The yacht business is not so much about boats as about people and forming strong relationships with them. A big part of that entails entertaining at all levels, from crew and owners to buyers and charterers. A lot of schmoozing is involved and when you’re selling a very expensive yacht a schmooze with a single client can last five or 10 years.
That generally means a great deal of international travel and a lot of eating out with clients. It is not unusual for me to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with the same person several days in a row – and it is essential to get the choice of venue spot on every time. The people we deal with tend to be extremely discerning.
As a result, I have been careful to find restaurants around the world I know I can rely on. I am based in Monaco where I often entertain clients at Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse restaurant at the Hôtel de Paris, which offers fabulous food in a beautiful setting. The largest transaction I have ever concluded over a meal – for a €250m yacht – was sealed there with a handshake and a celebratory bottle of Pétrus.
But often a client is so used to dining at that sort of level that they would actually rather go somewhere far more low-key. I might drive them up into the hills overlooking Monaco to Le Café de la Fontaine at La Turbie. It’s a fantastic and truly authentic little bistro, not at all expensive, and the food is always great.
Another favourite is Les Deux Frères, a few miles along the coast at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The owner and chef, Willem Bonestroo, began working there as a kitchen porter and ended up buying the place when the previous owner could no longer run it. It is a basic, fun place to eat with great views and delicious food.
I’ve established excellent, long‑standing business relationships over humble meals. There was one particular client who didn’t like going to restaurants where he was required to wear a jacket and tie so, even though he was staying at the Berkeley in Knightsbridge, he suggested we went for a glass of beer and a sandwich at The Bunch of Grapes pub nearby. He signed a deal for a new 50m yacht, which proved to be the first of seven he built with us over the following 10 years.
At the other end of the spectrum is Daniel Boulud’s Daniel restaurant in New York. I was entertaining a Russian client there and thought he would appreciate a really good bottle of wine, so I ordered one costing $800. Unfortunately, he then asked if he might choose the next one, which arrived accompanied by an army of sommeliers. The bill for the meal came to $10,000 – but it did result in the purchase of a €55m Benetti.
Of the many great London restaurants, I’ve found that Novikov (pictured) provides exactly what many of our clients are looking for. It is stylish yet casual and I love the fact that it does both Asian and Italian food, albeit in different rooms. The service is always good, too.
My other reliable London regulars are The Square, Cut, Como Lario and J Sheekey, which I still believe to be one of the best fish restaurants around. The city has become such a business hub that I arrange to meet people there from all corners of the globe.
As you might expect, I do quite a bit of entertaining at waterside restaurants. I visit Sydney regularly and especially like the Catalina in Rose Bay, which attracts the great and the good of the city. In St Tropez, Club 55 on Pampelonne beach has a lovely atmosphere, with people arriving from their boats by tender, dressed in T-shirts and shorts, to enjoy a great lunch.