Diners give mixed views on Conran restaurants

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HE IS THE highest profile restaurateur in the history of British catering, with his imprimatur on everything from a glossy cookbook to high-style eating factories. But for Sir Terence Conran, it seems the hype is outstripping his punters' gastronomic experiences.

A survey of London's diners has found that one in six think part of his empire to be "overrated". The flagship Mezzo was singled out as the most overrated restaurant in the capital.

For Conran, who now has 11 fashionable eateries serving an estimated 40,000 meals a week, this backlash will be an additional blow when a sharp downturn is being widely predicted. He is the pioneer of "aircraft hanger" restaurants, such as Mezzo and Quaglino's, serving hundreds at a time.

The study, to be published later this month in the 1999 Time Out Eating & Drinking Guide, involved interviewing 600 regular diners. Some actually rated Conran restaurants among their favourites.

The Bluebird Cafe was criticised for terrible service and tables being too close together, while one diner described Quaglino's as "a large, overpriced canteen". Mezzo, which can seat 600 at any one time, was dismissed as "factory like".

Conran Restaurants said that it was "surprised" by the findings, but otherwise declined to comment.

General complaints included two-hour table limits, poor service, too many chains and a desire for more wines to be sold by the glass. The continental drift of London's diners was also confirmed by a request for more opportunities to eat al fresco.