, NOT ITS
UNIFORMITIES" GAVIN RANKIN
The Queen recently dined at Bellamy's. I'm
not sure of the protocol when faced with
one's monarch at the next table but it's not
something that should overly concern me.
The most famous person I've spotted recently
was Trinny (of Susannah fame) at Chiltern
Firehouse - while luckier friends have spied
the Spice Girls at Sexy Fish, Michael Fassbender
at Cecconi's and Kylie at Bob Bob Ricard. The
factor in common? They were all having lunch.
Dinner, clearly, is infra dig for today's A-listers.