Food: Damien and Co all set to serve a sensation a la carte

Are fashionable eating-places becoming just another branch of the entertainment industry? Celebrity - whether it's in the form of the chef or the clientele - can bring people flocking to a burger bar. Now, says Spencer Bright, the restaurants are moving up-market.

Restaurants are the new rock 'n' roll. The chefs appear on televison, the television and film stars put their money into restaurants. It's a way to a tasty investment as artist Damien Hirst hopes to discover tomorrow when his new cafe opens and as Robert Earle found with his Planet Hollywood chain.

Earle has earned an estimated pounds 100m-plus by taking the tricks he had learned while running the Hard Rock empire for Rank Hovis and recruiting Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore as shareholders to roll out for the razzmatazz 'Planet' openings in the world's capital cities. Sometimes, the glitz and hype have proved to be more of an attraction than the menu.

Earle is now repeating the formula with the Official All Star Cafe, opening in the spring in the Trocadero, Piccadilly, which is backed by Tiger Woods, Monica Seles and Andre Agassi. It's a trend which has subtly worked its way upmarket. Celebrity chefs have always been with us, though not in such numbers as today, as have celebrities wanting to own their own eatery - though the latter have usually ended in failure, with honourable exceptions such as Michael Caine's involvement in Langan's Brasserie and The Canteen. In Nineties Britain, with the explosion of foodie television and the exponential expansion in dining out, all weapons available are being used to entice us in, over and above what will be on the plate.

This Thursday will see the opening of the latest smart place to be seen, with the launch of The Pharmacy in Notting Hill Gate. The restaurant is as much an art installation by Damien Hirst as a place to dine. Everywhere inside where the customers will go was designed by Hirst, including the lavatories and the staircase. The restaurant theme is based on a show he exhibited in New York and Dallas, where he made the galleries look like a chemist's shop.

Hirst is in partnership with the public relations millionaire Matthew Freud and his erstwhile colleague in the PR game, Jonathan Kennedy. Freud and Kennedy already own the successful Quo Vadis in Dean Street, Soho, where they were clever enough to have Britain's premier celebrity chef, Marco Pierre White, as a partner - while their mate Damien Hirst lent them some art in formaldehyde.

The Hirst, Freud and Kennedy triumvirate have raised pounds 2m for The Pharmacy, which also has the expert guidance of Liam Carson, former general manager of the Groucho Club and consultant for one of last year's most successful restaurant launches, Momo, which did succeed without celebrity backing. Ironically, for a former PR and co-partner of Britain's most famous artist, Kennedy downplays celebrity appal.

"It is not necessary to have celebrities," he claims. "Lots of restaurants are very successful without celebrity involvement. Matthew and I know the power of celebrity restaurants through our involvement with Planet Hollywood. [Freud spearheaded its brilliant launch.] Celebrity and notoriety tend to gain column inches in newspapers, where they may infer glamour, but for the more formal food-lover and restaurant-goer it is not going to be an important factor."

Which explains why they are not going to play the Hirst card; he is not doing any interviews or publicity for the restaurant.

It is natural that upmarket restaurateurs wish to downplay the star factor in order to protect their clientele. The paradox is that the more celebrities attend, the longer the wait for tables. The restaurants the trade seems most to admire, The Ivy and Le Caprice, probably have London's highest star quotient, a factor no doubt enhanced by the owners' being publicity shy and extremely discreet.

But brashly making himself into a star has done no harm to Gary Rhodes; he expands his restaurant empire when he opens his latest restaurant in Dolphin Square this spring.

Jonathan Kennedy is an admirer of Jean-Christophe Novelli, the latest wunderkind chef of London, for the way he has played the publicity machine. "For Jean Christophe, publicity has been absolutely critical to what he has done and the speed he has grown in the past two years," he says. Novelli himself describes his PR, Maureen Mills, as "my right hand". He cites publicity, in his case building his celebrity chef stature, as being as crucial to his success as the cuisine, ambience and service. His dashing good looks and a spot on Channel 4's Feast cookery programme have all contributed to his status.

His phenomenal expansion has been from nothing, to six restaurants in less than two-and-a-half years. Novelli himself now cooks at his latest and smartest venture, Les Saveurs in Mayfair, which already has one Michelin star. "I aim to go for two or three," he says with his heavy Gallic accent. "Celebrities influence people's decisions to go to a restaurant; they are, after all part of a larger attraction in society. I was dying to have a celebrity to help me in the beginning, but I believe if you have good PR you don't need a partner."

Now that Novelli is a celebrity himself, at least in the foodie world, he is his own best publicity, just like his good pal Marco Pierre White. "I went from chef at the Four Seasons in Park Lane to a cafe called Cafe St Pierre in Clerkenwell. I was afraid to put my name there for the first three months. I don't think I have told anybody this, but I was nearly bankrupt two months after opening in July 1996. I didn't have enough money to carry on. The press helped me to become busy. They knew I was in trouble, and put pieces in to help me. When I first opened people wanted to review me, but I asked them not to. When my cash flow was very, very bad I just decided to let them in. It was like a storm of newspapers. That increased my turnover 11 times."

Paul Day, editor of the restaurant trade journal, Theme, says that the importance of the celebrity factor has grown dramatically in the past decade.

"Ten years ago a well regarded chef was unlikely to open his own restaurant. Now a chef patron is where it is at. People will certainly be swayed by a name they know ... Granada have given Marco millions because they have confidence in his name. Once chefs have been on television a few times they know how to exploit their name and how to make it pay. I think the celebrity involvement is growing because so many people have been successful. For instance, sports stars now have an enormous amount of money to throw around. Where in the Sixties they might have bought a boutique or a pub, now they want their own Michelin-star restaurant."

One such person is Lee Chapman, former striker with Leeds United and husband of Lesley Ash, star of the TV sitcom Men Behaving Badly. They are majority shareholders in a pounds 1m first-floor restaurant and members' bar, Teatro, due to open at the end of February on Shaftesbury Avenue in the heart of theatreland. By offering equity deals to the restaurant's designers, United Designers, whose recent successes include The Met Bar, and crucially with Gordon Ramsey, co-owner of Aubergine, the canny Chapman reckons he saved himself pounds 500,000 in start-up costs. Chapman and Ash will be on hand and therefore on view. He is open about what it is that draws people to such establishments. "We are trying to create an environment that is like a stage. A lot of people like to intermingle and see faces and celebrities. It's a whole evening out; it's a whole experience. I think you can get a lot of reward creating that environment where people do go out and have a great time."

"We have to maintain the highest standards of quality, otherwise we are going to fall by the wayside." He knows the power of even a frisson of celebrity, whether in the kitchen or front of house. "It's wonderful for the public," says Chapman. "They love to spot a face in a restaurant, and it creates a massive waiting list." He hopes.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Technician - 1st Line

    £19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

    Special Needs Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Special Educational Needs Teach...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

    Year 3 Teacher

    £100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London