The launch of Kerridge’s Bar & Grill at the Corinthia Hotel London earlier this week highlights the importance of hotels securing the right partner when working with an outside operator. Janet Harmer meets the two key personalities involved, Tom Kerridge and Thomas Kochs
When it comes to creating a partnership between a hotel and a third-party chef, there are a whole host of factors that need to be tied down to create a restaurant that will be both impactful and enduring.
Alongside a design that wows and offers comfort in equal measure, the food concept has got to be spot on for the location and expected customers; the quality of the food and drinks should be first class; and the service needs to be welcoming and seamless.
But over and above all these things, there is the requirement for a solid and respectful connection between the two partners involved.
In the case of the newly launched Kerridge’s Bar & Grill, which opened its doors at the Corinthia Hotel London on Monday, it appears that there is a genuine meeting of minds between the two parties which, it is hoped, will ensure that this is a restaurant that will run and run.
Tom Kerridge is, of course, the better-known partner of the new £1.5m venture, which came about after the chef, who holds a total of three Michelin stars in the Buckinghamshire town of Marlow (two at the Hand & Flowers and one at the Coach), was disappointed by the abandonment of plans to open a site within the Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel in London. The decision not to proceed was down to a change of mind from the hotel owner.
“At that point we were unsure what to do as we had all the senior members of staff in place to open in London,” says Kerridge. “We were in conversation with a lot of other people, but none of them ever felt 100% right, then out of the blue we were approached by the Corinthia. From that first phone call from Thomas
Kochs [the Corinthia’s managing director], everything fitted and flowed naturally. The reason why we are here is because of Thomas.”
Kochs may not have the same high-profile public persona as Kerridge, who has a string of books and television appearances to his name. However, his engaging personality did come to wider attention during his involvement in the acclaimed BBC documentary Inside Claridge’s, filmed during his five-year tenure as general manager of the hotel.
Kochs, like Kerridge, immediately felt there was a connection between the two of them. “We both believe the team is incredibly important,” he says. “Tom really looks after those who work with him because he wants loyalty and people to stay with him. He achieves this by creating a happy team, which in turn creates a great atmosphere in the dining room.
“Tom doesn’t want any barriers between front and back of house. I think he would be mortified if any waiter was afraid of entering the kitchen. These are little details, but for me that is wonderful because that is what we are doing here – investing in our people by being positive and captivating them. Technology is invading our lives. It is helpful and facilitates things in many ways, but in hospitality we need to emphasise the human interaction. Tom understands that and that is why it has been such fun creating the restaurant with him.”
Kerridge agrees 100% with Kochs, describing him as “a lovely, wonderful, warm human being”, who is constantly focused on the guest while at the same time being a driven professional.
“Everything we’ve ever done has been built on relationships with people which has resulted in the organic growth of the business. It is not about efficiency, profit margins and spreadsheets. It is about making people feel good and that is the same whether we are working with our fish or veg supplier, having conversations with TV people or operating the restaurants. Everything is about the people you work with – and no one wants to go to work with people you don’t want to be with.”
When worlds collide
From the outside, Corinthia Hotel London and Kerridge’s food empire in Marlow numbering three sites) would not appear to be natural bedmates – the Corinthia being part of a nine-strong international, albeit family-owned, hotel group, headquartered in Malta, and the Hand & Flowers, the Coach and the Butcher’s Tap all located in quintessentially British country pubs.
For Kerridge, however, there is an affinity between the two businesses. “Yes, the Corinthia is a beautiful luxury hotel, but it doesn’t feel posh. It feels comfortable and classy, embracing and encompassing and not at all exclusive.”
Prior to the signing of the formal partnership agreement – outlining the fee paid to Kerridge in exchange for him running the business, that all the staff are employed by the hotel and the investment in the site is made by the Corinthia – Kerridge flew out to Budapest to meet Alfred Pisani, the founder and chairman of Corinthia Hotels.
“It was not that Mr Pisani wanted to meet Tom to vet him, but he wanted to look him in the eye and share his thoughts with him,” says Kochs. “Mr Pisani is very specific when it comes to family values and looking after people and making sure the younger generation are well looked after. And, of course, it was all fine.”
Kerridge concurs about his meeting with Pisani. “There was a connection – we share the same heart and soul, although he of course has a little more experience than me.”
Once the partnership was confirmed, the first challenge to be overcome on a practical basis was getting to grips with how the intimate dining experience of the Marlow pubs could be translated into the vast space offered to Kerridge at the Corinthia, with its soaring columns and high ceilings. Previously occupied by Massimo, the restaurant was originally launched in partnership with Italian chef Massimo Riccioli of La Rosetta in Rome. Unfortunately, this was a partnership that didn’t last and Riccioli departed from London in 2012, just one year after the hotel opened.
“It’s a beautiful room, but it could have been an art gallery,” says Kerridge. “There was a disconnect with the food. I wanted it to be more about the dining experience and the people, rather than being overawed by the grand space.”
David Collins Studio, the designer of Massimo, was brought back in to undertake the transformation. Overseen by Simon Rawlings and inspired by the painted ceiling of New York Grand Central Station, the new look started to take shape with the painting of the high, previously white, ceiling a dark green to bring an intimacy to the space. The 90 seats come in the form of leather dining chairs and deep button-backed banquettes in a dark green and burgundy colour palette, with William Edwards china – featuring a design in a reverse pattern from that at the Hand & Flowers, providing a link to Marlow. A private dining room accommodates an additional 18 customers who can enjoy the theatrical experience of chefs cooking in front of them within an open kitchen.
Artwork is dominated by two major bronzes from Kerridge’s sculptor wife Beth Cullen-Kerridge – ‘Steve’ and ‘Dorsal Angel’ – positioned dramatically in the heart of the dining room. Smaller works by Cullen-Kerridge are displayed within an art wall curated by the West Contemporary gallery in east London.
The connection with food and drink begins as soon as you walk through the doors direct from Northumberland Avenue, with rows of real ale lining the entrance. A row of glassfronted meat fridges greets you straight ahead. Around the corner, the rotisserie sitting off to one corner fills the restaurant with the sight, sound and aromas of ingredients being cooked. And finally, there is a huge display of cheese and bread laid out on a table in the middle of the room.
“So before you’ve even sat down, you’ve been exposed to the beer, the raw meat,
the food being cooked and piles of cheese,” says Kerridge. “This is about true hospitality and simple comfort food, nothing about it is over-thought or over-processed.”
The menu itself is based around an à la carte offer – “I’m not a tasting menu guy”, says Kerridge – alongside two set menus for lunch and pre-theatre guests priced at £24 and £29.50 for two and three courses respectively. In addition, the bar, seating up to 40 guests, serves a selection of simple snacks all day, such as sausages cooked in honey and mini Scotch eggs.
A large proportion of dishes will be cooked on the rotisserie, with the caramelisation of the meat supplied by Kerridge’s own butcher-come-pub in Marlow, the Butcher’s Tap, proving an edge in flavour. Fish and vegetables that require roasting will also be cooked here.
Meanwhile, fried fish and chips – a favourite on the lunch menu at the Hand & Flowers – is being served at both lunch and dinner. “For me, fish and chips are the greatest thing ever, but it shouldn’t be seen as cheap food,” says Kerridge. “We’re using the best fish we can find and most of the time it will be turbot, so it will be pricey. The Japanese do amazing tempura with lobster and you don’t think twice about it, so there is nothing wrong with doing turbot in batter and
serving it with amazing chips.”
While the intention is not to create a Hand & Flowers mark two, there is a recognition that the food will reflect a mix of both the chef’s most celebrated restaurant and the Coach.
“There is nothing overcomplicated about the food here, we’re not blinding people with science – we’re simply offering the kind of dishes people really want to eat,” says Kerridge, highlighting the likes of Cornish crab vol-au-vent with avocado, green apple and crab bisque; dry-aged rib of beef with ox cheek bordelaise, gherkin ketchup and triple-cooked chips; and dark chocolate pudding with crystalised malt biscuit, salted caramel and malted milk ice-cream.
The restaurant opening has added 85 staff to the 130 already working for Kerridge in Marlow. Nick Beardshaw, who was previously head chef at the Coach and has spent at total of eight years with Kerridge, is heading the 35-strong kitchen brigade as head chef, while Tomáš Kubart, formerly maître d’ at Bar Boulud, is restaurant director. Kerridge himself is currently in the restaurant every day, but this will probably drop to three days a week.
Although neither party will reveal the length of the contract that has been signed, both regard it as a long-term venture. “Everything we do is about longevity,” says Kerridge. “I don’t want this to be a fashionable restaurant; I want it to feel like somewhere that has always been here in the past and will always be here in the future. It should be a restaurant that evolves, just like the Hand & Flowers has over the past 13 years.”
Kochs is excited that the opening of Kerridge Bar & Grill will introduce a whole new audience to the Corinthia. “People will travel to come here and eat Tom’s food and make a weekend of it; go to the spa and enjoy a cocktail in the Bassoon bar.”
Come December an even larger audience will be able to take a peek inside the Corinthia and its new restaurant with the screening of a prime time BBC One documentary made by Jane Treays, the same filmmaker who produced Inside Claridge’s, while Kerridge’s next series, Fresh Start, will air early next year.
The supportive connection between Kerridge and Kochs has got off to the strongest start, and knowing the integrity and focus both have for achieving the same goal, combined with the increasing growth in the public profile of both personalities, it’s safe to predict that this will be a partnership that will endure.
Corinthia Hotel London, Whitehall Place, London SW1A 2BD
Managing director Thomas Kochs
Executive chef Garry Hollihead
Bedrooms 283, including 51 suites and seven penthouses
Food and beverage Kerridge’s Bar & Grill, the Northall, Crystal Moon Lounge for afternoon tea, Bassoon bar, the Northall bar, the Garden Lounge
Spa Located over four floors with 17 treatment rooms. Partners: Espa Life, Stephen Price of BodySpace for fitness, Daniel Galvin hair salon
Guests Average age 40-45; geographical mix: US: 36%, UK: 22%, rest of world: 42%; corporate: 55%, leisure: 45%
Room rates Bedrooms: £385-£700, suites: £850-£5,500, penthouses: £6,000-£18,000
Corinthia Hotel London – a work in progress
While Kerridge’s Bar & Grill is the most high-profile new project at the Corinthia Hotel London, a whole raft of other new initiatives have been introduced over the past year. The arrival of Thomas Kochs as managing director 16 months ago presented the hotel with the opportunity to take stock, seven years after its launch within the former Ministry of Defence building between Northumberland Avenue and Whitehall Place. The property originally opened as the Metropole hotel in the 1880s.
Guided by its new positioning statement: “London’s elegant, uplifting, grand hotel, intelligently designed for modern life,” the Corinthia has undergone some key changes, several of which have been led by the hotel’s food and beverage director Ben Hofer. Kochs says: “The result is that what was previously mainstream has turned into something rather special, with each food and beverage space having a strong identity of its own, all put together with the guest in mind.”
Key initiatives include:
New executive chef
The reappointment of Garry Hollihead as the hotel’s executive chef on 1 September in place of the departing Adriano Cavagnini. Hollihead was the opening executive chef of the property before becoming corporate culinary director of the nine-strong group of Corinthia Hotels. He is now working on a new fish and seafood concept for the Corinthia’s second restaurant, Northall, to complement Kerridge’s strong meat focus.
Newly created Bassoon bar
Refocus of the offer in the Bassoon bar through a new partnership with Sager + Wilde, the operator of a bar in Hackney and restaurant in Bethnal Green. Kochs wanted to introduce something “unexpected”. “I don’t think people have been surprised by us working with a great chef like Tom Kerridge, but it is unpredictable for us to partner with Michael Sager, the founder of Sager + Wilde, and Marcis Dzelzainis, the most brilliant award-winning mixologist. The result
is exciting, creative, new and inventive.”
Enhanced afternoon tea
An enhanced afternoon tea service in the Crystal Moon Lounge now offers guests an interactive experience. Champagne and pastries are served from antique trollies, while sandwiches are served directly to the table. A tea sommelier brews the tea – from a selection of 25 – at a station to the requested strength and removes the leaves before service to ensure no extra water needs to be added. A touch of elegance is introduced by the bespoke bone china tea service created by Richard Brendon with mirrored cups reflecting the stripe design of the saucer in
grey and the occasional red to replicate the sole red crystal in the lounge’s Baccarat chandelier. “We wanted to create an uplifting British tea experience that doesn’t feel like the Dorchester or Claridge’s,” says Kochs.
The introduction of two new categories of suites, the Garden and London suites. As a result, the overall room count at the Corinthia has reduced from 294 to 283, including 51 suites and seven penthouses. “We didn’t have enough choice within our suite categories and if you want to grow your business, suites are the way forward,” says Kochs. The Garden suites, priced from £2,100, measure 65 sq m,
while the London suites at 105 sq m are from £5,200. Both were designed by GA, the company that worked on the original design of the hotel bedrooms in 2011.
Looking to the future
For Kochs, the work that has been undertaken across the hotel’s food and beverage outlets and enhancing the suites is only part of the story. “Guests today want more than just nice food and interiors, they want an association with
something interesting,” he explains. As a result, following on from an association the hotel had last year with neuroscientist-in-residence Dr Tara Swat, the Corinthia has teamed up with Chris Sanderson and Martin Raymond of the Future Laboratory to host a series of Futurist breakfast briefings for up to 60 people and more intimate dinners for around 20 to discuss subjects such as artificial intelligence and the future of robots. “To understand the future is hugely interesting for our guests and reaches out to a younger generation – and to do it with Chris and Martin, who have in-depth data and knowledge, is immensely powerful. Some hotels own their past, I thought, why couldn’t we own
the future?” Kochs concludes.