Food | The Captain’s Table

Dawn Airey’s dining boltholes

The president of CLT-UFA UK TV, which is part of major broadcaster RTL, formerly held executive positions at Channel 4, BSkyB, ITV and Channel Five.

June 20 2011
Hilary Whitney

“My role is to source opportunities for corporate transactions. The best talent – and that’s everyone from actors to producers to financiers – is highly sought-after, and as the decision to accept a project is often just as much about the people involved as the money, it’s essential for me to establish good relationships with our clients. Meeting someone in a relaxed atmosphere, over a meal or a drink, is a very effective way of doing that.

I am a creature of habit, partly because I’m very fussy and I know what I like, but I also have a theory that your favourite restaurant is where you get the best service. I have lunch at The Ivy between three and five times a week. I always order salad, followed by fish – the waiters don’t even have to ask – and I never have alcohol at lunchtime except for a glass of champagne on Fridays. I do drink in the evening, but I limit myself to just two glasses of wine.

When I started working in the television industry in the mid-1980s, it was de rigueur to drink vast quantities at lunchtime and, not surprisingly, very little work got done in the afternoon. Of course, that’s completely unacceptable now, but I have to admit it was a lot of fun at the time.

The Ivy is, of course, a media haunt and that in itself is very useful. Clients often want to be taken somewhere they will be seen and I’ll always bump into several people in the industry, such as Sir Trevor McDonald or Matthew Wright, who I like to catch up with.

The other place I enjoy for lunch in London is Japanese restaurant Roka. The food is exquisite, but the big revelation is that the Japanese make great desserts. I don’t normally eat that kind of thing, but I have been known to go there and eat nothing but desserts.

Weekday evenings are usually spent working – writing or making calls to the States – but occasionally I’ll take very special friends from the industry for dinner at San Lorenzo. The pasta is to die for and media-wise it’s a bit off the beaten track, so it’s a good place to go if I need to be discreet, as what goes on in The Ivy usually ends up in the newspapers.

However, whenever I ask people where they would most like to go for a special treat, everybody, without exception, chooses The Fat Duck at Bray – and why wouldn’t they? It’s brilliant and the food is unbelievably imaginative.

The other place reserved for extremely special occasions is Harry’s Bar in Mayfair. I took David Young, founder of 12 Yard, there to celebrate the £35m acquisition of his company (which produces Eggheads and In It To Win It) for ITV over a fine lunch that involved copious amounts of white truffles and Montessu wine.

I often go to Los Angeles to meet up with Hollywood studio distributors, producers and talent agencies, and it’s the only time I really do breakfast meetings. The Roof Garden at the Peninsula in Beverly Hills has spectacular views and there are heaters, so it doesn’t matter if it’s freezing – which it can be in California, despite the blue skies.

The other place I go to all the time in LA is Spago, the Wolfgang Puck restaurant, because I think it’s important to take clients somewhere you are known and can be assured of a warm welcome. It’s a wonderful space and they don’t change the menu too much, so I can make recommendations to my guests, making the whole experience much more personal. It also has a great selection of unusual Californian wines.

Television has honed my appetite for good food and wine, but I have a strict rule never to eat a meal that I wouldn’t be happy to pay for myself. And although it is very pleasurable, it’s not just entertaining for the sake of it – serious business can be done over lunch.”

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