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Food | The Captain’s Table

Ron Dennis’s dining boltholes

The executive chairman of McLaren Automotive and the McLaren Group was the principal of its Formula One team until 2009, and today oversees an estimated yearly turnover of £239m

November 16 2012
Helen Chislett

At most, I have two business lunches a month. Lunch is usually five minutes at my desk, driven by the need not to feel hungry during the day – otherwise I can’t concentrate. As for breakfast, it probably accounts for no more than one meeting per year. For me, breakfast falls between working out and reading the FT. Then I like to shower, dress and head straight for the office; my mind focused and ready for the day.

On the rare occasions when I do have a business lunch, I usually invite people to join me at McLaren, in Woking, because our facilities are extremely good. We have our own hospitality business, Absolute Taste, which also operates our staff restaurant and private dining rooms.

I’m much more likely to meet business acquaintances for dinner. The concept of eating and doing business still has a place, because it’s a relaxed atmosphere – and you don’t have to worry so much about the legal consequences of what you’re saying. I like to be controversial, just to loosen everyone up a bit, so I often say things with great conviction that, in truth, are just provocative.

Over the past 40 years, I’ve seen a big change in corporate entertaining. It used to be accepted practice to go to the dining rooms of pubs, where the publican’s wife would produce home-cooked meals and the room would end up full of cigar smoke. Back then, food was not much rated in Britain. Today, top chefs are celebrities, and I find it interesting how they manage to stretch their brands without losing their passion.

At many of my favourite restaurants, the chefs are also personal friends. I was probably one of the few people walking the planet who could get a table any night I wanted at El Bulli. Ferran Adrià is passionate about motor racing and always used to come to the Grand Prix, so for me a table was always just a phone call away. Similarly, I went to Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck when it first opened, and now Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental is one of my favourite London places. I also enjoy Angela Hartnett’s restaurant, Murano, because she lives the dream: it’s rare to go there and not find her in the kitchen. Gordon Ramsay, on the other hand, whose original Chelsea restaurant I also like, is geographically all over the place, so you’re unlikely to bump into him.

Although I love food and wine, it’s atmosphere that really counts. Two of my favourite places are the Zuma restaurants in London and Miami, because they are social but unpretentious. Similarly, I enjoy George, which has one of the most hospitable bars in London – dynamic but also private. And I sometimes go to Harry’s Bar, but, although I’m generally happy to wear a tie, I do have a problem with being told I “must” wear one.

In most major cities, I know where to eat. I’ve been to the majority of Grands Prix around the world, so I have a big database of restaurants. For example, in Singapore, I often take people to The Golden Peony at the Conrad Centennial hotel; in Melbourne, I like Ezard; in Monte Carlo, I go to La Chevre d’Or in Eze; and in Monza, I head for Villa d’Este on Lake Como.

Of course, when you eat good food all the time, you have to be careful not to overdo it. I weigh myself every morning and every evening; if the scales look a little high, I won’t eat potatoes or dessert that day. I’m also fortunate enough to have Hettie, my personal chef at home, who ensures that I eat well but stay slim.

I only really like to stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights, but then my party is often the last to leave. I’m a great table lingerer. We usually get the message when the staff open the doors and attempt to freeze us out.

See also

People, Ron Dennis