My golden rule is never to confuse client entertaining with formal business meetings. If someone accepts an invitation to dinner, they don’t want a hard sell or a difficult conversation. For me, it’s all about getting to know a client better or celebrating something we have done.
I prefer a one-to-one over larger groups. There’s always the risk that there’s no spark between the two of you, but usually there is, and that enables you to forge close and incredibly valuable long-term business relationships. A good meal is often the starting point – which means that I do a lot of entertaining, especially when I’m travelling to one of our data-centre operations in Hong Kong, Singapore or Sydney. If it’s a week-long trip, I’ll be out with a client every night.
The places I choose are all tried and tested; I’d never trial a new restaurant on a customer. I go for establishments that are informal and buzzy, and, more than anything, they must have the wow factor. Almost invariably, I pick restaurants over hotels.
One exception is the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong, whose setting overlooking Victoria Harbour never fails to impress. I’ll meet my guest at the sleekly contemporary M Bar for a pre-dinner drink before going to its Pierre Restaurant; the modern French menu is always outstanding.
For a casual “catch-up” drink with a client, the outdoor deck of the Sugar Bar in Hong Kong is another great destination – right on top of a skyscraper. And in Singapore, I love the rooftop Ku Dé Ta restaurant, which sits above the Marina Bay Sands development and provides the most spectacular views of the city below. It’s also Asian cuisine at its absolute best.
Sydney is my home town and is blessed with some world-class restaurants. Top of the list for me is Otto Ristorante in Woolloomooloo, where, remarkably, the Italian food is just as extraordinary as the views over the harbour. In a previous role, I developed the wharf here when it was completely derelict, so I like to go back and see it flourishing. A close second in Sydney is the strikingly individual Bathers’ Pavilion on Balmoral Beach. The food is fresh and exciting, and the wine list expertly chosen. I love that it’s both relaxed and very professional.
In Europe, my entertaining is less concentrated, but just as important. In Paris, I often use the courtyard restaurant at Hôtel Costes in Rue Saint-Honoré. It’s chic, lively and fun. And back in London, I’m a big fan of the distinctive private members’ club 5 Hertford Street, which I normally visit for dinner. It’s discreet, plus the lavish decor, delicious food and impeccable service are second to none. Basically, it’s somewhere that people are always pleased to be taken to.
But for client lunches, my most regular haunt is the Regency Café [pictured], just around the corner from our offices in Millbank Tower. It’s essentially a no-frills greasy spoon, with straight-backed chairs, laminated tables and self-service. When I take clients there for the first time, they’re initially quite taken aback.
However, the food is surprisingly good, and the ambience is utterly unique. That’s partly because there’s always an astonishing cross section of people in the place, ranging from Westminster politicians to taxi drivers and local business folk like me. It’s even been used in a number of films, including Brighton Rock. I like it because it’s fun, interesting and not at all what people expect. I haven’t had a single customer walk out without a very big grin on their face.