Conran plans rival to Cafe Rouge

Low-cost eats from the man who gave us Quaglino's

Sir Terence Conran plans to launch a chain of affordable French- style eateries to rival the Cafe Rouge. He may seek a market quote to raise funds for what could be the design guru's most ambitious venture since he started Habitat in 1964.

The chain, called Zinc Bar and Grill, will open its first outlet next year in the West End of London. It will feature Conran-style minimalist decor, a dedicated bar area, and simple entrees priced under pounds 10.

The first restaurant will be opened on Heddon Street, just off Regent Street, in the middle of 1997. It will seat 120 people, have open-air tables and will serve such French-English staples as steak frites and rotisserie chicken. A spokeswoman for the Conran group said work would begin on the site as soon as the Crown Estate had finished pedestrianising the area.

If the first restaurant is a success, Sir Terence is planning to open two more outlets in London, and then roll the Zinc brand out nationwide from 1998, in a challenge to the growing chains of Cafe Rouge, part of the Pelican Group recently bought by Whitbread for pounds 133m, and the 100- strong Pierre Victoire restaurants group. Zinc will be seen as a radical departure for the Habitat founder-turned-restaurateur whose other properties, including Pont de la Tour, Quaglino's and Mezzo, have become roaring successes on the back of their exclusivity, high prices and top-quality cuisine.

Zinc will be closer to Sir Terence's roots, located not far from his first ever restaurant, the cheap and cheerful Soup Kitchen, which he started in 1954.

The plans for Zinc form part of an ambitious 1997 expansion drive by the Conran group. Early next year the group will open the Bluebird cafe and "gastrodrome" in the King's Road, featuring a private dining club, cookware shops and a French-style open market on the ground floor. It will be followed by a new Conran Shop in Marylebone High Street, featuring an upmarket in-store restaurant.

Sir Terence might tap the financial markets through a listing on the Alternative Investment Market to fund the chain. Sir Terence has eschewed the stock market ever since he resigned from Storehouse, the then parent company of Habitat, in 1989.

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