Chris and Jeremy Show is a hard act to follow

29 March 2001
Chris and Jeremy Show is a hard act to follow

The Chris Corbin and Jeremy King Show is now officially off air. It was a show that kept the customers of their three iconic restaurants, Le Caprice, the Ivy and J Sheekey, slickly entertained for more than 15 years. The show's demise resulted from the apparently precipitate departure of the stars in September last year - the moment their management contract with the themed restaurant group Belgo ended.

Interestingly, Belgo's purchase of their three decidedly non-themed restaurants a few years ago raised quite a few sceptical eyebrows in the trade. Yet I think that Luke Johnson, Belgo's chairman, has made a very shrewd investment. Even without Chris and Jeremy on the scene, the eateries still pack 'em in every day, and with all the unsatisfied demand for tables created over the years, will probably continue to do so indefinitely.

It was a sad day when the two departed their brilliant restaurants… restaurants that I have grown so fond of that I could happily limit myself to them for the rest of my life. I am not normally prone to hero worship, but when it comes to restaurateurs, I am unashamed to say - no, actually I am proud to admit - that Chris and Jeremy are my heroes. Many of you, I know, feel the same.

Here's a little story that "the boys" may have forgotten. In 1986, when there was just Le Caprice, I requested a meeting with them about an idea I had for a possible joint venture in Berkeley Square. In the event, it came to nothing, but I recall asking them whether they planned to capitalise on their success by expanding the business.

Jeremy looked at me and said: "We don't want to expand. We want to create immortality with what we have." At the time I thought his comments pompous, but in retrospect, with the exception of the fact that they did expand, they clearly achieved what they set out to do.

In the complex and often mysterious art of "restauration", they have few peers and their restaurants have indeed become immortal. In my eyes, they are the glittering Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of the restaurant world.

Wouldn't we all love to know the secret of their success - the secret of creating restaurants that turn their tables nearly five times a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, year after year after year; where the food is always consistent, of high quality and of the type everyone likes to eat; where the service is as sharp as a razor and as discreet as a bidder's nod at auction; where the staff's names and faces are known to all because they've been there forever; where the management treat you as a friend but never forget that you are an honoured, valued guest; where the rooms simply sizzle with so much razzle dazzle that even the stars of every cultural, business and artistic universe, who have seen it all in their time, themselves get off on the sheer buzz and continue to come in droves.

Of course the real secret is not so much in the partners' individual genius as in the genius of their partnership.

There is an expression in our business, "the owner's eye is worth 10". But Chris and Jeremy's combined eye for detail must be worth 10 times 10. Having two sets of "owner's" eyes in service must have been a big part of their success because they were there, on the floor, weaving their magic every day.

I've been to their restaurants a few times since their departure and things have changed (only a bit), but not, I am certain, to the untrained eye. The reason for so little perceptible change is that they always had an uncanny knack of picking great people… people who will guard their legacy like lionesses guard their cubs.

Of course they are missed by staff and customers alike who will, like me, for many years to come, still be half expecting one of them to make their low-key papal-like appearance, just as they did every day and every night for so many years. Oh well, goodbye boys, but the show must go on while we wait for your encore.

Michael Gottlieb is president of the Restaurant Association and proprietor of Café Spice restaurants and Pencom (Service That Sells) UK

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