London dining revolution keeps concierges on toes
The job has become a lot more difficult for London’s top concierges. A few years ago, the city wasn’t a dining destination. There were a few decent restaurants, and the safest bet was to eat at posh hotels serving expensive French cuisine.
Few people understand the extent of the dining revolution better than the concierges at hotels, who are now required to build relationships with restaurants across London — a city where novelty has come to trump tradition.
"To be a concierge in a London hotel 20 years ago you probably needed to know 10 maitre d’s," says the Savoy’s head concierge, Toru Machida. "But now it’s not 10, it’s 100."
While restaurants are opening at a furious pace, some former favourites are disappearing. These include Vineet Bhatia, a Chelsea stalwart for 13 years, which closed in October. Others, such as Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair start out hugely in demand before tables became a little easier as tastes changed and new kids arrived on the block.
Don’t get your hopes up for a table at the Araki, a Japanese establishment that gained its third Michelin star in October. There are just nine seats and even the best-connected concierges will struggle to get a booking.
Novikov, a Russian-owned Mayfair establishment, is a hit with the rich and beautiful. There are two restaurants (Asian and Italian). It’s near the Ritz, which helps explain why Michael de Cozar, the hotel’s head concierge, is kept busy chasing tables.
The flagship restaurant of TV chef Gordon Ramsay is in demand from the food crowd and celebrity lovers. It holds three Michelin stars and rightly so because the food is outstanding.
"It’s probably the most difficult place to get [into] in London," says Machida. That’s not bad going for a restaurant that opened in 1998. It’s expensive by London standards, though anyone from Paris might consider the £65 lunch menu a bargain.
Zuma, the contemporary Japanese restaurant in Knightsbridge, recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. Its food is excellent and the dining room glamorous.
De Cozar, a 44-year veteran at the Ritz, says Zuma is particularly difficult because guests from Middle Eastern countries often want tables for large groups, and they all like to eat later than typical Londoners. "It’s always full," he says.
Chiltern Firehouse, a Marylebone hotel and restaurant owned by the American hotelier Andre Balazs, was almost impossible to get into when it opened in 2014. It still draws A-listers by the dozen. It hasn’t lost that cachet, though it’s not as difficult to get into. "It’s a fun scene and rather jolly late at night," says Hugo Campbell-Davys, who founded the online Urbanologie concierge service. The Laddershed Club out back is the place to be.
Versailles-born Francois-Xavier Girotto, concierge at the Mandarin Oriental, says it has become a modern classic.
"It is always difficult to get Friday and Saturday evenings."
Sexy Fish, a Mayfair restaurant and cocktail bar, is big on bling, with extravagant and colourful designs. It features Esmerelda onyx marble floors, dark-oak-clad walls and pillars, antique smoky mirroring and raspberry leather banquettes and chairs, as well as artworks from the likes of Damien Hirst.
When Sexy Fish opened in October 2015, bouncers wouldn’t allow people through the door without a reservation.
It was never really about the food, which is a mishmash of Asian cuisines. It’s becoming easier to get a table these days, De Cozar says.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is one hotel dining room that has lost none of its allure since opening in early 2011. The food is king. Blumenthal is one of the world’s most celebrated chefs. Dinner, with two Michelin stars, offers lunch starting at £45. It’s in the Mandarin Oriental and is the most in-demand hotel restaurant in London, according to Harry Deasy, assistant head concierge at the Dorchester.
The Ivy in Covent Garden is celebrating its 100th anniversary. It’s the original London celebrity restaurant and is still crazy busy.
Owner Richard Caring is rolling out the brand like it’s going out of fashion. But the original, on West Street, is still a great place to dine.
It is relatively inexpensive, with friendly service and accessible food and wine. It’s much in demand, says Deasy, who notes that the Ivy Chelsea Garden is becoming a destination in its own right.
The Ledbury, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Notting Hill, flew under the radar when it opened in 2005.
The decor is more beige than bling, and chef Brett Graham is an understated kind of guy, preferring his kitchen to the TV studio. The quality of cooking became known by word of mouth. The Ledbury is among the top four or five restaurants in London for gastronomy, and tables can be hard to come by.
Park Chinois, a beautiful and alluring Chinese restaurant, cost almost £40m to open in 2015. The designs, the lighting, the materials, the staff uniforms — everything is in the best of taste. It’s a very expensive place to dine, but the food is also of the highest quality and you could pay as little as £26 for a two-course lunch if you were really trying. The late-night tables are most in demand from guests at the Dorchester and the Ritz.