My golden rule is to only go to places where I and my guests feel comfortable. As I’m also representing Eurostar, that invariably means I pick places with some énergie, which aren’t too corporate.
As a service organisation, we’re all about communicating with people and connecting them. That’s what I try to do in my business entertaining, whether it’s with customers, suppliers, stakeholders, journalists or politicians.
Because of where we operate, that generally takes place in three different cities: 60 per cent in London, 30 per cent in Paris and 10 per cent in Brussels.
In London, I use the likes of Moro, Locanda Locatelli and the Gilbert Scott in the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Here, I find the most effective meal of the day is dinner. I do breakfasts and lunches, but feel that people are too much in “work mode”. The food almost gets in the way.
Brits tend to relax over dinner. They’ll have some wine and open up more. Conversely, in Paris and Brussels I prefer to do breakfasts and lunches. There are plenty of places to choose from and, culturally, people still switch off at mealtimes. I like that you don’t always have to book in Paris to get somewhere good, whereas you do in London.
For breakfast meetings in Paris, I use the central palace hotels as they are quiet and the service is superb. At one of them, Le Bristol, I once had three breakfast meetings in a row. And in Brussels, there are some amazing places for lunch, such as Rocco Forte’s chic Bocconi. It is the ultimate in Italian food – simple flavours beautifully put together. And it hits the right note in terms of ambience and service, with waiting staff who are attentive without being intrusive. I also love Lionel Rigolet’s Comme chez Soi, where you feel as though you are getting a glimpse of the art nouveau splendour of Brussels at the turn of the century. The room is small and discreet so you can have a really good discussion.
Great food and wine are a given when you entertain in a restaurant, but the space between tables and the acoustics are also important. Locanda Locatelli is brilliant in this respect – you enjoy a lively atmosphere without finding that you are deafened by the conversation on the next table. Many of the people we do business with are working in second languages and, if it’s too crowded and the noise level goes beyond a certain point, you quickly lose half of them.
The speed of service is another critical aspect. I once hosted a dinner at a restaurant in Mayfair where the service was so agonisingly slow I never went back. At The Delaunay, however, you can have a swift business lunch without feeling rushed in any way. They have the knack of timing the food perfectly.
But at times it’s good to do something different. In Paris, we’re partners with the Théâtre du Rond-Point, so I’ll host a dinner in its restaurant for eight or 10 people, before watching a performance. I also like taking groups to Tate Modern for private guided tours; it’s a good ice‑breaker. Then we’ll have dinner in the restaurant, with its fabulous views.
Occasionally, you have unexpected disasters, like the time I took Raymond Blanc to Scott’s in Mayfair. It was just before he started work on our menus for Business Premier passengers and he was served a bad oyster. We just looked at each other because we couldn’t believe it. Fortunately, Scott’s handled it very well and I still use them. Curiously, the shared experience meant that Raymond and I bonded even more quickly. We have a great relationship and I’m thrilled he’s working with us.