Charles Saatchi opens `shock-art' restaurant chain

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CHARLES SAATCHI is to launch a chain of restaurants named Sensation after the controversial modern art exhibition he launched two years ago.

Diners can expect to be greeted with works of art such as Damien Hirst's shark in formaldehyde and Marc Quinn's sculpture of exploding bodies.

However, there is likely to be some concession to the squeamish. "I would not want to have lunch next to a shark in formaldehyde and am sure nobody else does," said restaurateur Chris Bodker, who will be opening the chain in an equal partnership with Mr Saatchi. "But I wouldn't mind having a drink at the bar next to it. The art which is universally appealing will go in the restaurant while the bar might have the more cutting edge stuff.

"We have been working on this for a long time," he said. "Charles is a friend and he is a creative genius with a fabulous collection of contemporary art. He wants the public to be able to enjoy it."

The two already have their eye on a West End site for the first restaurant and are hoping to open within 12 months.

The Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy had 110 Brit-art pieces, borrowed from Mr Saatchi's collection, including a blood-filled head, pornography and a portrait of Moors murderer Myra Hindley made from children's handprints. It incited paint-throwing outrage from some members of the public but also pulled in huge crowds.

Now the advertising millionaire, a pioneering patron of modern art, believes it would be a "nifty idea" to take such creations to the eating public.

"The concept transcends international barriers and can be rolled out around world," said Mr Bodker. Further restaurants could follow the Sensation exhibition as it tours. The show - with works by British stars Rachel Whiteread, Sarah Lucas and brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman - will open at the Brooklyn Museum in October.

Mr Bodker, a former banker who moved into the world of fine dining four years ago with the launch of Moving Image Restaurants, recently expanded his empire with the purchase of Place Restaurants. He paid a reputed pounds 5m for a 90 per cent stake in the group which boasts the prestigious Kensington Place in west London - the restaurant which inspired him to enter the industry - among its eateries. Chef Rowley Leigh will keep a 10 per cent stake.

"I thought Kensington Place was incredible. When I lived in Notting Hill Gate, I practically moved in. I have bought 90 per cent but it has all been done in the spirit of a merger. Not a thing will change," he said.

The acquisition will almost double Moving Images's pounds 6.5 turnover and give it a potential platform for floatation.

Mr Bodker insists neither the Place restaurants' winning formula - nor their decor - will be altered.