The next chapter 6 December 2019 Lexington managing director Julia Edmonds on taking the helm at the caterer and her people plans for the future
In this week's issue... The next chapter Lexington managing director Julia Edmonds on taking the helm at the caterer and her people plans for the future
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A new shade of Brown's

01 January 2000
A new shade of Brown's

Brown's in London's Mayfair is the most traditional and the most English of hotels. So when its restaurant was relaunched in April, the design brief was not to create a dramatic new look, but to enhance the existing feel of the room.

The result is an 88-cover restaurant named 1837, after the year Queen Victoria ascended to the throne and the year Brown's opened.

General manager Andrew Coggings says some people cannot immediately tell that the restaurant has been restyled. "The hotel has been open 160 years and a modern minimalist style of restaurant would not suit. So when people ask us what we've done, we're pleased, because we didn't want them to say, ‘Oh, you've changed everything.'"

Raffles International decided refurbishment was needed when it acquired the hotel last July. Coggings explains that while the hotel's 118 bedrooms had a high occupancy rate, the restaurant did not. If 150 people were staying in the hotel, perhaps only 10% would eat in and relatively few outsiders used the restaurant - a common situation for many hotel restaurants, both in London and the provinces.

Business clientele

The market Brown's wants to attract is the local Mayfair clientele, together with business users further afield. The majority of its residents are from overseas - 45% from the USA alone - and Brown's recognises that such visitors are unlikely to want to eat in the hotel every night of their stay.

Within two months of the relaunch, sales have increased by 100%. On average there are 30 for lunch and 50 for dinner, with average spends of £50 and £75 respectively, including drinks but excluding VAT.

As well as the refurbishment, everything else in the restaurant has been changed to create a strong emphasis on tradition and style. The food is described as "contemporary cuisine prepared in the classical French manner and served with all the elegance and refinement of days gone by".

Typical dishes include roast suprême of Aylesbury duck with fondant potatoes, buttered cabbage and apple with a blackberry sauce (£23), and veal sweetbreads coated in parsley and tarragon with braised leeks and a Meaux mustard cream sauce (£22).

Both guéridon service and flambé have been reintroduced, and 1837 has no less than five trolleys - for smoked salmon, roast meat, cheese, Champagne and digestifs.

There is also a new team of staff, with casuals replaced by a full-time restaurant brigade.

The design company for the restaurant was Richmond International. Main contractors were Lambro Contracts, while graphic design was done by Pentagram. The budget for the restaurant interior, including air conditioning, furniture, fittings and equipment, was about £100,000, with nearly as much again being spent on crockery, cutlery and glassware.

The 1837 logo is made up of the four numbers in different type sizes, each in a different shade of brown to reflect the hotel's name. The menus are large and use type in two different browns on a cream background.

Overall, the ambience in 1837 is elegant and spacious. The aim has been to make it feel like a private dining room, so Richmond International designer Sue Doggett has avoided hotel-style pin spotlights and gadgets, and the Micros system is tucked out of sight.

The oak panelling and columns with Ionic capitals were kept, but were given a more matt finish.

Grapevine frieze

Similarly, the striking hexagonal mouldings on the ceiling were retained. The wall between the panelling and the ceiling - up to a yard high in parts - has been given a subtle wash finish and has a delicate grapevine frieze, hand-painted by Kitty Baden Powell.

One item that was changed was the carpet, because it was felt it had a "corporate" look to it. Food and beverage manager Jonathan Wallace explains this was a tough decision because the carpet was less than a year old.

Its replacement has a pattern of bold squares of burgundy and pale green, inspired by a 19th-century design and specially woven by SP Carpets.

In place of the timber fireplace Doggett has installed a striking limestone one, made by Keystone, which forms a focal point in the room.

She explains that she initially wanted to install an antique fireplace. "But we didn't have time to find one and it would have cost two or three times as much as this."

To compensate, however, the fire basket supplied by Thornhill Galleries is antique.

The entrance to the restaurant has undergone a major change. Before, it had sofas, but now there are handsome glass-doored cabinets to display wines - there are 1,000 on the list - and wine glasses.

1837 is reintroducing a theatrical style with its use of flambé and guéridon service, with waiter skills to match. So it is not surprising that its curtains are also theatrical. They are generously swagged and draped like stage curtains, and measure 3.5m from ceiling to floor.

Made by Stanley Baldwin International, they are lined and interlined to make them look really substantial. The Zoffany fabric from Lee Jofa is cotton with yellow print on a deeper yellow ochre stripe. The swags and tails are in a red, green and yellow striped velvet, lined with rich burgundy silk and trimmed with deep yellow fringing from Mulberry.

The tables, from Kearns Furniture, have central pedestals with four mahogany feet that peek out underneath the linen table cloths. There are square, round and rectangular tables - all with felt tops to deaden the sound of crockery and cutlery - and at 76cm they are a little higher than usual to provide a more comfortable eating height.

For seating, Doggett commissioned Bray Design to make three new sofas and to reupholster the existing chairs. The chairs are in deep green or pale yellow chenille from Mulberry, while the sofas are in a red antique velvet from Lee Jofa.

Lighting comes from a variety of sources. There are six antique gilt empire chandeliers from Vaughan Lighting. On the console tables are tall table lamps from Tempus Stet, while other table lamps come from Tindles Lighting.

Around the room are moulded gilt wall lights, each with two arms and candle-style lamps, again from Tempus Stet. The same supplier also provided the pair of gilt-framed mirrors in the private dining room.

One of the advantages of decorating in a 160-year-old hotel is that there is a long-standing collection of accessories and "finishing touches". For example, a portrait of the fourth Earl of Albermarle (the hotel is on Albermarle Street) was rescued from a staircase and hung in 1837.

Similarly, 1837's fireplace is adorned with a pair of wooden lions from the bar and two lidded china urns that were previously in a guest suite.

Other items, including a still-life painting of fruit, were acquired by Raffles International's own art curator.

Sourced from France

Tabletop items were all bought by the hotel, with many sourced from France. Coggings explains that it was important to buy items from abroad because they give 1837 a different style from other London restaurants. He adds that restaurant manager Laurent Brydniak was invaluable in sourcing items as he had previously worked at the two-Michelin-starred Le Pré Catelan. "Without him, we wouldn't have known where to go."

The service trolleys came from both Posadas and Europ-Felix in France, with the former supplying the digestif, Champagne and guéridon trolleys and the latter the cheese trolley.

Slender silver napkin rings, wood-and-silver cruets, silver petits fours stands, vases and silver-and-glass candle-holders came from another French company, Ercuis.

Some existing cutlery was replated and the supply was topped up from Lambert & Blaber. 1837 also has some unusual pieces of cutlery - for example, sauce spoons, oyster forks and mocha spoons.

Ivory linen in a slightly coarse weave was supplied by Ewart Liddell. All the cloths are rectangular - including those used for round tables - and have been generously sized to hang about 8in from the ground. Napkins, at 26in, are also large.

Glasses for red wine, white wine and water are from the Etoile range supplied by John Jenkins.

In addition, 1837 has an extensive collection of George Riedel's Sommelier and Vinnum glasses for fine wines, supplied by Michael Johnson Ceramics, among them special designs for Burgundy, Bordeaux, Sauternes and Hermitage.

The show plates have a stunning deep blue and gold pattern on a white base, and were specially made for 1837 by Thomas Goode. Just 120 were supplied, each with the 1837 logo on the reverse.

Other crockery is Wedgwood, bought a few months before 1837 was relaunched. It is in Wedgwood's Candlelight shape and features the Brown's logo in a delicate greeny-gold and pale mauve pattern.

Some two months after the opening Andrew Coggings' verdict is that 1837 is "on the brink of success". He adds: "The type of market we are trying to attract is fairly conservative and they don't move overnight like the trendy young things.

"However, we are now consistently doing extremely good figures."

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