“My mentor, an Egyptian businessman called Joseph Chehebar, once told me: “If you don’t have a meeting set up over a meal that day, then don’t come to work.” In a relationship business like real estate, bonding over bread is the number-one way to build your company. If I had to use one word to describe our portfolio, I’d say “eclectic”. This sums up the restaurants I choose too.
Some of my most important projects and relationships have been solidified over brick-oven pizzas at Lucali [pictured] in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, which has a casual, cosy atmosphere and an authentic menu. Its open kitchen and vibrant energy appeal to my taste for theatre; it’s great entertainment. I recently signed a deal there with Norman Foster to develop a waterfront sugar refinery in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
I am very interested in cool, emerging neighbourhoods, and sampling restaurants in these areas always spurs creative projects. In Chicago’s West Loop, for example, it was the combination of avant-garde design and excellent pan-roasted halibut at Girl & the Goat that convinced us to invest in the area.
No matter what city I’m in, I like to take people out of their comfort zone. On a recent London trip to meet the bankers and creative minds involved with a Milan property, I took everyone for breakfast at Cereal Killer in Shoreditch – a tiny, funky hole in the wall that has over 120 cereals. The mint and chocolate one puts everyone in a good mood. We then headed out to Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire for a late lunch – and even some time at the spa – before returning to the city for dinner at the opulent Park Chinois in Mayfair. This place is sophisticated but also very lively, and the Sichuan dumplings and Dover sole are outstanding. By the end of the night I was given the thumbs-up by everyone.
Successful business meals should be relaxed but focused. In Mexico City I particularly like Hacienda de los Morales, which is in a farmhouse that is nearly 400 years old and serves the best traditional Mexican food you can find. Several deals have been negotiated here over chilaquiles – corn tortillas with salsa and eggs – including the development of the Ritz-Carlton in Mexico City. My Paris negotiations, meanwhile, almost always happen at two places: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, where I like late dinners at the bar; or Caviar Kaspia, whose CEO is my friend Ramon Mac-Crohon. The smoked salmon and blinis are incredible, and the intimate atmosphere lends itself to conversation. I was here recently with Olivier Lefebvre, CEO of Cheval Blanc, discussing a potential hotel in Tulum.
In addition to restaurants, much of my entertaining takes place in clubs. In London I like Loulou’s for a celebratory cigar. It has the best bar, the best cigars, the best crowd; it’s the most fun night out in the city. I went once with hip-hop artist Swizz Beatz and was almost thrown out for wearing sneakers. In California, things are more relaxed – like at 41 Ocean Club in Santa Monica. It’s full of creative people and I was recently asked to remove my tie when I walked in, which was refreshing. I like members’ clubs for doing business – so much so that I considered buying The Connaught and turning it into one, but I bought the Burlington Arcade instead.
One of my best, and most unusual, deals was with Leonardo DiCaprio at Coney Island, Brooklyn’s historic amusement park. It was midwinter and I had the rides opened just for us; we had a fantastic time. We followed this with dinner at Gargiulo’s, an old-school mobster joint with great antipasti and risotto pescatore. I must have made a good impression because we’ve become friends and are working on a business idea together.”