Alain Lhermitte, owner of what is believed to be London's oldest family-run French restaurant, Mon Plaisir in Covent Garden, has died.
He passed away on 21 August at 80 years of age, 11 years after he was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer's. The funeral service will be held on 16 September.
His wife, Aline Lhermitte, said: "2022 is a huge year for us because it was 50 years of Alain's ownership of the restaurant, he turned 80 in April when we sold it, and also our son Max is turning 18 in October. Alain and I have almost known each other for over 30 years. November is our 10-year anniversary. There's a lot of very important dates. He marked it with his departure as well."
Alain moved to the UK in his early 20's with aspirations to become a Formula One driver. He never quite fulfilled his Formula One dream, though he did compete in Formula Three.
Instead, he discovered a passion for the restaurant trade while working part-time in hospitality. Aline described him as a "150-mile per hour kind of guy" who was fuelled by the adrenaline in the kitchen and front-of-house.
He started out as a waiter at Mon Plaisir before he was promoted to maître d'. In 1972 he bought the restaurant from the Viala family, who had operated the business since the 1940s.
Alain owned and managed the restaurant until 2017, the year he passed on his responsibilities to Aline.
Over half a century, he grew the restaurant – "his baby" – from a room with 25 covers to a 100-cover restaurant with four rooms. The décor included a range of eccentric "bric-a-brac", including a collection of frogs, cockerels and clocks.
Alain was also a keen drinker of Gallimard champagne (specifically Blanc de Noirs) and loved to dance to ABBA. "On a few occasions he would dance in the street and our neighbours would join him from time to time. He was really, really fantastic," said Aline.
She added: "He wouldn't let [the illness] define him and he was ever so grateful for the care he received. He would never complain. He would always give us the thumbs up and a big smile so and that's how we want to remember him."
According to Virginie Laine, who was manager of Mon Plaisir for 23 years, one regular at the restaurant, Mr Harris, ate there every day before his death in 2011.
While working with Alain, Laine was struck by his "eye for detail": "If he were changing the window display or something was missing, he would see it straightaway. The metal of the dishwasher if it wasn't clean or if there were drops of water on it … his eye for detail was just crazy and even annoying and funny as well."
Helene Cuff, Alain's PR, said: "He was always immaculately and mildly eccentrically dressed, sporting a well groomed signature handlebar moustache. He was my first PR client and he WAS Mon Plaisir.
"In my 20 odd years experience I can truly say that Alain was a complete one off, someone who was never afraid to speak his mind and who adored working in hospitality. He leaves a great void in the industry and will be sorely missed."
Mon Plaisir is now owned by Fabio Lauro and family, who continue to uphold Mon Plaisir's 80-year-long history.
Aline added: "We were very lucky that he took it over and that another family is keeping [the restaurant] as it is. Alain's fantastic portrait is still there, the team is still there, they're doing the same thing as before. His legacy would carry on so he found a lot of comfort knowing that."
Alain's family have created a website that raises awareness about frontotemporal degeneration. Donations that will enable further research into this illness can be made via this link.
Image Credit: Aline Lhermitte