talks with …
Looking for luxury dining in London is not difficult, indeed for the consumer it is a pleasurable pastime. We are overwhelmed with special places to go and exotic concepts are springing up daily, a litmus test of the growing wealth of the capital.
The restaurant may not perhaps be regarded as ‘retail’ per se, unless like some it sells goods off the premises, however a restaurant is deeply and intimately connected with the consumer and needs to engage in all the innovations and technologies offered by the best Omni-channel practitioners, or does it? For the London restaurateur, this is a competitive world, a war zone, battling one’s peers to win over a consumer who is both hyper-critical and uber-fickle, not to mention mercurial. Even with a great reputation, the ebb and flow of tourists, businessmen, emigrants, immigrants and ex-pats makes it increasingly difficult for a restaurant to retain a loyal following.
Having said this, those that are the best in class with focus on detail, quality and innovation will always survive provided that they can be profitable. Thierry Tomasin, ex-sommelier of Le Gavroche and ex-chairman of The Sommelier’s Association of Great Britain, created Angelus, a small jewel off the beaten track at Lancaster Gate. Thierry explains what it takes for a luxury restaurant to survive and thrive in London and what special qualities and strategies are necessary to achieve this?
PML: Thierry, you have had a lifetime in food and wine, tell me about your business and how you came to open Angelus?
TT: I loved Le Gavroche but it was very formal and serious. I wanted to open something less formal, but still chic with fresh produce, a great wine list and most importantly open seven days a week, all day long.
I wanted a classic yet intimate setting where you can come and have just a glass of wine or a five-course extravaganza, Saturday brunch or early evening cocktails.
I was looking for a place that had something special to offer and here we are, tucked away in an enclave next to the best mews in London, yet in the middle of everything, (Paddington, Kensington, Mayfair and Holland Park) in other words, very accessible. Here the diner is not in the fray with hundreds of customers where you cannot hear yourself talking – it is still intimate and very romantic with the small cocktail bar at the back. There is also a traditional French style private dining room next to our wine cellar downstairs which businesses find convenient to use.
PML: What is the perception of the French restaurant vis a vis others in the city?
TT: Obviously Angelus is a French restaurant in London, but the beauty is just that, serving French food in one of the world’s top capital cities. Our cuisine is 20th century, but with a lot of 21st century, meaning you have the creativity and lightness of today’s cuisine combined with the full flavour of the 20th century, our speciality is being heavy on flavour.
PML: What is your most expensive wine and who buys it
TT: I will never say who buys and who comes – here, we never see and we never hear, but as for the wine of course I can tell you which is our most expensive bottle. Let me say this, nothing is expensive when it is good. Of course we have £5,000 and £6,000 bottles of wine, but good also means having a great experience. You can also pay £25 for a bottle of wine and have a great experience.
PML: Do you really sell wine at £6,000?
TT: Yes, if the wine is on the list, we sell it! For instance, we have a 1928 Chateau Cheval Blanc and even some older ones. Last Christmas three people arrived at midday and left at 3am after drinking a double magnum of Petrus 1983 at £18,000.
PML: Are diners fickle at this level of price point? Trust takes years to build and is lost in a flash if something goes wrong with the experience?
TT: Of course we are not robots, we are human beings, it is like a bottle of wine, it cannot be perfect – it is nature and Angelus is not a factory, however we try to make sure that our customer’s dining experience will be magnifique.
PML: Do you adopt Omni-channel to engage with your customers?
TT: We are doing a bit of social media, and a newsletters to our database, but we are fairly soft. Angelus, it’s a small restaurant-lounge meaning that it is about word of mouth and you are not a number, you are a special guest. Luxury is about rarity. In the luxury world a small, independent restaurant is a rare and special experience. What I say to my staff is that we are not waiters or chefs, we are salesmen of pleasure.
PML: What is your most popular dish?
TT: Our signature dish is the duck liver crème brûlée. It is done exactly like a crème brûlée with duck liver and caramelised poppy seeds,. It is not nice, it’s ecstatic!
PML: Maybe so, but do you care about the ducks and factory farmed food?
TT: Actually yes, we work very much with small British farmers – I was the first restaurateur to sign the NFU charter. We buy the food locally within reason as of course London is not easy. We are getting some edible flowers, certain vegetables from a charity, Meanwhile Garden, which we support. It is based in Portobello where they grow these atop a roof for us. Every week we go and pick up whatever they have for us.
PML: How did you survive the recession?
TT: This is like a family restaurant, I am not owned by a bank, not since we opened in August 2007. I have always been known for fresh food, good wine and good service and our customers still came to support us from time to time and this is what helped me survive, yes it was tough, yes it is now over and most important, our regular customers are still our bread and butter. In life in both private world and in the business people will always give back to you.
PML: What is your proudest moment?
TT: Apart from owning my own restaurant it was when I was awarded the Master of Culinary Art. My patron is the Prince of Wales.
PML: Can you give me a fascinating fact about luxury dining?
TT: The worst day for a restaurateur is Valentine’s day. People come with their wife or their husband, they don’t talk to each other all night. If the husband goes to the gents, Madame is already on the phone checking messages and vice versa. They order plonk wine, and they always look around for any beautiful lady or man dining in the same room and there is no ambience. The best day is the day before or the day after when you come again with your mistress or lover, drink champagne, laugh all night, there are no arguments and life is beautiful. How sad, but … c’est la vie!