December 31 2012
Mark C O’Flaherty
A large part of my job is to understand clients’ needs. They often want to talk about their hopes, dreams and fears. We discuss problems, or perhaps a new idea. In each case, it’s nice to talk about these things over a meal. Managing capital is a complex business – detail and context are all-important. And everyone, of course, is different.
Some are early-morning people, some aren’t. For breakfast meetings I like The Delaunay, which is close to my office. It feels like a true 19th-century European restaurant, as though you are in Vienna and Arthur Schnitzler might walk in at any minute. There is a sense of space, order and calm from another age. The tables are set far apart, so I can talk to clients without feeling that we are being overheard, yet enjoy being in a place with a lively, vibrant atmosphere. I normally have granola and fresh berries, then maybe a croissant or Danish pastry – and the apfelstrudel is very good.
I think the right amount of time for lunch is an hour and a half. I like to start at 1pm and be done by 2.30pm, and I often go to J Sheekey and have seafood at the bar. I wouldn’t take someone there for a confidential chat – it’s quite noisy – but for a colleague from out of town or a business-to-business catch up, it’s perfect. And they do a very good scallop, shrimp and salmon burger, which goes down well with a glass of white burgundy.
The place I most often have lunch, however, is at our offices on The Strand. I usually opt for a sandwich at my desk, unless I have a meeting, when I will eat in one of the “pepper pot” dining rooms on the fourth floor. The building, which was designed by John Nash, has three turrets, and the top of each looks like a pepper pot, with circular rooms beneath. We are very lucky here, as head chef Peter Fiori has been looking after our clients for 10 years. Part of the Coutts DNA is exactness, and Peter lives up to that. He takes the time and trouble to understand what is a pleasure for each guest, with dishes such as sautéed Scottish lobster with squid-ink gnocchi and roast rack of Iberico pork with trompette mushrooms.
Meetings over dinner in London are usually at Wolfgang Puck’s Cut or Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. I was pleased when Puck arrived on Park Lane. His dining room is very luxurious, and if I know that a client likes meat, we’ll go there. The knowledge of the different cuts, how the animal is fed and treated, and the resultant textures are second to none. I also like the arrangement of the tables – some in semi-private booths with views of the park.
In the business of private banking, occasionally you take out a client and their partner – and we’ll have dinner with my wife, who is from Seville. Much of our life is in Spain and we go to Madrid a lot, where we’ll take clients to Alkalde. It’s a classic Basque restaurant, popular since the 1960s, whose owners are from San Sebastián. The thing I like most there is the stuffed partridge, or the particularly good merluza – hake – with chorizo and grilled red peppers.
I also visit Geneva regularly for work, and a great place for a summer meal is the Auberge du Lion d’Or in Cologny, on the south side of the lake. And in Hong Kong, I like Hutong, which has fantastic views, and its speciality is crab.
When it comes to what to order to accompany a meal, I am certainly capable of choosing good wines. At Cut I would order something like a Château Ducru-Beaucaillou – a claret I have loved for years. The name means “beautiful pebbles” and describes the way the vines grow in Saint Julien. And in Spain I often choose Albariño, from Galicia. I don’t always feel that I have to be the one who orders the wine, though; it depends on who I am with, and whether they are particularly partial.