The Art of the Restaurateur
By Nicholas Lander
Phaidon Press, £24.95
Nick Lander has been the Financial Times's restaurant critic for more than 20 years and is an intelligent and incisive observer of Britain's restaurant scene. Partly, this is because he spent seven years as a restaurateur himself, owning and running L'Escargot in London's Soho. So the business folk who read the "pink paper" have the benefit of someone who knows of what he writes rather than a commentary on someone's social circle and lifestyle.
He has written an intriguing book. The focus is on the restaurateur rather than the chef and on the restaurateur's skills rather than recipes. Thus the chapter on St John in Smithfield is centred on Trevor Gulliver rather than Fergus Henderson, and the thrust is how to make the diner happy with the whole experience rather than just the food.
The book is divided into sections. The first, and in some respects the most interesting, for it is personal, is Lander's own story, from his initial and accidental entry into the restaurant business to reviewer and consultant. He employed smart people - Alastair Little then Martin Lam in the kitchen, the glorious Elena Salvoni front of house - and had the wine list input of the country's most respected wine writer, Jancis Robinson, who he had cleverly managed to marry. Success a foregone conclusion? Not really, as hard work for them as the rest of us.
The second section covers the abbreviated life stories of 20 top restaurateurs: people you will know, like Russell Norman of Polpo, the Hart brothers of Quo Vadis, and Nigel Platts-Martin of the Square, and some you may not be as familiar with, like Hazel Allen from Ballymaloe in Cork or Danny Meyer, whose collection of New York restaurants, including Union Square café and Gramercy Tavern, are role models for a hundred inferior imitations here in the UK.
The biographies are fine and dandy but their value lies in the corollary sections of each, where Lander seizes on the particular aspect of their success that is crucial and writes an essay on it. Some seem obvious - looking after the regulars and maximising the potential of your space - but others are less so, such as the great paeon of praise for kitchen porters, and how to tame your designers.
If you are planning, or even dreaming of, opening a restaurant of your own, then this will be more use to you than any cookbook. A good read, too.
By Shaun Hill, chef-proprietor, the Walnut Tree, Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire
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