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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

S

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.

CHAIN GANG

"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

international chains

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.

IN MOURNING

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

STAR SPOTTING

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.

'

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