Archive for March, 2010

Brand Management in the Internet Universe?

Posted on: March 26th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Today we discuss content (or rather brand) management in the internet age, including an exploration of how the internet era has developed (at pace) and the opportunities and challenges faced in making the most of this amazing resource.

It is quite extraordinary to think that search engine technology on the web has been around for little more than a dozen years. Google, following in the footsteps of the likes of Lycos and Alta Vista was launched in 1998.

Prior to search engines there had been directories – notably Yahoo! And DMOZ – but it was really the advent of the full functioning search engine that proved the key application to the growth of the world wide web, to everyday folk, outside of it’s previous home on private networks (AOL, Compuserve) or in educational institutions.

Breathtaking! Just twelve years AG (After Google). They used to say a web year was the equivalent of a quarter year real time – that would place the googled web universe at a comparison of 50 ‘regular industry years’ in it’s maturity. Sounds about right.

Naturally, the hand-in-hand expansion of bandwidth to a global level of broadband availability (at least what we understand of as broadband today) has provided an explosion in scope of the capabilities of the internet: From the promise of video on demand to the chance to conduct business ‘Martini style’ – anytime, any place, anywhere: From the world’s greatest reference library and encyclodpaedia to the promise of the most extraordinary interactive social networking platform: From the humble beginnings of a ‘private club’ to the expanding promise of an inclusive global community.

To everyday domestic users and to businesses for that matter, it is one thing to have access to such an extraordinary platform but if adding content were challenging then there would have been little to find in the web ether. It is with something of a double take that one realizes the mask and cloak of the ‘black art’ of website development was only removed within the last decade.

Only a select few have been literate, able and competent in HyperText Markup Language (HTML). I’m sure to many, pages of HTML code read like some baffling foreign language that could never be mastered. However, content appearing on the web was, from the beginning, written using this apparently obscure technology.

This fact may have again propagated the concept of the net as ‘private club for technocrats’ and seen the web left in the hands of a few enthusiasts rather than available and accessible to all. Two crucial early breakthroughs came from Vermeer Technologies and Pyra Labs. Neither company trips off the tounge?!

Vermeer were acquired by Microsoft in the late 1990s and repackaged as Microsoft Front Page. Pyra labs launched Blogger ( and were taken over by Google during a similar time period.

Both website development and the simpler attractive subset of blogging became relatively easy – people could write, draw, insert whatever data object (image, audio, video) in English and the tools would translate all the content into world wide web computerspeak – into HTML.

For the more advanced, the mid 1990s also saw the launch of Java (a project initiated by James Gosling at Sun Microsystems) as a C++ style programming language that would allow dynamic applications to be written once and run anywhere – an open, secure, internet application programming language. In an environment that moves at breathtaking speed, the platforms of HTML (more advanced versions of) and Java still form the basis of content and applications across the web today.

When fine-dining-guide was being considered in late 2003, a website was by far the most common vehicle for providing and sharing content.

There were forums; where those with common interests gathered to share posts on topics of conversation. There were blogs; where people wrote interactive diaries and perhaps posted some photographs (however these were nowhere near the endemic levels we have witnessed over the past few years.) There was little else.

The job of a search engine was relatively simple.

In effect, subsequent to the development of google, should you have wished to find material about Michelin Two Star chef Claude Bosi then typing into the search facility “Claude Bosi Interview” would return a straight forward list of everything you might want to know about the chef.

In fact, as of May 2010, typing this into google continues to return the early 2009 Bosi interview with fine-dining- guide as the number one result.

The internet world has however, moved on significantly to a state where such a level of enquiry is little more than adequate. PR, marketing and brand management has become substantially more complex.

Consider for instance the website of a brand – say a person, a restaurant, a company or even fine-dining- guide – as merely the ‘information hub.’

There exists a multitude of spokes to that hub on the internet wheel of 2010: Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, WordPress and iTunes podcasts are “spokes” that are redefining the web universe and setting new challenges for search engines as well as marketeers.

Each spoke is likely to contain unique information about the brand to attract the new or existing customer. While a set of consumers will seek out a restaurant website directly, a subset or new set (within differing demographic or social groupings) will be attracted to any one or more of the spokes.

This is why we see brands of all colours and flavours posting unique content to these new outposts on the internet, taking restaurants as an example: chef’s news to twitter, video cooking masterclass to YouTube, special restaurant offers to facebook , cellar tasting notes to a WordPress blog.

The website of the chef’s restaurant may merely act as an information hub – or core advert – saying follow me on twitter, be a fan (or now like) on facebook, visit flickr, see video on youtube or comment on a WordPress blog or download a podcast from iTunes.

From a consumers perspective, searching becomes far more challenging, likewise the vendor must consider how to make the task of access to information as simple as possible.

Let’s say that at some point in the future, a consumer searched on a brand then the returned results would encapsulate all the content in the web universe – the hub and spokes – in a single neat and attractive listing.

So for example, you type into google “fine dining guide” and returned is the hub (website) as the number one result, with the description “A site aimed at like minded enthusiasts, focusing on the top end of the restaurant business” and underneath the little pictures of iTunes, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, WordPress and so on.

Clicking on one or any of the pictures would take you directly to the corresponding content page on the internet that represented the brand, fine dining guide.

Indeed, the logo of fine-dining-guide would appear as a ‘common theme’ of the brand together with the common strap line and common description.

This last point is fundamental as to how content makers can make life easier for next generation search engine – get meta data consistent! Having consistent titles, descriptions, logos and strap lines whenever and wherever content is posted.

This will enable the search engines to make simple correlations across different internet spaces and amalgamate into a single search content listing. So for those coming anew to the internet space for brand development, consider first your information hub – or core advert – then expand into the spokes of the internet universe in a methodical and consistent manner.

This will surely serve you best in both the present and the future and save you significant time and effort in replacing content descriptions at some point in the future to adhere to a consistent internet marketing strategy.

Be also aware that, for example, a byproduct of the twitter phenomenon is that the internet era is increasingly ‘immediate savvy’ – content must be new, unique and fresh – a headline is no longer enough, make content appealing, interesting and exciting or page views are at a risk of dwindling before they have begun!

This level of granularity is however, not as interesting as the general breathtaking speed of the internet universe development; of new social networking platforms building at pace before our eyes; of reach and touch of communications ascending proportions never before even dreamt.

One can only wonder, with a pinch of fear and a dash of excitement at the extraordinary path down which we are being led…

Chef Interview: Brett Graham (March 2010)

Posted on: March 12th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Brett Graham is a man who has achieved a great deal in a relatively short space of time: Holder of two Michelin Stars in his flagship restaurant (The Ledbury) and a Michelin Star at a second (The Harwood Arms).

From spending time with Brett, one cannot help but feel admiration for a near boundless ‘never quite satisfied, can’t relax’ inner energy, balanced by a generosity of spirit. One suspects, too, that there remains a level of untapped potential, which may see him go to the very top of the world-wide stage of this great industry.

Brett found time to speak to Simon Carter of fine-dining guide.

Brett Graham

Tell us some background about yourself?

I grew up in a small town, just outside of Newcastle (Australia), called Williamtown. There was no real food culture and going to smart restaurants was not something we did in the family, not something I was really aware of anybody doing.

I was never someone who had a mental picture of a mapped out career, although I remember having been vaguely interested in becoming a vet.

One day, this mate of mine came back from England who had been restaurant cooking – he said I really should give that a try. I was open to the idea and when, at the age of 15, a week’s work experience placement came up at a restaurant called Scratchley’s on the Wharf, Newcastle, I took the job. I was hooked; fascinated by the whole experience!

The week of work experience turned into two and a half years of work (at Scratchley’s) – I left school as early as possible because I couldn’t wait to start cooking; I don’t regret that, although gaining your HSC qualification is typically a sensible thing to do as a young Australian.

As I was about to turn 18, a chef called Liam Tomlin – who was from Ireland and had worked in a number of very good places in Great Britain and Ireland – was opening a restaurant in Sydney; it would prove to be an excellent natural progression.

However I recall not understanding too much; for example, as I walked past the head chef on my first day, slapped him on the back and said ‘how yer doin,’ mate?’ He took to me to one side and said ‘what are you doing?’ I had not had proper exposure to the chef hierarchy in a professional kitchen before and didn’t realise that it is a trade where you simply do not have familiarity with your boss. (laughing).

When the restaurant opened – and it was aiming to be a top three-hatted restaurant – it was huge pressure. When the first order came in the head chef called the order ‘rien avant; one John Dory one salmon’ – the following lunchtime he called a similar order starting the same ‘rien avant…’ So I walked round the pass and said to the head chef, ‘hey mate, you know that guy ‘rien avant’ was also in yesterday!’ I thought I was helping and of course ‘rien avant’ means mains only (literally ‘nothing before’). (laughing).

For about 6 months I would say ridiculous things like that all the time – like trying to figure a recipe and asking ‘what’s vin roogee [sic].’ (Laughing)

But the sheer speed of learning experience and pressure set me up very well – a lot of perseverance and hard work; we went through 35 chefs in 6 months and I stayed two and half years. He (Liam, who believed in me) made me realise that I would have to work 80 plus hours a week and have fatigue headaches and sometimes feel sick with tiredness but it was part of what was required to become successful in the trade!

I look back on those two and half years as singularly the most important in my career as they led to The Square, which in turn led to The Ledbury.

How did your association with Phil Howard come about?

One of the chefs that left in the first 6 months travelled over to London and spent some time at The Square, when he came back we were in touch and he spoke very highly of Phil Howard and the restaurant and thought I should go over and give working there a try…so I did.

I went for a day’s trial in the kitchen and was initially taken on doing ice creams, sorbets and chocolates as a commis in the back room.

Within a year and a half of having started I had worked my way around the kitchen very quickly to the position of junior sous chef. Robert Weston was sous chef and is still at The Square (and a really fantastic cook). Between Phil and Robert they taught me a lot about ingredients, quality of ingredients, the seasons and preparation. They really polished me up in cooking terms, although I feel that Liam Tomlin had ingrained the need for consistency into me prior to arriving at The Square.

And what was the sequence of events that lead to The Ledbury?

I was working at The Square and got a fair amount of attention after winning a Young Chef of The Year Award. Phil (Howard) just came up to me one day and asked if I’d like to run a restaurant in London. I really wasn’t sure and gave it some serious thought; my English girlfriend had been very supportive of the whole idea but I knew it would mean staying in London for 5,10 or 20 years and not going home to Australia. In all, it took a couple of years before we found a site; the site which is now The Ledbury.

Nigel Platts-Martin did the majority of searching for the new site and negotiating. He spotted that this part of Notting Hill was an up and coming area. When we came along and looked at the building and surroundings, we realised he was right but that it would need a complete refurbishment.

While that was happening I took the opportunity to take some time out and went travelling round the world. Then came back and did a little bit of work at La Trompette before starting at The Ledbury.

And how did the Harwood Arms come about?

There was a sous chef here (The Ledbury) called Steve Williams who is now the head chef at The Harwood Arms. A very talented guy who decided he wanted to pursue a slightly different area. I recognised a real talent as well as a good friend and decided that whatever he wanted to do, I wanted to be part of backing him.

I stayed in touch with Steve while he worked in a kind of Deli for a year before putting it to him that we set up somewhere like the Harwood Arms. He felt this was exactly what he wanted to do, but before we could go any further we needed to sort out the site, the finances and have Steve back at The Ledbury to work on pastry for a year.

I must have been to The Harwood Arms over a dozen times checking it out and it felt like home, I got that real gut feeling about it as a place where I thought customers would enjoy spending a night out.

It was a very big move to open a pub. I had to tell my business partners here and persuade my girlfriend that it would be a great. We did the refurbishment in 5-6 weeks on an absolute shoestring. We opened the week the credit crunch headlines came out. There were all the usual teething troubles in the kitchen and front of house. In spite of these things, when you have the right chef, the right team, the right venue and the right product then you can still do very well.

The pub is now really flying and the Michelin Star has come as a massive surprise and we’re delighted. When Derek Bulmer phoned last month, he said congratulations on the two stars at The Ledbury, you’re the only new two stars in London and also…The Harwood Arms is receiving its first star. I was gobsmacked, could hardly speak, great news!

How do you achieve the work/life balance while being a chef/patron?

I was hoping you were going to give me the recipe! It’s tough! Yes, you still have to work long hours and while I’m working on getting a balance, I’m by no means there yet! In the last couple of years I’ve learned a lot about people management, delegation and communication.

Gone are the days where a restaurant that’s open thirteen services a week sees a head chef in the kitchen every service. We have such increased demand here at The Ledbury that we have decided to close for Monday lunch, which will enable us to utilise this time to develop new dishes and concentrate on staff training.

I’ve been in for all bar three services in the last three weeks and to an extent that has to change – nine or ten out of thirteen a week will be more practical and sensible.

I also, of course, enjoy shooting and get out to Berkshire as often as possible during the game season.

So how would you describe your management style?

Someone who likes the control of knowing that the details are right for each and every customer, however, at the same time, respecting the developmental needs that come from delegation of responsibility to everyone in the kitchen.

I can, on occasion, be temperamental but that’s only a reflection of wanting to get the job done and the job done right. We all need to work together to protect the reputation of The Ledbury, to also maintain standards and consistency for the customer. There have probably been three main results of this approach: There has been staff turnover, if cooks deliver something not good enough for the standard we are looking for then they move on: There’s been staff loyalty; at the end of last year there were five in the kitchen who had been here since the day of opening: There’s been progression, we have a guy who started as a kitchen porter who looked, listen and worked hard and is now on the pastry section.

I would say I’m learning all the time and this is reflected in the overall development of the restaurant.

How do you go about sourcing your produce?

A mixture of local (British), artisan and European. What customers demand is the best quality and receiving that quality consistently. So we will source our fish from Looe, our game from Berkshire and about 40% of vegetables locally. In certain cases, let’s say pigeons, you can’t find pigeons in this country that are bred to the standards that we require. In this case, we simply have to go abroad.

Having said that, there may be some fabulous quality produce from artisan providers but you simply can’t run dishes based on their produce every day on the Carte because the volume isn’t there – from time to time we may be able to support them through specials on the menu.

Overall, the key words where sourcing is concerned are quality, reliability and consistency – all the things that our customers demand from our restaurant and we, in turn, aim to deliver.

How would you describe your gastronomy?

Well the cooking is based on classical techniques but I would say ‘modern French’. At The Ledbury we may take classic combinations and add a new interpretation; for instance a puree of white onions might contain liquorice and be served with pigeon with the legs smoked on fennel sticks. Again, a roast john dory with pumpkin and ginger with a little Clementine juice in the pumpkin and so on.

So I like the customers to have a little to think about in the food while I certainly don’t want to go over the edges of classical boundaries.

How often does the menu change?

It’s predominantly seasonal although we do all our printing in house so making a change to the menu is operationally straight forward and we will add or remove dishes every couple of weeks; mainly to keep us all fresh and focused.

Have you found your cooking ‘signature’?

No and I hope I never do. By that I mean there’s a need to be constantly evolving, progressing and developing – as a person, a chef, a team, a restaurant and a business. If each of us improves what we do 5% year on year, then I’ll be a happy man. In fact this year I intend to put real focus on taking the restaurant up a notch and finding the next level. A lot of focus will go into dish conception, preparation and execution that will hopefully excite a whole new number of customers.

What are the sizes of front of house and kitchen brigades?

The Ledbury employs around thirty-five staff, which is split roughly equally between front of house and kitchen.

What are you proudest professional achievements?

Having the satisfaction of looking at the customer sheet every day and seeing how many are returning guests and how far in advance we are booked! Two years ago we knew it was going to be a tough market so we set out to look after our customers as best as possible and look to build up loyalty from a customer base.

Years earlier, when the first Michelin star came along I was under so much pressure that I couldn’t really enjoy it but when the second one arrived we really enjoyed it – even though we only had time to have a quick glass of champagne in between services!

What are plans for the future in the industry?

To be cooking here at The Ledbury and maximising its potential by constantly look at what we do in the restaurant (The Ledbury). There is no long-term plan outside of what we are doing with the restaurant and maintaining focus on development of The Ledbury.

There are no plans to open more restaurants (in addition to the Harwood Arms), not to say that opportunity won’t arise, I’m a firm believer that you find the right person first and then worry about finances and the rest later – The right person is the right choice in this business!

Interview: Laura Ward, Sommelier Vivat Bacchus (2010)

Posted on: March 11th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Laura Ward (Sommelier, Vivat Bacchus, Farringdon)

While enthusing about her wine experiences, one cannot help but be captivated by Laura’s genuine and naturally disarming charm.

Over the space of forty-five minutes she shares, at breathless pace, her knowledge of- and fascination for- this great subject.

Those customers who choose to seek the Sommelier’s advice and guidance at Vivat Bacchus, Farringdon will be more than likely to leave the restaurant wiser and completely satisfied.

Interview by Simon Carter, editor of fine-dining-guide. Interview took place March 2010.

Tell us some background about yourself ?

From a very young age I was obsessed with food and dining, which ultimately led to undertaking a Hospitality degree. A few of the modules within that degree were food and wine related. Post graduation (In 2006) I was fortunate enough to go travelling and have the opportunity to incorporate some vineyard visits: In, among others, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina.

I also had the experience of a number of temporary jobs working in food & beverage at typically five star quality hotels. By the time I came home from my travels I was one hundred percent convinced that my future was in wine.

Consequently, I researched the best ways to go forward in terms of qualifications and enrolled on the Wine and Spirit Education Trust courses at London Bridge.

In gaining the diploma, there was a lot of theory, such as into the making and business of wine but also practical tasks; such as blind tasting of wines to understand good quality from poor, one grape variety from another and so on.

I started a job at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant and worked my way up to assistant head sommelier. They were a good employer and during my time there went on a number of wine related trips. The first was champagne, which was fun! The majority of trips were around the Italian wine and food regions. The accent at Fifteen was naturally Italian cuisine and Italian wine was a natural complement to the food. Piedmont stood out for the wonderful food and my favourite grape variety in the world – Nebbiolo.

I stayed at Fifteen for three years and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. At the start of 2009 I was looking for a fresh challenge and in April of that year came to Vivat Bacchus in Farringdon.

What makes a good Sommelier ?

Being a good sommelier means getting it right with the myriad of customers that walk through the door every day. Each customer is slightly different so each offers a unique challenge.

Some will have pre-conceived ideas about what they like and want, while others will be open to a discussion and to trying something that they perhaps had not previously considered.

Should the sommelier have the opportunity to consult – to advise and guide – then it is essential that he/she have adequate knowledge. A very wise man once said ‘know your cellar, taste everything in your cellar!’ We have wines at Vivat Bacchus going up to £15,000 a bottle so I may never have that luxury but nevertheless I have that needed level of confidence in my knowledge to do my job effectively.

Understanding a customer’s palate from a description of what they are looking for from a wine can be one of the most rewarding and exciting aspects of the job.

It may be that you are able to bring them exactly what they are describing, but equally it is a great thrill when you bring them an alternative, which in the end they find at least as satisfying.

Are Sommeliers specific wine experts or can they come from general front-of-house ?

I think it can be both. So long you have a genuine enthusiasm for the subject, a genuine passion, it doesn’t matter whether you have come from general front-of-house background or specifically from a strong wine foundation.

It is naturally important for sommeliers to have an all round skill set – to be able to interact with customers in the style of the restaurant and understand the order of service and so on. In fact I have a friend working on the wine service at a famous Michelin starred restaurant who had to trial as regular front-of-house team member before being offered the sommelier position.

What do you think of the wine introduction or ‘presentation’ at the table ?

The wine presentation is important but again you have to judge the audience: Should you have a table of businessmen who are on a tight timescale and are not looking for any interruptions then perhaps it is less relevant.

In the main people like to have an introduction of a chosen wine, it is part and parcel of the dining out experience.

At Fifteen restaurant, the majority of guests were dining purely to try Jamie Oliver’s take on Italian food and the wine was mainly secondary. The restaurant always only offered a tasting menu, with the wine pairings an optional elemtent. Those who did the wine pairings were always enthusiastic and loved and gained from the experience.

What are your personal favourite wine regions ?

Italy has thousands of indigenous grape varieties and is both exciting and confusing: Exciting because there’s always something new to learn and understand around the corner, it’s also been the most absorbing region for food and wine matching in my career to date: Confusing because some wines are named after the region and some the grape variety and it takes a while to navigate your way around.

I’ve also done some studies on South African wine and with Vivat Bacchus there is a natural focus on that country. The country has a lot more history than say Australia or New Zealand but without the cultural heritage of France. So it is neither Old nor New World but somewhere in between and in many ways this is reflected in her wines.

Chenin Blanc and Pinotage are arguably their stand out varieties and the quality has gone up and up over the last few years (particularly since independence from the KWV). Since the onset of the global recession, South African exports have stormed ahead while other countries have suffered.

How do you go about wine and food matching ?

From a country perspective, I admire those regions within countries that naturally or historically marry food with wine. The local cuisine and wine paired together.

From a general fine dining perspective there are some rules: If it’s a rich dish then the body of the wine must stand up to that richness: A dish with strong flavours needs a wine with high flavour intensity to stand up to those flavours: Don’t much heavy tannins with fish as it will taste metallic….and so on.

At the same time apparent opposites may work; an amazing sweet wine with a really salty blue cheese is one of the best matches in the world. The fascinating thing about wine with food is that unlikely pairings may work well – in the same way great chefs tell you that innovative ingredient combinations work in a new recipe.

In addition, one can always add flavours to a dish, in other words it’s not always important to use the wine to mirror flavours in the food. The wine may almost become part of the recipe of ingredients that evolve and enhance the dish.

It’s often true that the Old World or “Older” world wines have been developed with food in mind whereas New World wines stand alone more easily as a social drink without the food.

What trends do you see in the marketplace ?

The New World generally has done well in the recession. Australia (the country which perhaps began the ‘New World Revolution’) has maybe, for one reason or another, lost out in tough economic times but overall the New World is easier for people to understand and quality is there at a price point.

South Africa has done very well with a price point to suit every pocket. Naturally there has developed a number of wine producing countries that a few years ago may not have been associated with producing great or interesting wines. To pull an example out of the air – Greek white wines – you may not see them in retail shops but in top fine dining Michelin restaurants they are found quite readily. Why? Because they have developed the required quality and consistency – if they hadn’t you wouldn’t see them!

Has the end customer become more knowledgeable about wine ?

That’s quite difficult to answer. Why? At Vivat Bacchus we have a group of extremely enthusiastic customers who come to a wine club every Monday and are so passionate about their wines. They may not be representative of the general market.

As one observation, the growth in tasting menus in fine dining restaurants has had the natural by-product of placing an emphasis on the ability to match wine with food; the customers’ level of interest and expertise has expanded in conjunction with this trend.

How do you go about sourcing wines ?

We go to tastings that are held by a number of suppliers. Vivat Bacchus change the wine list four times a year, pretty much in line with the seasons. There may be, for instance, more reds in winter and more whites in summer.

How do you determine mark-ups ?

Generally speaking the higher volume, lower priced wines would have a higher mark-up and the higher priced, lower volume wines a lower mark-up. The house will have a Gross Profit target to meet and mark-ups are maintained with that in mind.

We may also look at the value add, for example people will have wine with the meal but may or may not have an aperitif, so Champagne may be marked up a little lower to encourage the customer to drink a little more!

What are your long term plans in the field ?

I’m at Vivat Bacchus for the foreseeable future but in the long term I would love to own a deli or wine bar. This would be in London as I love the London wine scene.

At the same time I love the idea of wine travelling and experiencing the cultures of wine around the world and exploring the ever expanding universe of wine!

Bistrot Bruno Loubet, Restaurant Review (March 2010)

Posted on: March 10th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

It was with genuine delight and much anticipation that I greeted the news of Bruno Loubet’s return to London. I rushed off to dig out the menus and bills of his old London restaurants I had filed away – what a sad life I lead! At Gastronome One, The Four Seasons at the Inn on the Park, Bistrot Bruno and L’Odeon, from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, Bruno excelled in meeting the varied needs of bistro, brasserie and fine dining, winning in the process the Good Food Guide Young Chef of the Year award (1985 at Gastronome One) and a Michelin star (Four Seasons, 1989)

Of all his restaurants, Bistrot Bruno made the greatest impression in its relatively short existence (1992-95). This cramped, narrow and uncomfortably furnished Soho dining room became a magnet for serious foodies, inspiring many repeat visits. I personally ate there twenty eight times in three years. Memories came flooding back of the wonderful, often ground breaking dishes: scallops with black pudding; rabbit leg with lime pickled potatoes; shallot tatin with chicken livers and balsamic reduction. These and many more demonstrated Bruno’s greatest asset: his food IS memorable.

Primarily it is the great depth of flavour, but also the generosity, the lack of pretension, and the brilliant innovations to the classical rustic cuisine of south west France. Indeed, his pioneering spirit has resulted in dishes such as scallops and black pudding and vegetable tatins being commonplace on current restaurant menus.

After nearly ten years in Australia, where he also met with critical acclaim at three different restaurants, he has set up as chef patron of Bistrot Brunot Loubet at the Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell. In partnership with Mark Sainsbury and Michael Benyan, Bruno hopes to leave his indelible mark on London eating, initially in a part of the capital which has seen a flowering of hotels, bars and restaurants.

The 85 cover ground floor dining room at the Zetter has floor to ceiling windows which adds to the sense of space. It is curved like L’Odeon, wider than Bistrot Bruno, but not as grand as the Four Seasons. Its modern eclectic design incorporates room dividers decked with modern and antique clutter (such as Victorian jelly moulds) and spot and lampshade lighting. Classic wooden bistro dining tables and chairs are closely arranged together. There is an open kitchen with the passe in close proximity to the diners. This is very much to Bruno’s advantage, given that he loves to be at the helm in the kitchen, instead of in front of the television cameras!

The menu is carefully judged both in terms of the range of dishes and pricing structure. Starters range from £6.50 -£8, mains from £14 to £18, and desserts £5- £6.50. A du jour menu features three courses of dishes for two, including a tureen of soup left on the table for people to help themselves. This innovation is designed to encourage sharing the joys of the table, a key part of his “social eating” philosophy

Bruno’s cooking is not for faint hearted or conservative diners. Big, bold flavours and intense sauces are hallmarks of his food. As one would expect of bistro cooking, quenelles, smears and coulis are shunned in favour of a more straightforward and unadorned look; although apparent simplicity may belie the sophistication of execution. The menu also features playful modifications of the classics. Consider, for instance, Bruno’s take on French onion soup which benefits from the addition of cider and is garnished with an upside down emmenthal soufflé instead of the usual cheese topped crouton.

Bread is baked and served in a clay flower pot, a novel if inexplicable feature. An amuse bouche of lightly pickled sardine allowed the freshness of the fish to shine through.

A cold tuna starter is a major innovative dish that could become a classic. Layered batons of seared tuna are pressed in a terrine and layered with lardo di Conolatta, giving the lean fish a degree of succulence. The sliced terrine revealed a stunning marbled effect. The richness of this “surf and turf” dish is cut by an apple puree spiked with wasabi, whilst textural contrast is given by a celeriac remoulade.

Truffled mushroom royale served in an eggshell had a heady, earthy fragrance. The accompanying melba toast had tiny piped mounds of parmesan cream topped with walnut pesto. This combination of strong flavours worked well, creating a taste sensation. Pan fried loin of English rose veal was well flavoured and served in its own light broth. This confirmed Bruno’s all round versatility with simple as well as complex dishes. Two dishes demonstrated the real essence of south western French cookery with modern adaptations:

Pan fried breast of wood pigeon was perfectly timed to a medium rare that prevented it from becoming like liver, whilst the giblet sauce complimented the deep gaminess of the bird. Thinly sliced raw cauliflower florets, almonds and quinoa proved unusual but appropriate garnishes, their crisp texture balancing the softness of the pigeon.

The piece de resistance came with the hare royale, a classic dish simplified for bistro dining. Served as a generous slice of ballotine, Bruno’s version includes pieces of the meat and offal in an unctuously intense red wine sauce thickened with hare blood. Purists would note that foie gras was absent, but this did not detract from the overall success of the dish, indeed the foie gras was not needed. The onion raviolo added another savoury note, being a variation on the pasta usually served with this dish. The pumpkin puree was enlivened with dried mandarin zest which added an element of sweetness. Again, bold innovation of this kind allows Bruno’s food to advance the culinary boundaries beyond its strictly classical limits.

Dessert, a warm tarte of brioche, rhubarb and crème fraiche, was exemplary in its light texture and fine balance of sweet and sour elements. Other items such as lemon crème brulee with jasmine tea sorbet and apple and quince mille feuille with chilled orange blossom sabayon showed imaginative variations on classic themes.

Service is friendly and relaxed, if occasionally too hurried. Nevertheless, the overall impression is of a genuine desire to please, with helpful suggestions given when requested.

Bruno has taken a bold, brave step in returning to England at the age of 48, after such a long time abroad and with major changes to the London restaurant scene. Initially aiming to open a gastropub with its own smallholding, he was persuaded to embark on another project in London instead. Bistrot Bruno is an all day eating establishment so the pressure is even greater. Is he capable of maintaining that creative spark, that genuine passion for cooking, that determination to succeed at the highest level? Will he be able to survive the competition? All the evidence in the short time since he opened portents well for the future, and certainly Londoners have welcomed him back as a long lost friend.

Quilon, Victoria, London, Restaurant Review March 2010

Posted on: March 10th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Located in the handsome red bricked building in Victoria that was once the St James’s Hotel but now the Crowne Plaza, Quilon is part of Adi Modi’s Taj International group. Sister restaurant of the celebrated Bombay Brasserie, but never in its shadow, Quilon has achieved distinction in its own right.

The award of a Michelin star in 2008 was the culmination of a string of accolades which included Best Indian restaurant in ‘The Good Curry Guide’ (2001), one of the five best restaurants in the ‘Time Out’ food guide,(2003), and a “Five Star Diamond Award” from the American Academy of Hospitality Science

In addition, Quilon won the Wine Spectator’s prestigious Award of Excellence in 2009.

The elegant split level dining room, divided by pillars, is vibrantly decorated in rich colours of brown, red and gold.. A back wall features a large, bright mural of a mangrove swamp, so characteristic of the Malabar Coast. Backlit showcases of Indian artefacts, further add to the opulent feel. Tables are generous in size and well spaced. The wicker backed chairs – if not the velvet banquettes – are reminiscent of the British Raj. Quilon is, thankfully, one of the few restaurants where the lighting is not dimmed at night. Why is it that most restaurateurs assume people prefer to eat dinner in semi darkness?

Chef Aylur Sriram, named one of the top five chefs in India, has had a distinguished career at the southern west-coast restaurant Kakravalli and at the Taj West End hotel in Bangalore. His approach is described as one of traditional home style cooking, with the blending of traditional eastern flavours and modern western culinary techniques. Lighter, clean tasting sauces, with the cautious use of ghee, and displaying multi-layered flavours, are essential hallmarks of his cooking.

Although Quilon is the largest importer of South Indian spices in the whole of the UK, dishes are not overloaded with heat; indeed great subtlety in the use of spices is a main factor is the restaurant’s success. Diners are informed in advance of the medium to low degree of spicing of most of the dishes.

Specialising in the cuisine of India’s South West Malabar Coast, which embraces the states of Kerala, Goa & Karnataka, Quilon offers a wide range of seafood and vegetable dishes to balance the lamb, poultry and game options on its eclectic menu. As one would expect, the seafood dishes are the main attraction. These include spiced grilled Red Snapper, pan fried Lobster with Kashmundi mustard cream sauce and spices, chargrilled whole sea bass cooked with tomato, lime juice and chilli, and served wrapped in a banana leaf..

What impressed us at an inspection visit was not only the quality of the dishes on the carte but also the attention paid to incidentals. Chutneys and dips were lively and fresh, whilst crisp, flaky parathas came warm from the oven. An appetising glass of rasam, a thin tomato and lentil soup enlivened with tamarind, was served as a middle course.

Four starters began a memorable meal. An innovative vegetarian dish of smoked mushroom and soya bean chop had the texture of a croquette and was mildly flavoured. A delicious mini lamb shank had been slow roasted to a delicate, melting consistency. Peppered prawns, fried in a thin batter then mixed with a tomato and onion masala, excited the taste buds but was not overpowering, despite the menu description of “fiery.” Grilled scallops with mango and chilli was, perhaps, the least successful dish, the sweet and spicy salsa not marrying well with the delicate seafood.


Of the main courses, Black baked cod was outstanding. Subtly spiced, the marinated chunk of fish had a sweet, barbequed flavour and a melt in the mouth texture. Soft and juicy slices of Guinea Fowl were coated with a contrasting thick masala of corinader, green chilli and tomato that made the mild gamey taste of the bird come alive. Manglorean chicken, flavoured with kori grass and cooked in finely ground fresh coconut, had a gentle, satisfying quality. On a much more spicy note was the Koondapur fish curry which featured halibut chunks in a thin coconut, onions, tamarind and chilli sauce. All the above dishes exhibited precise cooking and well balanced combinations of ingredients that retained their vitality.

Of the vegetable dishes on offer, thinly sliced okra was crisply fried in a light batter and tossed in onion, tomato and crushed pepper. This proved a perfect accompaniment to the fish, meat and rice. Lemon rice had been tossed in lime juice, curry leaves, split bengal gram and ghee whilst Tomato rice also included onion and mint.

Desserts included a Goan speciality called Bibinca, and Dodhol, pressed layered pancakes encasing jaggery, a delectable fudge like puree. This was served with cracked pepper ice-cream.

The overall experience of dining at Quilon was enhanced by the excellent acoustics, the absence of piped music and, most of all, by the knowledgeable, attentive but unobtrusive service, overseen by the charming manager, Shantanu Mazumdar,

Prices reflect the excellent quality of the ingredients and the refined skills of the cooking. However, expenditure need not break the bank. In addition to the carte, there is a five course beer and food menu and a good value set lunch.

Overall, is not difficult to see why Quilon has won the attention it has received. Its food, décor and ambience is as far removed from the local Indian restaurant as the Malabar coast is from the UK. It caters to an ever increasing market ofdiscerning clients who will not be satisfied with the second rate, so its continued success is well deserved

Vivat Bacchus, Farringdon, Restaurant Review March 2010

Posted on: March 10th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Vivat Bacchus has long been attracting discerning wine lovers since its opening in November 2005. Located on the ground floor and in the basement of a glass fronted office block on busy Farringdon Street, this wine bar and restaurant has gained a solid following in the City and Clerkenwell, and from those further afield.

The low ceilinged ground floor, with its long bar serving good value wine by the glass or bottle and an informal, tapas style menu, also boasts a dedicated tasting room for the popular Wine Club.

However, the real treasures of Vivat Bacchus are to be found in the basement where five cellars house over 18,000 bottles. The award-winning wine list – which only shows a small percentage of what is actually stored – is strong on South Africa, from where the owner originates. Choice bottles from the country’s best producers, including many rare vintages released directly from the estates, are to be found here.

Nevertheless, France, Italy, Spain, California, Australia and New Zealand are also well represented. Head Sommelier Laura Ward expertly guides visitors around the vaults so they can make a more informed choice. There is also a walk in, temperature controlled cheese room, from where diners choose from an extensive range of English and Continental varieties

The basement restaurant would not, on first impressions, seem a suitable venue for an ambitious chef to display his talent. This bare bricked chamber, with parts of the ceiling exposing water pipes and air conditioning shafts, has an uncarpeted floor with cramped tables and narrow, uncomfortable chairs. The decoration, understandably, emphasises the wine, whether in the framed enlarged labels of the great vintages or the wooden plaques of the wine houses that adorn the walls. Moreover, the adjacent glass fronted wine cellars and cheese room would seem to be cunningly designed to divert the diner’s attention away from the table.

All this might suggest that food is secondary, with the cooking of mediocre, unimaginative dishes, typical of so many wine bars. Happily, this is not the case, especially since the recent arrival of a new Head Chef, Jordi Vila.

Immensely driven and keen to make his mark, he is meticulous in the sourcing of supplies and determined to refine his skills, along with those of his small brigade in the kitchen.

At lunch, an excellent value set menu is on offer. In the evenings, the carte and a tasting menu show the full extent of his repertoire. Jordi’s style is modern European with a twist.

His experience in the kitchens of Michelin three starred chefs has been of immense value: Ferran Adria of El Bulli taught him the importance of textures: Joel Robouchon in London helped him to develop his understanding of flavour. Jordi has combined these, along with his own creative talent, to produce a distinctive eclectic style of cooking that was admirably demonstrated in an inspection tasting menu. The matching wines, expertly chosen by Head Sommelier Laura Ward, proved perfect partners for the food.

The meal began with an unusual aperitif of warm but not over powering Parmesan consommé, which was strikingly served in a cocktail glass.

An amuse bouche of seared scallop came with its coral and a perfectly smooth cauliflower puree. The herring caviar garnish not only provided a colourful garnish but also added a mild salinity to balance the caramelized sweetness of the scallop.

(Served with Jospeh Perrier Brut NV champagne)

A cold dish of smoked eel had a delectable gentle creaminess. Garnished with beetroot and salad leaves, the dish may have benefited from greater enhancing emphasis on the celeriac remoulade (to provide the robust mustard flavour and contrasting texture that promotes so effectively this type of fish.)

(Served with Chardonnay 2008, Glen Carlou (Paarl SA)

Pan fried foie gras had all the rich and melting qualities one would expect of this luxurious slice of offal. The accompanying ice cream revealed a perfect smoothness and contrasting temperature, whilst grilled mango and poppy seed tuile gave sweetness of flavour and crispness of texture.

(Served with Chenin Blanc 2008. The FMC (Stellenbosch, SA)

Cactus and lime sorbet provided a refreshing, slightly herby and citrus palate cleanser

The Springbok main course not only reflected an amalgam of different cuisines but also novel cooking techniques. The meat, which naturally lacks the depth of flavour of venison, was well timed to a medium rare. However, its coating of finely roasted then ground spring onion and leek added an unusual and not totally agreeable texture. Sweet pumpkin puree, cubes of sangria jelly and chocolate sauce provided sweetness, but the addition of lychee was one ingredient too far.

(Served with Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Springfield (Robertson 2008 SA )

A visit to the cheese room resulted in the serving of perfectly ripe portions of Langres, Mont d’Or, Comte and Fourme d’ Ambert. These were served on a colourful and beautifully presented wooden platter with home made plum chutney and biscuits

(Served with Cote du Rhone 2005, Domaine Charvin (Southern Rhone Valley, FR)

A dessert of Chocolate textures proved a veritable tour de force. A delicate chocolate dome encasing a caramel ice cream, and served with a sauce flavoured with thyme, excited the senses and proved a brilliant ending to a memorable meal.

(Served with Banyuls Rimage “Les Clos de Paulilles” 2007)

Whilst not successful in every respect, the sum was greater than the parts. Overall, this was, indeed, most accomplished cooking. The quality of ingredients, the exact timing, the clean tastes and elegant presentation was impressive and heralded the arrival of an exciting new talent.

Service at Vivat Bacchus was friendly, attentive and knowledgeable. It is rare for a waiter to be able to describe a complicated cooking technique, but ours made a brave attempt with the Springbok coating.

Jordi Vila has succeeded in showing that a more informal, less grand setting is not incompatible with fine dining. Indeed, Vivat Bacchus has now achieved a serious level of food to match its sophisticated and extensive provision of wine, to a far greater degree than most establishments in this part of London. What might have once been a convenient place for a quick lunch, or a stop over before catching the train home, now has the potential to become a destination restaurant. Certainly, foodies should now monitor its progress with interest.

The popularity of the restaurant will also have been aided by inclusion on the toptable website, where the combination of interesting offers and favourable reviews can only have helped boost demand.

Chef Interview: Bruno Loubet (March 2010)

Posted on: March 10th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Bruno Loubet

A returning star to the firmament of the London restaurant scene, Bruno Loubet has been welcomed back with open arms – like saying hello again to a long lost friend.

The earthy, hearty, gutsy cooking style remains as does a surprise or two. Perhaps a few grey hairs are now in evidence but little else has changed after a near decade’s absence (in Australia).

Bruno Loubet (left) found time to speak to Simon Carter and Daniel Darwood of fine-dining-guide at his new home, The Zetter Hotel, in Clerkenwell, London. Interview took place in March 2010.

Tell us some background about yourself?

I am forty eight years old and I started at fourteen so that’s thirty four years in the industry! I started at Catering College in Bordeaux until the age of seventeen. I did my national service in the navy and ended up staying an extra six months, so eighteen months in total, and was an officer and head chef cooking for the admiral.

I left the navy and applied to about thirty different kitchens all over Europe that had two or three Michelin Stars. The only one that offered me a job was Pierre Koffman at La Tante Claire in London. I enjoyed the experience but it was very tough and I only stayed there a relatively short time. I was about twenty one years old when I started working in a small restaurant called Gastronome One in Fulham.

The fashion in London at the time was nouvelle cuisine but I was doing something different – more rustic south western French food. Having said that, the top end of the market was maybe classic French – Nico Ladenis, The Roux brothers, Raymond Blanc, Pierre Koffman then perhaps most others were doing nouvelle cuisine.

At Gastronome One I was cooking braised beef with prune or salad of confit duck gizzard which at the time was different or unique (but now is more common place) and Drew Smith at the Good Food Guide was kind enough or brave enough to rate the food 16/20 and make me the Young Chef of The Year.

One day, I happened to have a long four hour chat with Raymond Blanc. I had just had a baby girl and was 23 and needed a stable position with a good salary. So, I decided to take up Raymond’s offer to join the kitchens at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons.

At that time John Burton-Race was cooking at Le Petit Blanc and aiming for Michelin stars. Raymond (Blanc) decided that more casual dining would be better at that restaurant, so John moved on to set up L’Ortolan, and after spending a year in the kitchens at Le Manoir, I took over at Le Petit Blanc.

I cooked there for the best part of three years and we were full lunch and dinner; some days we would have double the demand for the number of covers available.

Then Raymond invited me to go back to Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons but at the same time I was approached by the Four Seasons Hotel at Hyde Park. I had the opportunity to cook what I wanted to cook and have carte blanche in a top London Hotel.

Within a year we received the first Michelin Star and won a number of awards over the following four years. It was a really exciting time for me personally, it was like a chef in an independent restaurant giving a 100% to do new and exciting food. In comparison the London Hotel restaurant scene was quite static and you could argue formulaic.

The restaurant was fully booked lunch and dinner two weeks ahead and this went on for five years. There came a time when perhaps I was a bit of a ‘hungry boy’ – hungry for my second Michelin star. I felt that at Inn on the Park (The Four Seasons), we were very close but not quite getting or giving enough to move over that barrier to the second star – always on the cusp but not quite making that extra step.

I had the fire in my belly to do something different but maybe, in hindsight, could have stepped back at this time and talked more to the management at The Four Seasons. In the end, I opened Bistrot Bruno in Soho.

Bistrot Bruno gained critical acclaim and was always very busy, so my business partner and I (Pierre Condou) decided to open L’Odeon. The first year at L’Odeon was crazy – we were doing £70,000 a week and £3.5m in the first year.

At the same time, I was into yet another year of working eighty plus hours a week! I look back and realise that it was a fantastic opportunity for a young man to have a business like that, however, the levels of stress, pressure and work hours were just too much. At the end of that first year I broke – burnt out.

I was in a situation where I just had to walk away – I was signed up to a five year contract where my shares in the restaurant materialised at the end of those five years. But I simply could not to do it! Exhausted! So I walked away from everything, walked away with nothing!

I had spent a significant part of my life giving 150% in the kitchen, giving all the time, working so hard and then suddenly – financially – I had nothing. I spent a year doing bits and pieces of consultancy. It was during this period that I met Oliver Peyton and sometime later opened Isola restaurant.

I had done French Bistrot and fine dining and done well with them so I thought, why not try something different?

I worked for Oliver for two to two and a half years before realising that with my wife and three children, we had the opportunity to sell our flat in London and buy a house with a swimming pool and a small business in Brisbane, Australia.

Like getting a clean slate, a fresh start – pressing the ‘reset’ button – in a beautiful new environment and really a step up in quality of life compared to London. The business side of things went very well in Brisbane, the restaurant was recognised with chef awards and the family were happy. After eight years we started to miss Europe, to miss London and we felt that we were getting to an age where if we were going to come back we’d better do it soon or not at all!

So we had a plan to come back to the UK for five or six years and then decide what we want to do – live in UK or maybe between UK and Australia. At first I came back to assess the situation, with the idea of opening a country pub where I could cook whatever I wanted to cook. However, I realised that I had been quite comfortable in Australia and taking the financial risk of setting up a pub and taking maybe two years to get established and so on was not what I wanted.

At the same time I was approached by and talking to Mark Sainsbury and Michael Benyon of The Zetter. I was very impressed with them and decided to make the move and work at The Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell, London. I have a four year contract here but plan to stay a minimum of five years.

Who knows maybe I will one day own a pub in the country – hire a chef and just potter around!

The start at the Zetter has been very good – people seem to appreciate hearty, gutsy food. We have been busy and the reviews have been good so far.

What lessons have you learned from the ups and downs of your career?

Have good people around you and people you can trust. These would be the people who work with you in every respect from the kitchen, through front of house to business partners! Also, you are only as good as the worst guy in your kitchen! So treat people well, develop talent around you and build loyalty, trust and respect among good people. In this way, business works much better!

Also having good people around you helps you to develop perspective, to open your eyes and look around you – to steer the ship! At L’Odeon, for example, I went in every day and gave all of myself in the kitchen, it was like I was at war with the world, day in day out. In the end that “kills” you – you have to be able to step back, to trust and rely on the people around you and keep a sensible perspective.

I would say that I’ve also tried to learn not to take everything on myself, so personally, so hard and to have a better perspective in this respect, too

You’ve not been tempted by the prospect of being an office based ‘Executive Chef’?

I still love working in the kitchen. I’m forty eight years old but it’s still my passion. Why work in an office doing administration when you can pay a secretary £20,000 a year to do that (and they would do it better than me!). My talent is in the kitchen and that is where I want to spend my time. I am a working chef and believe I still lead by example in that regard.

What are the front of house and kitchen brigade sizes?

At the moment there are eleven in the kitchen and we need perhaps another two chefs. There are also a couple of separate chefs who come in for breakfasts. Front of house is aimed at the warm, friendly Bistrot style of service as opposed to the stiffer fine dining style.

Who do you most admire in the industry?

I have become very good friends with Raymond Blanc. He is a good man who I respect and admire and he has inspired many people in this industry.

Which dish that you’ve created is most memorable to you?

I once created a garnish of new potatoes with a lime pickle. For a French chef to put together their own blend of spices and not reach for the curry powder was quite something and that dish was very well received at Bistrot Bruno many years ago.

How would you describe your gastronomy?

I like to cook what I like to eat – basically what I would like to eat should I eat out myself. Maybe I like one or two surprises – classical combinations and some dishes that make the customer think a little.

Twenty or so years ago I was doing Scallops with black pudding, or vegetable tatins (Endive or Celeriac glazed with truffle or shallots with chicken livers) even something simple like parmesan crisp. Nowadays maybe these things are either classics or commonplace but I am proud they were something I was doing many many years ago.

I also believe that you only ask yourself two questions with food – “does it work” and “would I like to eat it.” There are ingredients from all around the world that may combine beautifully and Australia is great place to develop that attitude. Here, at The Zetter, I decided to stay in a straight line from where I was in London eight years ago so people would feel comfortable with the food.

Who knows, maybe some time down the road I will get more adventurous here and take a loyal band of customers on a journey with me!


Over a one hour interview, Bruno Loubet displayed a disarming charm, ample charisma and a level of openness and honesty that the interviewer found compelling. A great story told by a great chef who is a humble man.

See Bistrot Bruno Restaurant Review

Interview: Lifestyle PR Leader Jori White (2010)

Posted on: March 7th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Jori White

Jori White

Jori White shares her philosophy of Lifestyle PR, along with the story – from humble beginnings – of the rise of her eponymous agency. Exciting anecdotes and insightful observation are found in equal measure during this eleven minute podcast interview. Interview took place in March 2010.

Tell us some background about yourself?

Well as you can probably tell from my accent, which is now somewhere mid- Atlantic, that I’m originally from America. I came to London some 20 years ago and while I’ve been back in forth in the past, especially in the early days, this country is home to me, my family and my business.

I was still a teenager when I arrived and needed to finish my education – so I completed a degree in business with a focus on marketing at The American College in London. I had no idea what I wanted to do work wise and through a sequence of events found myself as second assistant manager at the Michelin Starred Argyle Restaurant.

They looked after me and organised an introduction to the original guru of modern restaurant PR – Alan Crompton-Batt. I spent a period of time working for Alan and learning a huge amount in a short period of time. The job was pretty intense and I happened to be introduced, via a journalist at The Guardian, to Iqbal Wahhab.

Iqbal hired me to look after restaurant PR, in particular new business outside of the Asian Market. This worked out very well as I brought in a number of clients in the first year. Iqbal had started editing Tandoori Magazine and had visions of opening the Cinnamon Club , gradually restaurant PR wasn’t part of his longer term strategy.

In 1995, I suggested to him that I was planning on starting my own PR business and he kindly didn’t object to me retaining what became the original Jori White PR client base.

For the first four to five years I did pretty much exclusively restaurant PR, in fact I did the launch of The Cinnamon Club for Iqbal (so we were on good terms) and subsequently, in 1997 did the spring launch in Tatler for Marco Pierre White at Mirabelle. That launch had great coverage, including a TV series following Marco through the launch process.

This makes the early years sound glamorous but they were tough too – lots of determination, networking and developing contacts is a must in this business. In the restaurant PR scene, it’s a fact of life that you get face to face time with your contacts because you tend to meet them over a lunch or dinner. In other areas of PR getting the face to face time to build relationships can be more challenging. However, I was quietly determined to ‘win the pitch’ in other business areas and there’s a natural business flow from food and drink to travel to hotels to spas to beauty. While clients may start off within that chain, a customer base soon develops where one is independent of another.

Being able to offer the broader ‘Consumer Lifestyle PR’ has also helped raise the bar on contact levels – for example if you can offer an editor some copy across five different areas then not only do you service five different clients at once but you also get to liaise with more senior levels at a publication than if you were just focusing on one area.

Business expansion wise, the automotive industry was always of personal interest, it’s in my blood, and my first client in that area was RM Auctions – the worlds largest classic car auction house.

Through that engagement I was introduced to Mr Ecclestone, who asked me to help launch his daughter’s menswear formula one clothing line – the drivers wore the clothes in a fashion show for charity at The Monaco Grand Prix. That was a fantastic experience!

I was also asked by RM Auctions to launch a Ferrari auction in Maranello, where I met the people from Ferrari and as a result was invited to pitch for the launch of the Ferrari Store. I remember going to Maranello with my team for the presentation and feeling a little scared as we were up against some large mutli-national companies. It was a huge highlight of my career to win the account. But coming back to restaurant PR; having a new restaurant launch is in my heart and soul and I feel that something and I’m very fortunate to have always been especially busy in this area.

So how would you define Lifestyle PR?

It’s consumer-led and multi-dimensional. In other words, everything we as consumers do – from morning to night – whether we realize it or not, is around a lifestyle. The products and brands that we use may be subconsciously interconnected but also stand alone. It’s important to be able to understand the multi-dimensional package when servicing clients.

For example, the launch of large, high quality, shopping centre is about an aspiring consumer lifestyle – fashion, beauty, food and drink, possibly automotive and so on – so it’s natural for a Lifestyle PR company to cover the whole launch. The alternative would be, in this example, specialist individual PR companies who have neither the interconnected knowledge of the Lifestyle PR package nor the economies of scale.

Tell us some more about the history of your company?

In the beginning there was me and a laptop and a hope (laughing)! Via my boyfriend at the time I had a very small office space in Ganton Street, Soho but after a few months I had to move my business to my living room in West Kensington. Having started with the Soho address it seemed important to keep it – for continuities sake – so I had all mail and telephone redirected to home from the Ganton Street offices.

Fortunately, within 6 months I had saved enough to cover a years rent on a fourth floor office on Brewer Street. We grew organically, as I got more business I took on more people, taking over more office space on that fourth floor until we took up the whole floor – even though it was four flights of stairs and a killer (laughing)

We were growing and doing well so I decided to buy office space as opposed to renting so we moved to where we are now in Bourchier Street. I’ve always loved soho and love having office space here.

At the moment we’re 17 people – we tend to have a degree of flexibility in that we will take people on who are freelance to help us with projects or from freelance to permanent depending on business flow.

Everyone has experienced the credit crunch, as a company we decided to stand our ground on fees – as a cornerstone philosophy of the business we over deliver and under promise – if the customer is expecting x, you better make damn sure they get x+y.

I knew that clients would need even more time and hard work spent to achieve the same high quality deliverables as in good economic times: So there was no way fees could come down.

Last September business took a strong upturn and thankfully we’ve done very well considering the tough times that everybody has been through.

What is your go-to-market structure?

Each client will have a team, although I’m very hands-on with both the customer and the key contacts of the business. I also participate in the strategizing of campaigns for clients. It’s what I love doing.

Customer satisfaction is also king and we do everything we can to ensure each customer is satisfied. This is something that can be managed by setting the right expectations based upon our knowledge and expertise. We would also set targets and key performance indicators to help monitor the achievement of objectives to the benefit of the customer.

What are your plans for the future?

Everybody wants to grow and we’re no different. Referral business is vitally important and represents around 90% of what we do, which really comes back to maintaining customer satisfaction. Add on campaigns as part of repeat business is going to be important and part of that will be driven by the digital information revolution – twitter, facebook, the net in general – and this whole area is very exciting and rewarding for the future!

March 2010: Fine Dining Guide March Newsletter

Posted on: March 4th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood is delighted to announce the continued success of a free iTunes podcast series. You can find any episode by typing “fine dining uk” in the main iTunes search box. The latest two episodes are: An interview with Jori White, founder JWPR and An Interview with Derek Bulmer, Editor Michelin.

newsletter interviewees

Since the last newsletter, the site has four other new interviews; Legendary Michelin Three Star chef Pierre Gagnaire  speaks passionately about his love of food and the challenges of expanding a restaurant presense around the globe.

Newly dual-promoted Michelin chef Brett Graham gives a not to be missed sincere and ingenuous insight into his development in the industry and his plans for the future.

MARC Corporation go from strength to strength with fine wines, top end restaurants and a club amongst their portfolio – restaurateur, owner and founder Marlon Abela  shows he’s a foodie, too.

John P Davey is a long standing name and face of front of house in London, John speaks about the new venture of his own consultancy company, helping restaurants with Les Arts de la Table.

The site also manged to squeeze in a thirty minute chat (over a cooked breakfast) with Raymond Blanc (get well soon!) as part of a broader piece covering Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons  and the eponymous cookery school.

Twitter: The fine-dining-guide Twitter page continues to grow and now approaches 1550 followers ( The top 20 or so news tweets can also be found on fine-dining-guide’s News page.

General Website Updates: January is always a bumper month for web traffic and this year was the best ever – with three days setting all time traffic records. Since the last newsletter, the site has enjoyed about 70,000 page views from 30,000 visitors.

Should you type “fine dining guide” into google then you will find that the comprehensive indexing has become much more useful – as was predicted in December!

The Michelin Section and One Percent Club have been thoroughly updated to reflect the new January publications: Plus new pages include; Michelin GB&I 2010 Stars Listed, Michelin Bib Gourmand Defined and Listed and The AA 2010 Interim Press Release in full.

The Restaurant Picture Gallery  continues to be popular with readers and has been updated with visits to: The Vineyard at Stockcross, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Pied a Terre, Umu, Auberge du Lac, The Waterside Inn (PDR), The French Horn and The Harrow at Little Bedwyn.

We have also expanded our Restaurant Reviews section and consolidated the location under Two Views. Reviews conducted since the last newsletter include: Le Menu Decouverte at Le Manoir, Umu, Sketch and Twist Las Vegas.

Opinion/News: The start of 2010 sees a new trend in top end fine dining. Front-of-house is changing! To fine-dining-guide the restaurant experience is akin to a piece of theatre; to be savoured and enjoyed: The chef and kitchen brigade team up with those in front of house to unfold the act of our nourishment over a period of hours.

Indeed great pleasure is taken from the twenty to thirty seconds that accompany the presentation of each arriving dish. An informative, educational and enjoyable scene in the play of the meal – indeed the front of house performing les arts de la table.

While fine-dining-guide enjoy, indeed look forward to this part of the meal, it would seem the consensus is otherwise. Oh no! Front of house is noticeably being banished to a more and more invisible role.

One may understand the ‘one hour lunch – please don’t interrupt me, I’m very important and talking business’ customer. Or perhaps forgive those who find multiple courses where each course takes longer to present than eat. Valid points and fine-dining-guide fully understands customers in such situations.

However, taking the menu and audience into consideration, the default should surely remain to ‘present and describe’ a dish properly. It would seem today that the standard practice is to have a description ‘upon request’ Perhaps the situation has developed from ‘twitter-esque’ information, where over-reactions via pendulum swings of opinion are commonplace and increasingly understood. Thankfully (for the time being) the sommeliers’ still manage to share knowledge and effuse. But for how long?

fine-dining-guide hopes this change is fashion rather than a trend, with the front of house returning to doing what they do best – interacting.


Until next time, Happy Eating!