Light-fingered diners hungry for the snail forks at Quaglino's

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The delicately seasoned starter of Escargots à l'ail is a popular choice among the well-heeled clients of one of London's best known restaurants. Their enjoyment of the dish, though, does not end there.

Quaglino's, the central London restaurant owned by the designer Terence Conran, and frequented by celebrities such as Mick Jagger and Elton John, has seen 100 of its customised forks go missing since last November, when the snail dish appeared on its menu.

At £7.50 for a starter, the snails - and the accompanying elegant forks - are apparently hard to resist.

Kirsty Frost, the restaurant's sales and marketing manager, said: "I think it's quite a covetable item. They look sweet and elegant. They are small, slim, silver and very pocketable.

"We get regular clients and people paying a special visit but it's very difficult to say which sector it is that is taking them," she added.

But she said the snails would remain on the menu in spite of the problem because they were "proving very popular".

It is not the first time the trendy eaterie has suffered from a bout of larceny at the hands of its clients. The £60-a-head restaurant with its cavernous dining area, bemoaned the frequent loss of its stylish ashtrays, 28,000 of which have been pilfered in three years.

Management at the restaurant near Green Park were so exasperated by the missing ashtrays that they ran an "ashtrays amnesty" in which customers were invited to return the ashtrays in exchange for a glass of free champagne.

"We had the amnesty to coincide with our 10th anniversary and donated £1 to Elton John's Aids foundation for each ashtray," said Ms Frost.

About 100 ashtrays were returned as a result of the amnesty, she said, adding that management "could consider a forks amnesty, although it would be interesting to see how many would be returned."

Joe Warwick, editor of the catering industry magazine, Restaurant, said a "ridiculous number" of restaurant items went missing, including cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, bread rolls and toiletries from lavatories.

"Anything that people can put in a pocket or a handbag tends to go. I think some people go out for a big night out, drink a lot, and they spend quite a lot of money on the special occasion and they see a little trophy as part of the treat perhaps. If you have pretty things, they will go missing," he said.

Mr Warwick said Pied-a-Terre in Charlotte Street, London, was among the high profile restaurants that had suffered . People were apparently walking off with Molton Brown toiletries from the bathrooms as well as ashtrays and soap.

When the French chef, Alain Ducasse, set up a £100-a-head restaurant in New York's Essex House Hotel, the exclusive pens offered to customers to finalise their bills tended to go missing, he said.

Carl Morgan, hotel manager at The Hempel hotel and restaurant in London, where the actress Julia Roberts reportedly stayed when filming for Notting Hill, said that among the most popular items to go walkabout were teaspoons and Ikea-style tea-light holders.

"We had got a set of about 20 tea-light holders made from sand-blasted glass, similar to the ones in Ikea, and we had to change them because they were going so quickly," he said.