by Dominic Walsh & Angela Jameson
Marco Pierre White's expanding London restaurant empire looks set to take on one of the capital's best-known shrines to Victorian extravagance, the Criterion at Piccadilly Circus.
Caterer understands that Forte is negotiating a lease with Mr White along the lines of their agreement on The Restaurant at the Hyde Park Hotel, also owned by Forte.
Mr White, who this year gained three Michelin stars at The Restaurant, also runs The Canteen at Chelsea Harbour and has a 50% stake in Interlude de Chavot, a new establishment in Charlotte Street where the chef is Eric Chavot.
Management of the Criterion was farmed out to restaurant group My Kinda Town - then headed by the late Bob Payton - three years ago, amid a welter of media publicity.
However, it is understood Forte now wishes to dispose of the lease and has appointed property agent Davis & Coffer to act on its behalf. My Kinda Town has been given notice to relinquish the premises.
A spokeswoman for Forte confirmed: "We are reviewing our options at the moment and are talking to a number of parties, but no decision has yet been taken."
A source close to one of the potential purchasers suggested Forte was seeking offers of over £3.25m for its 100-year lease on the property or, alternatively, an annual rent in excess of £450,000.
Peter Webber, managing director of My Kinda Town, declined to say whether his company might bid for the property but admitted that, having traded there for three years, he was aware of the site's limitations. It is understood that, despite high turnover levels, the 180-seat restaurant has struggled to make a profit.
Originally opened in 1874 as the Long Bar or Marble Hall, the Criterion is a Grade I-listed building with a golden mosaic ceiling, set with semi-precious stones, and marbled floors.
- A Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shack has opened in the garden of My Kinda Town's Henry J Bean's Bar and Grill, on London's King's Road.