It has been many years, however, since the restaurant had anything to do with its eccentric and erudite founder. Writing for Wine and Food in 1965, Elizabeth David affectionately chronicled Mr Boulestin's flight from Paris in the early 1900s to England, where he worked variously as an art dealer, a novelist, and a translator. Money problems prompted his off-the-cuff suggestion to a director of Heinemann's that he write a cookery book in the 1920s. In the years that followed, he produced a series of classics: Simple French Cooking for English Homes (1923), A Second Helping and The Conduct of the Kitchen (1925), What Shall We Have Today (1931), and the 'Evening Standard' Book of Menus (1935). Mr Boulestin was also the first chef to appear on British television on a programme called Cook's Night Out, broadcast on 21 January 1937 from Alexandra Palace.
His first restaurant, which opened in Leicester Square in 1925, moved the following year to Covent Garden and became a landmark watering hole for politicians and regulars of the Royal Opera House.
Since Mr Boulestin died in 1943, the restaurant has had a succession of owners. Mr Kennedy came to the restaurant in 1978, when it was owned by a division of Grand Metropolitan. His hopes to take over the premises were dashed in 1990, when the chain sold it to Queens Moat Houses. According to Mr Kennedy, for the past two years uncertainty has loomed over the restaurant as Queens Moat, itself suffering financial difficulties, looked for a new owner. The insecurity was such that Mr Kennedy says he has held five closing-down banquets during the past two months. He says he hopes to open a new restaurant, possibly retaining the name of Boulestin. Remaining wine stocks from the Boulestin cellar will come up for auction at Sotheby's.
The new leaseholders of the historic Covent Garden site will be the Pizza Hut chain. Howls of protest at the indignity of it have been sounding since February in the columns of gentlemen journalists in the Evening Standard, Times and Financial Times. Their baying is too little, too late. Since the removal of the fruit and vegetable market in 1974 and particularly since the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986, Covent Garden has slipped into the grasp of large chains.