Food And Drink: Word of mouth

Sybil Kapoor on the Latin Jeeves who went from La Paz to Le Caprice
Enter the cool monochromatic dining-room of Le Caprice and you are likely to be greeted by Angelo Sanchez-Pino, thought by some to be the most consummate maitre d'hotel in London. It is he who decides who sits where; he who guides you to a pristine table, having scanned his table plan; and he will soothe or joke according to your needs. For many, Le Caprice is Angelo.

"You have to have a vocation," he explains, "although I was born in Bolivia and studied economics in La Paz, I would probably have been a bad economist." His studies ended with the closure of his university after a conflict between the students and the government. In 1971, he came to England with his wife. His first job was through a friend, working in the kitchens of a boy's school in Berkhamsted. Soon, he was offered part-time work as a waiter in a French restaurant. He had discovered his metier.

Seventeen years ago, shortly after Christopher Corbin and Jeremy King bought Le Caprice, Angelo applied for a job as a waiter. His day's trial was an ordeal. He was too large to fit any of the crisp black staff jackets. His discomfort was further increased by the fact that, as a restaurant manager, he hadn't worked as a waiter for years. "I didn't think they would give me the job," he smiles wistfully. But within two years he was made maitre d'.

"He's wonderful," enthuses Nick Smallwood, joint owner of Kensington Place, and a regular at Le Caprice. "He's an encyclopedia. As soon as you walk into the restaurant, he knows who you are, where you like to sit, everything."

Every day, Angelo scans the papers to keep abreast of the arts, politics and social news, carefully matching names with faces. "You have to be very sensitive with customers, making sure no one sits near to someone they might wish to avoid." Once dressed and ready for his evening shift, he exudes a quiet authority reminiscent of a Latin Jeeves. "I try to assess who wants to be left alone and who would like to chat," he says with a winning smile. "And, of course, we respect the privacy of every customer"