Former chairman of the Restaurant Association Richard, Earl of Bradford said that expensive leases are driving reasonably priced restaurants out of London.
He was speaking after announcing the closure of Porters English Restaurant after 35-and-a-half years in business, alongside the 10-year old Covent Garden Grill. The two restaurants, located next door to one another in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London, will serve their final meals on 19 January 2015.
Bradford has sold the short-term leases of three and four years in length back to the landlord of the properties. "We had hoped to apply for a lease extension, but the landlord made it clear that we wouldn't get what we were asking for," he explained.
Bradford said that it was a "sad and emotional" time, as many of his staff had been with him for a very long-term, including the head chef of the 200-seat Porters, who joined the restaurant when it opened in 1979.
"There has been an outpouring of grief on Facebook from our customers regarding the closures," said Bradford.
"There is nowhere that is a more symbolic English landmark than Covent Garden and it is extraordinary to think that after January there will be nowhere in the area where you will be able to enjoy reasonably priced English priced food. With the ridiculous prices now being charged for leases in London, it is becoming virtually impossible to open a restaurant serving sensibly priced food."
During the history of Porters, Bradford estimates that a total of two million customers have enjoyed the restaurant's quintessential English menu, which features dishes such as toad in the hole; braised beef faggots; and steamed syrup sponge. "If we laid down all the sausages we have served over the years, they would run from London to Oxford," he added.
Bradford said he was no longer sure what type of restaurants the landlords around Covent Garden want to see in the area, other than those own owned by Richard Caring, whose restaurant portfolio includes the Ivy and Scott's.
During his tenure as chairman of the Restaurant Association, Bradford fought many campaigns, but he said the one he was most proud of was the overturning of the decision by Westminster Council to introduce street parking charges until midnight. "We received tremendous support from people like Angela Hartnett, Michel Roux junior and Peter Stringfellow. It would have killed business in the West End, if it had gone ahead."
Bradford intends to continue in the hospitality business and is looking to open a restaurant, which will serve "an essentially English menu" in an historic market town, near London.