Is this ashtray the most stolen item in London?

It is nothing special, just a piece of moulded aluminium. But this ashtray is one of the most sought-after and theft-prone items in London. Quaglino's, the West End restaurant owned by Sir Terence Conran, loses 1,000 of these ashtrays a month.

We have all shoved the odd sugar sachet into our coat pockets just before slipping out on to the street, some of us may have inadvertently walked away with a teaspoon, and nearly all of us will probably have wondered how a plush white towel would look in our bathroom at home. But trophy items like the Quaglino ashtray cost hotels, bars and restaurants a small fortune to replace.

This ashtray has quite a pedigree. It was designed, in the shape of a Q, by Sir Terence himself and is produced by his own manufacturing company. Worth pounds 8.95 apiece, and now on sale on the premises to reduce theft, the rate at which they disappear is comparable with that of pedal cycles, of which more than 18,000 were stolen between April last year and March this year in the whole of London. It seems the risk of making your bar or eatery unique - with distinctively designed paraphernalia - is that these "items" are irresistible for the light-fingered luncher.

Quaglino's far outstrips Bibendum, another Conran restaurant on the Fulham Road, which loses approximately 15 of its Michelin Man ashtrays per week. Presto (Old Compton Street) said it was not unknown for customers to make off with its huge pepper grinders; one can only speculate as to how the thieves concealed these as they left.

Belgo, the cult Belgian restaurant on Chalk Farm Road (and sister to the one pictured left), complains that its beer and schnapps glasses often go walk-about. The restaurant stocks about 60 different kinds of beer, each with its own branded glass, which are worth pounds 3.50.

It is, as you might expect, "names" that people go for. Ronnie Scott's and the Hard Rock Cafe admit that their menus, with their respective famous monikers emblazoned across them, are popular spoils of a visit. The Hard Rock Cafe gets through between 25,000 and 30,000 menus a year, though it insists this kind of thing is allowed for and is not taken especially seriously.

Perhaps the most bizarre regular victim of restaurant theft is the continual disappearance from Bibendum of little framed notices telling female patrons not to dispose of their tampons down the lavatory.

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