|Recipe For Success|
We talk to awarding winning restaurateur Malcolm John
It may seem like a bold move to open a restaurant in this current climate, bolder still to open one at the end of December; but that is exactly what Malcolm John has done. Joining the ranks of Sir Terence Conran, High Road House owner Richard Caring and Jamie Oliver, Malcolm John’s culinary empire is growing.
Following the success of Le Vacherin, Malcolm opened his second restaurant Le Cassoulet promptly winning a string of awards including Time Out’s Best Neighbourhood Restaurant and most recently a Bib Gourmand from Michelin.
I caught up with him at his third site Fish & Grill where I asked him why he feels he’s able to buck the current trend. “It’s a brave thing to open a restaurant at any time, even more so in this current climate but the reason I took this site on is that it was too good to pass up. It’s got a great location great space and it was a bargain.”
You couldn’t get a table at Le Vacherin, Le Cassoulet or at Fish & Grill last weekend, all three were fully booked, but will it last?
“I believe that recession or no recession people want to go out to eat because they still want to enjoy themselves and get away from the doom and gloom but it just means you have to cut your cloth accordingly. I still offering top quality produce so I haven’t cut corners on produce even with the pound so weak against the euro all our produce comes from Europe. We have to deal with the extra costs without passing it onto the customer.”
Have you noticed a difference how people are spending their money when eating out?
“I think they’re more clued up now I mean if you don’t offer a set menu or you don’t offer an early evening deal the customer will ask for a deal. I’ve seen a trend in Chiswick particularly in the lead up to Christmas where PA’s organising Christmas dinners for groups would ask for a discount or to thrown in some Champagne or water. We found a middle ground, they were happy and I was happy.”
“I’ve stopped predicting the markets. I thought like most people we’d seen the bottom of this but there’s a lot more to go. So I’ve stopped predicting, I just try and keep on offering good value for money and customer satisfaction. And hopefully if we get all of those elements right and the customer will keep coming back to us but only if you get them right.”
“Customers are choosing quality. In Chiswick there is a lot of quality dining. During the last five years since I’ve been there I’ve seen a lot of quality restaurants open up, Sam’s, High Road Brasserie, obviously La Trompette has been there longer than I have and Le Vacherin all offer quality dining. You’ve also got The Devonshire and The Duke of Sussex; they all offer something great so the chain led restaurants are having to work a lot harder.”
“I firmly believe that once we come through this bit the businesses that have gone through it and come out the other end will be a lot better off because what it makes us do is focus on our client, focus on our product and focus on our costs.
“We’ve been offering the £9.95 deals at Le Vacherin for years. Some people sniffed at it, some asked why would I want to do something as extreme as that? But I’m a firm believer that if you offer someone a whole package, a meal and a glass of wine for under £10 they will come back and bring new people into the restaurant.”
He’s right, it was one of his £9.95 offers that first got me into Le Vacherin and I’ve returned many times since. “You can’t cook it at home for less than that and you get a glass of wine, and we wash up for you as well!”
Couldn’t argue with his logic especially when he told me that the £9.95 steak frites and a glass of red offer returns from the beginning of February.
“In times like these, people like to go somewhere they are comfortable with,” he concludes. “They go to their neighbourhood restaurant where they’re known by the staff, they are known by the chef they get the extra attention. They go local.”
January 27, 2009