Richard Corrigan, the Irish-born restaurateur, isn’t having a great Olympics.
Upper Grosvenor Street, outside the chef’s flagship London restaurant Corrigan’s Mayfair, is partly closed. He’s also just opened a new venue at Harrods department store, Bentley’s Sea Grill, and he still has to find time for Bentley’s, the seafood restaurant near Piccadilly that he bought in 2005.
We spoke at the original Bentley’s.
Vines: How are the Olympics for you?
Corrigan: Black cabs can’t even stop outside my restaurant to drop off the customers. Westminster (Council) has cleared the street so BMW could park all their courtesy cars to bring all those IOC members to the Games. I wouldn’t mind if they’d booked in for lunch but they’ve taken their courtesy brunch boxes in the back of the car and their Champagne and hopefully they’ll stay out there forever.
We have a couple of bookings from the Olympic committees, two bookings. We have some from sponsorships, in fairness. Coca-Cola has booked in. Some of the bigger companies have booked in, but they’re sporadic and they’ve been very last-minute.
Vines: You won’t get many walk-ins.
Corrigan: All of Park Lane, there’s a complete security clampdown. Outside all the hotels there’s armed police hanging around the whole area. It’s quite extraordinary. I mean, it felt prison-like walking down there last night and the streets were eerily quiet and empty and all the Olympian spirit you think is in London, well it’s certainly not in Upper Grosvenor Street.
Vines: You’ve got a new place at Harrods. That’s brave.
Corrigan: Let’s be honest with you: Harrods is there a long time. After Buckingham Palace, it’s up there with London’s top visitor attractions. So having an outlet in Harrods for me, it’s not a brave move at all. It’s just a very natural move in these economic tight times and to be asked to put Bentley’s into Harrods, I felt happy, because their Food Hall is beautiful. It’s a lovely place to hang around if you probably own an oil well or two, so having Bentley’s in there will be just lovely.
The day of a warped sandwich served to you on a plate with a mediocre cup of tea is well gone. You can eat pretty well. And it’s taking time out, taking an hour out as the wife leathers your credit card. It’s a nice place to sit and enjoy yourself.
Vines: How’s the recession affecting you?
Corrigan: All of Berkeley Square (near Corrigan’s Mayfair) is the hedge-fund and the equity-fund businesses and knowing them quite well, I would imagine to see stress on lots of my customers’ faces. They’re having a very tough time. I can see certainly they’re not as happy as they used to be.
Vines: Are they spending as much on wine as they used to?
Corrigan: I don’t think so. We’re in a modest time. Really now it’s time for a nice medium bottle of wine.
Vines: How do you respond to the slowdown as a restaurateur?
Corrigan: You have to feel that times are difficult and will probably become more difficult. I’m 48 years of age. I’ve been in the hospitality business for 33 years. I’m a restaurateur about 16 years. I’ve seen good times, I’ve seen OK times and I’ve seen bad times and I feel now for our hospitality business, we’re probably entering a tougher time than we’ve had in the past many years.
For those of us who have paid down our debt and have cash reserves in the bank, we are going to sail on around the world and we’re still going to be here in 10 years’ time. But for those restaurant companies that have borrowed a lot of money, or are under demands from shareholders to get their money back, or show me a return, they are going to find life a little bit more difficult. So small is beautiful.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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