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Restaurants: King-size covers

It seems that size does matter after all. Nikki Spencer catches up with the big boys battling it out on the capital's restaurant scene
We're told size isn't every-thing, but it certainly seems significant in the restaurant world at the moment.

Last week, Titanic, Marco Pierre White's 600-plus-seater bar and restaurant (pictured right, as it neared completion) opened above The Atlantic in London's Brewer Street. Obvious quips about it sinking in the current economic climate have been tackled head-on by the proprietor, who says: "The recession is our iceberg and we'll sail round it!"

Just down the road, in Haymarket, Tiger Tiger, a 1,770-capacity venue is already pulling in the Christmas punters; while Shoeless Joe's new 1,000-plus bar, restaurant and entertainment complex is due to open soon (but a little later than planned) at The Temple. Plus, next year, Richard Branson is moving into the restaurant business with a 1,800-capacity entertainment experience called The Venue, in Soho, due to open in the autumn. On offer will be the Ice Room, the Blues Room and a Getaway From It All room, as well as the "Pods": individual and secluded dining areas for private parties.

London went through a "mine's bigger than yours" phase a few years ago when Conran opened Quaglino's (270 covers), followed by Mezzo - which boasts 800 covers when you combine the upstairs and downstairs restaurant - it's still the largest restaurant in Europe.

What we're seeing now, though, is the development of huge one-stop venues, where the idea is that you'll stay all night. "The public are becoming more demanding and more discerning. It used to be that you'd meet your mates in a pub, then maybe go to a restaurant and then onto a club," explains Robert Cohen, operations manager of Tiger Tiger. "But then you'd lose people on the way, get rained on waiting for a taxi, and then get fed up queuing to get in somewhere."

Cohen hopes that people will be attracted by the fact that Tiger Tiger offers a deli, five different bars and a 150-seat restaurant.

"You can spend a whole night just roving through the different bits," he says.

But both he and David Loewi, the managing director of Conran Restaurants, are keen to point out that big doesn't necessarily mean it can't be intimate.

"You can probably have a more private conversation in a large place like Mezzo than you can in a small quiet restaurant," Loewi contends.