Man About Town meets Man at the Top: Chef/restaurateur Jason Atherton hits the heights


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The Independent Online

Up a skyscraper and looking out over the sights of the city, was an appropriate place to meet Jason Atherton.

For those not familiar with him, the chef is at the top of the London restaurant scene. His story is Dick Whittington-esque: he came to London from Sheffield at 16 with a desire to learn how to cook. Now 42, he has five restaurants in London (and seven across the Far East), which among them have won awards, press praise and Michelin stars, and are always full.

The latest, City Social at Tower 42, seems destined to become a go-to spot for both foodies of the financial world and panoramic view junkies. The best view, he showed me, comes from one of the stalls in the ladies loos (don’t worry, he checked they were empty before we went in).

He told me that he doesn’t like the word “empire”, but that’s what he has. But it’ a rare one as all the restaurants seem to be doing well. Unlike his former mentor Gordon Ramsay, no one seems to be levelling the accusation at Atherton that he has overstretched.

Perhaps he doesn’t like the idea of an “empire”, because his is a very modern one. Taking inspiration from “creative” technology companies such as Google, the chef has created a special kitchen and “breakout” area for all employees (be they cooks or accountants) to come up with new ideas for the business.

That creativity and the extremely precise attention to detail (he was picking up tiny pieces of fluff from the floor) while he gave me a tour suggests that in years to come, he’ll be able to see even more of his restaurants from the view of his latest one.

Free sub-terranean shows

A couple of streets away from Atherton’s base in Soho, Lewis Schaffer performs comedy each night in an unremarkable basement beneath a kebab shop. Actually to say “unremarkable” is unfair to other, unremarkable spots. The place is a bit of a dive. But then, what can you expect when the comedy is free? Schaffer, I discovered this week, offers innovation of his own in this most expensive of cities: like street theatre, customers pay what they feel like at the end of the show. In an era where when comedians are either playing stadiums or trying to shove their DVDs into your shopping baskets, it’s a refreshing change. Particularly as he is funny, energetic and very rude. The New Yorker might jokingly mock himself for making the decisions that took him to free sub-terranean shows, but it’s a clever concept that works well.