Tom Kerridge: Over the last five years, various independent hoteliers and restauranteurs have approached us to open a restaurant in London in various places, we have always been talking to people but it has never been the right time or right partnership for us. Our company has always been about organic growth so we would not be opening this restaurant without having the right people behind it. I would never open somewhere and then try to find the right people to run it. We have been very lucky that we have retained members of the team with us for a long time and so as they have grown they have reached ceilings, and so the only way for them to progress has been to create their own ceilings! Nick Beardshaw, the chef heading up this project, has been with the company for eight or nine years, and it is really exciting that he now has this opportunity.
It was a phone call from Thomas Kochs asking if we would be interested in having a conversation that kicked off this project. From the moment that I met Thomas, I knew it was always going to happen because he is such a wonderful and warm person that is all about hospitality and that is what we are about too, even though our two offers may seem miles apart: one is a pub in Marlow and the other a five star hotel in the heart of London, both are about making sure that the guests have the most wonderful time.
The dining room itself is a wonderful room, it is a beautiful space but as it was it may as well have been a museum or an art gallery, it presented no immediate connection to the restaurant we wanted, other than there being a bar to one side.
The Hand & Flowers in Marlow is a small space, it is a pub, you instantly know what to expect inside from its exterior, and so when you walk in it is easy to connect with the space and to the offer, so I wanted to bring the warmth, the immediate connection to the food, and that same sense of hospitality to this amazing room. That was the first thing that I said to Simon, that the design needed to bring an intimacy to this very grand room.
Simon Rawlings: The large glass orb chandeliers had to go!
TK: The chandeliers were amazing, the room is amazing but we wanted to lower the impact of the ceiling and that was one of the first decisions that Simon made. He said, “I would like to paint the ceiling green’, and referenced New York’s Grand Central Station, and we suddenly got it. It still has a grandeur and a beauty, but the green ceiling brings the space in, creating this very seductive room from something so vast.
SR: When we visited Marlow, I knew we needed to distil the essence of the place and the pub into a series of nostalgic and familiar touch points. Not to create anything contrived, but to create something that felt right for Tom. What is the offer? What does the space need? What is the purpose and function of each area? How do we make each seating area inviting? How do we bring food preparation and food display into the room? Thinking about the room as a series of different elements, rather than trying to deal with it as a single room, means that from every perspective there will be a different viewpoint of the activity at each station within the room. I think the layout that we have all worked very hard to perfect is going to make the guests feel immersed in their own pocket of activity and part of the wider room, which I think is important.
TK: Familiarity, as Simon mentions, has been a really important concept. When people eat with us in Marlow they quite often say, this is the first Michelin starred restaurant they have ever eaten in, and that is a wonderful thing. They feel they can come because they feel comfortable within a familiar surrounding so being able to bring that context and that warmth into a dining room that is in the heart of London was key to us.
These are the touch points that Simon and The Studio added: the real ale room as you enter, the meat aging on display, seeing the meat being cooked, the cheese on view. Everybody knows roast beef, cheese, and beer. But having these activities on display and integrated into the space, gives a beautifully decorated, high end dining room the familiar touch points which people recognise and make them feel comfortable, which was so important to the brief.
SR: The space had to evoke Tom’s personality as well. It would be boring if it felt as if an anonymous designer had simply created something that was disconnected from him. The fact Tom has brought his wife Beth’s artworks into the space, the fact that we had a late night telephone conversation the other day obsessing over the selection of the beer taps - this is the level of engagement Tom has with the restaurant and its design, to really make sure that everything really has that level of attention to detail and represents him.
And whilst familiarity to the guests is important, the room is not going to feel alien within the building either, which is also key. It is not going to feel like a pub has been dropped into the heart of The Corinthia - the space feels relevant to the building as well, which is key.
TK: To be able to have something of the pub offer was quite tricky, but has been achieved by interpreting the ethos behind craft ales or fine wines: both are well looked after, both are brewed or nurtured or bit is brewed well, both have heart and soul, vibrancy and love, a warmth, that understanding that there is something tactile about the manufacturing processes behind both. Real ales and fine wines are made by people with passion, and the hops, the vineyards, the barrelling, the whole process of both represent a connection to human beings, and that is what we wanted to infer with the design of the restaurant.
SR: Exactly. One of the other things I think you will really get a real sense of is the Britishness of the space as well when you walk in. The furniture has all been made in Britain. The leather is all British. There are all these touch points that are all going to be really quite special similarly to the processes behind developing the food and the menu, there will be an emphasis on process, craft and authenticity and familiarity, which will bring about a really unique feeling. Tom has been a great collaborator, and whilst he has been very involved, we have been allowed to really develop the vision, design and the details.
TK: I think once the vision has been established, I am very good at letting people deliver what they are good at doing. I am quite good at delegating and I am quite good at understanding people’s skill sets. I do not know how to design a restaurant, so you ask, ‘Who are the best people at designing restaurants?’ and one of the most famous restaurant designers is David Collins Studio. So already having designed the room once and having had an understanding of the space and a connection to it and having worked with the hotel before, I could see no reason not to work with The Studio.
Following the first conversation I had with Simon, the team followed up and presented some ideas back to us, and they were already on point. Not 100%, but straight away 80% of what we wanted to capture and had been talking about was there, and we knew it was going to be a great partnership.
In terms of the design, there has been very little going back and forth. It is always going to be a conversation with three parties: us as an independent, the hotel as group and then the design studio. How you bring our personality as an independent into the hotel and into the space with the design is the hardest role. David Collins Studio has been the middle-man trying to make everything work, whilst fighting for personality and having an awareness of the numbers and bums-on-seats!
There is always a bottom-line that businesses are looking for, and of course every endeavour needs to operate at a profit, but there are front-line considerations in terms of operations and people as well, as of course, it is the people working on the space and in the space who will make the room work. The room having a heart and soul, and the room looking good on a balance sheet, could be two very different things, so all parties have very honest about what they want. David Collins Studio has been straight forward at communicating, there have been absolutely zero issues from our point of view. We have been understood from the word go. The Corinthia have been amazingly understanding too. There really has been a connection between all three businesses.
SR: I think that from the outset there was a very clear brief, which always helps. It is when there is no clear direction or brief that you have false starts. That is when the process becomes complicated and troubled. I firmly believe that with any relationship you need to have the confidence to talk openly at the beginning of the project. If you don’t agree with something you have to speak up.
TK: Yes, otherwise it will become a larger problem further down the line.
SR: From the outset there were very small conversations and the actual decision making team was small. It was yourself and Thomas Kochs, we issued our drawing packages and it came back with either a tick or a cross! That made it much easier than presenting the same thing over and over again and navigating multiple differences of opinion.
TK: Yes, “Can we make the green a bit more green...!”
SR: Exactly, I am not going to tell you how to cook my steak. It is just a kind of trust. You have got to have trust in the people who know what they are doing. I am not saying that come the soft-launch everything is going to be perfect because there are always a few things to shimmy around: a few more lights here and a few less lights there, more pictures there - the space will evolve.
TK: Exactly, the menu will be the same. We know that we have dishes that are going to work and they will be brilliant, but you never know if they are going to sell or if you will need to change something. It is all well and good saying, “This is how it is going to be”, but it doesn’t mean that it cannot adapt as long as you have the foundations of what you want it to be in place.
SR: And the room is like a plate of food. You don’t know how people are going to react until they eat in it. You don’t know how it will fully function until it is full of people.
TK: You just want to make it full!