By David Tarpey
Sir Terence Conran's mega-sized Mezzo, which opens this Saturday in London's Soho, is the designer entrepreneur's biggest project to date.
Costing £5m, seating 700 and employing 350, this high-profile venture between Sir Terence and his veteran partner Joel Kissin is set to become the avant-garde newcomer to the capital's restaurant scene.
"I want Mezzo to make people feel good and to bring something new to Soho," Sir Terence explained. "I hope Mezzo gives people such a thrill that their jaws drop when they see it for the first time."
Impact is the buzz word at the 25,000sq ft complex, which sits on the site of the former Marquee Club on Wardour Street and is reputedly Europe's biggest restaurant. The venue will house two restaurants as well as a café/pâtisserie, bakery and three bars.
The upstairs Mezzonine restaurant will have a simple design and provide "food that is fast", the emphasis being on a quick turnover of customers. The planned median eating time is 45 minutes.
Asian street food will be the cornerstone of this rapid cuisine, and vegetarians will enjoy options such as pumpkin cooked in spiced coconut served on flat noodles with beanshoots and coriander. Average spend per head with wine is estimated at £14.
Separated by a steel, bronze and marble spiral staircase, the downstairs Mezzo restaurant is the pièce de résistance. It will display artworks by Allen Jones, provide a stage for musicians and offer a crustacea bar.
Promoting a leisurely pace, average spend with wine will be £32-£35. Its kitchen will have a panoply of rôtisseries, chargrills and griddle plates.
Customers are expected to come from the usual mix of Soho clientele, including fashion and media types, office workers and students. Tourists will not be a priority.
A wall of fire-glass allows diners at both levels to see into the two kitchens, with their brigade of 100 chefs and 40 kitchen porters. This will enhance the Conran and Kissin dream of providing a "restaurant with entertainment".
Helping to provide the theatre will be hundreds of hand-picked staff, many of whom have been poached from abroad. A large number have also come from top London hotels and restaurants, including the Criterion, the Lanesborough, the Ivy, and the Hyatt Carlton Tower.
Although the finished product is slick, Mr Kissin told Caterer problems had been encountered during the 30-month refurbishment. "We had to take a derelict, rat-infested building and convert it. For instance, we had to waterproof the basement which was difficult and expensive."
But he is confident about Mezzo's prospects: "I'm extremely excited about this. Quaglino's was a sea change but this is Quaglino's-plus."