“I’m not your conventional three-courses, two-bottles businessman. I never drink alcohol during the day, either – it’s something I learnt from Philippe Starck with whom I co-founded Yoo in 1999. We’re great friends who holiday together, but for work, even when you’re in relaxed company like that, it’s important to stay focused.
At the beginning of a project, Philippe sometimes joins me at my alternative “office”, 202 in Westbourne Grove, which is 200m from my house. I’ll also eat there with my sister, brother and brother-in-law, who work for Yoo, and I always run into people I know, such as fellow property developer Warren Todd, whose Portobello Group owns many buildings in the area. With its boho-rustic decor, it has an informality that I like – and the menu suits me, as I am quite health-conscious and almost vegetarian: it’s poached eggs with avocado on toast and black tea for breakfast, or the lentil, beetroot and artichoke salad for lunch.
For me, discussing work over meals is usually about catching up on design schemes rather than doing deals, and E&O near Westbourne Grove – where I always order the edamame, pak choi and, if I’m feeling naughty, the chilli salt squid – is another favourite for these informal meetings. They keep a tally of their most regular customers and for many years I was number three on the list.
This year, Yoo co-purchased the Olympia London for £296m from global management consultancy Capco. It was a very formal deal – many meeting rooms, no long lunches – and translated to the various parties grabbing avocado and herb wraps from Pret A Manger.
We are working on ventures in 29 countries, and when our development partners from Delhi, Quito or Hong Kong come to London, we take them to Nobu in Berkeley Street. It is usually a small affair rather than a big banquet; we are definitely not a go-out-and-go-wild company, as many of our partners are religious. I like the organic aesthetic of the space, which takes inspiration from nature and Japanese forests, and the diverse menu caters for everyone.
When I travel abroad I catch up with the team over meals in the hotels I’m staying at. Recently, I had dinner in Hong Kong with our Indian partner Sagar Chordia of Panchshil Realty, my creative director Steve Leung and Asia Pacific managing director Andrew Pang at The Upper House’s top-floor restaurant, Café Gray. We discussed our fourth project in Pune, India – 228 apartments – over delicious grilled red snapper and Amalfi lemon salad.
Between 1996 and 2009, I commuted between London and New York, as we had five projects there and three in Miami. I lived at The Mercer hotel and it made me laugh that my suitcases were stored next to those of Karl Lagerfeld and Calvin Klein, who also lived there. I learnt a lot about design talking to Calvin. I still stay there when I’m in the city, eat at The Mercer Kitchen and hold meetings in the lounge: recently, I caught up with Marcel Wanders over dinner. Their sashimi salmon is perfect for sharing, and I’ll have steamed fish and their Tuscan kale salad too. I normally don’t eat desserts, but the sour cream cheesecake with glazed figs is a treat.
In Miami, it has to be Prime 112 for lunches. It has a real buzz – it’s always full of basketball stars. While it’s a steakhouse, there are some fish dishes and salads: I like the kale with quinoa, walnuts, Parmesan, blackcurrants and lemon thyme vinaigrette.
I spend every other weekend at The Lakes by Yoo in the Cotswolds and often chat with residents – mostly entrepreneurs from London – over stew or soup at Elsa’s, which serves organic food from a 1940s Citroën van in our orchard. Increasingly, we are growing our own food, and, by next year, we aim to be able to use ingredients that are entirely homegrown.”