One of the most memorable business meals I’ve ever had was with our founder, Jay Alix, over steak-frites and Pomerol at Chez André in Paris. I had just joined the firm and we met at this local, very authentic bistro at 7.30pm; we talked until 1.45am – they stayed open just for us. We discovered so many shared values and parted ways with a meaningful connection. Our naturally unfolding conversation just wouldn’t have happened in a traditional office setting, which is why entertaining outside the boardroom is central to the way I do business. I never pitch new business over a meal, but rather use the occasion to build relationships in informal, relaxed environments.
At my first-ever client dinner, at The Midland in Manchester in 1983, I took it upon myself to pour the wine – from a wine basket. The bottle slipped out and I emptied the entire contents over the client’s lap. I have never again used a wine basket – although I like to think my technique has improved since then. In New York, where I’m now based, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s sleek Perry St in the West Village is a go-to: it’s the perfect place to discuss strategic matters, and the French-fusion food is spectacular. My favourite dishes are the rice cracker-encrusted tuna, roasted butternut squash soup and kale salad. The wine list is also impressive; I love the bordeaux – Pessac-Léognan – and a Puligny-Montrachet for special occasions. And as it’s near my home, I often bring my dinner companion to see my kids before they go to bed.
As we have 25 offices in 14 countries, I travel half the year and spend a lot of time in London, where Lutyens is a favourite lunch spot. I’ll have a starter of leek and potato soup, followed by hake or seabass, always with spinach. I love spinach – it’s the new chips. For a more leisurely business dinner you can’t beat Clarke’s. The roasted Scottish halibut is always delicious here – as are the desserts; I’m partial to baked quince with honey ice cream. It’s top-rate on all levels – the ambience, the cuisine, the service – and the tables are well spaced so you can have a private, meaningful conversation. This is key – some great restaurants are too busy or lively for an intimate discussion.
In Munich, where we work with some high-end engineering companies like Bosch, our local partners recently picked a superb restaurant called Landersdorfer & Innerhofer for lunch. I like understated places like this, and the small, enticing courses – tomato and onion salad; fish of the day; signature basil sorbet – were outstanding. I drank sparkling water, but had it been dinner I might have enjoyed one of their excellent Gewürztraminers.
Our Asian business is smaller, but I do spend time there. I tend to base myself in Hong Kong, where the Captain’s Bar at the Mandarin Oriental is great for meeting clients, as it’s characterful and lively but not too noisy. Afterwards, it’s on to dinner at the China Club with its David Tang-style environment, small tables and authentic meals of dim sum and sautéed scallops.
On the other hand, two-thirds of our business is in the US, so Silicon Valley is an important focus. In San Francisco, I had an excellent dinner earlier this year at McCormick & Kuleto’s, with two partners from international law firm Sidley Austin LLP. The seafood-centric menu here is outstanding – the fresh Hawaiian ahi tuna, jumbo-prawn cocktail and grilled mahi-mahi were all fabulous – and the place has scenic views of the bay and marina. But wherever I’m dining and whoever with, one thing I’m always interested in is how people treat the staff – it gives me a real insight into a person, particularly when I’m recruiting. If someone is rude or dismissive, I probably won’t hire them.