Conran pitches tent at Marquee: Europe's biggest restaurant planned

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The Independent Online
THE IRREPRESSIBLE Sir Terence Conran is determined to convert Britain from a nation of shopkeepers into a country of foodies, writes Helen Kay.

With his latest venture, unfurled last week, he has cooked up a plan to create Europe's biggest restaurant at the site of the old Marquee club on London's Wardour Street.

The plan is to seat around 600 people - the combined total of his four restaurants at the Butler's Wharf complex near Tower Bridge. It will also cater for much lighter pockets than Le Pont de la Tour, the most upmarket of these establishments.

Sir Terence anticipates it will take two years and pounds 3.5m to develop the new restaurant. He will fund it with Joel Kissan, the managing director of Conran Restaurants. 'We are not looking for outside shareholders or financing from the banks,' he says. However, there are worries that the Marquee may prove a pont too far.

Sir Terence insists he is not about to repeat his mistake with the over-expansion of Habitat, the retail empire he eventually lost to Michael Julien of Storehouse. He also points to his experience as joint owner of Quaglino's, the 450-seat restaurant in St James. The new site 'has two floors, so there isn't a modern view of a floorspace that stretches into infinity,' he says. 'In fact, each floor is no bigger than Quaglino's'

He has also just returned from New York, where he has been checking out the city's large restaurants.

But Sir Terence will not be serving Big Macs at the gastrodome. 'We want to make the ground-floor restaurant very buzzy and cheap,' he says, with a bar serving sandwiches and espresso coffee, as well as a main concourse for drinks and light food. 'In the basement, we'll have something altogether more glamorous,' he adds. This will include a bar, dance floor and live music. The food will also be dearer, in line with prices at Quaglino's.

He concedes that parking will be a problem, with visitors largely restricted to taxis and public transport.

But he waxes lyrical about the charms of Soho. 'It's a young, exciting place - a catering centre and the most densely populated place in London.' It is also at the heart of theatreland, and Sir Terence promises that - if he can secure permission - the revamped Marquee will stay open until the early hours. It is a promise that will satisfy hungry thespians at least.

(Photograph omitted)

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