A tip for Terence Conran: Keep your hands off my restaurant's name

DINERS THRILLED at booking a table at Aurora, Sir Terence Conran's newest eaterie, have found themselves seatless and disappointed. They are the losers in a restaurant war that has seen confused, tuxedoed diners turning up miles from their seats and table bookings cancelled.

Whose fault? Sir Terence's. The Aurora opened only a month ago but has already earned the enmity of two longer-established restaurants with the same name in the West End of London.

It's not professional envy: they are being bedevilled by people who ring and think they've achieved something wonderful in booking a table, then cry off when they discover it's nothing of the sort. What would-be diners learn is that they have not booked at Conran's185-seat restaurant in the Great Eastern Hotel on Liverpool Street, where a little cheese will cost you pounds 8.50 and you will be encouraged to leave a tip after paying a 12.5 per cent service charge, and a meal for two costs about pounds 50 before wine. Instead, it's more likely to cost pounds 25 at the Aurora on Lexington Street W1; or less still in the Aurora Ristorante in Covent Garden.

The cancelled bookings would be bad enough at this time but what has really fuelled the rival restaurateurs' ire is Sir Terence's plan to trademark the Aurora name, as he did with his other expensive restaurants, Quaglino's and Mezzo. If he succeeds in winning a trademark he could legitimately apply to have the other businesses closed or force them to change names.

The suggestion caused something of a flambe effect with Renato Mortali, proprietor of Aurora Ristorante, a bistro in Catherine Street. "We've been here for 30 years and we're suddenly getting calls from people thinking we're that place," he said yesterday."If I'm busy it means I have to answer the phone for nothing."

Had he heard Sir Terence was looking to trademark the name? "Trademark? We aren't registered but we will never change our name. They can change their name. He [Sir Terence] may be a big man but he's never going to get anything out of me."

The reaction was more muted but the sentiments similar at Aurora Cafe on Lexington Street, where the chef- manager, Claire Badorek, said: "We noticed the effect really fast after they opened the new place. We would get people making bookings over the phone. Then they would ring us up and say that they had got the wrong Aurora."

The other annoyance is people ringing up to ask for the phone number of the "other" Aurora. The Lexington Aurora has written to Sir Terence, pointing out that because it has been operating for five years and has favourable reviews to prove it, he has no hope of getting a trademark. And there is the even more established existence of the Aurora in Covent Garden - "Oh yes, we've known about them for ages," said Ms Badorek, "and we've never had any problems with them" - which could truly put the slug in the salad for Sir Terence's plans.

So what led him to choose that name, when consulting the phone book would have told him that it was already taken twice over? A spokeswoman seemed amazed by the suggestion. "I have no idea," she said.

Comments