It’s very fashionable for today’s restaurateurs to spend vast sums of money making brand new venues look very old.
Dark tones on the walls, very low lighting, everything distressed, to the point that the look seems even older than the buildings they are housed in. The apparent desire to make us feel like we’re stepping into how restaurants should have looked many years ago. Of course we do have a few old restaurants such as J. Sheekey, the Criterion and Rules, but we don’t have the endless old brasseries of France.
So I was surprised when I received an invitation arrived to the 45th Anniversary of Mr Chow’s restaurant. Not only that it had made it to such a grand age in restaurant years, but also because I realised that in a few years of covering London nightlife, I had never been (when looking up the oldest restaurants in London, I realised that there were several I’d embarrassingly not made it to either), and I always think that those venues who last such a long time deserve to be celebrated.
It was strange that I had never made it. I love Chinese food, and I’m always going past the place. In fact the building next door has been three different restaurants in the past six years and I’ve been to all of those. So I realised that I had to go and meet the famous Mr Chow and ask him what his secret was.
Michael Chow, an interior designer, art collector, philanthropist and sometime actor (I was also keen to find out how he juggled all his careers) opened the first venue on Valentine’s Day 1968. After impressing the local Knightsbridge crowd, it expanded: in addition to London there is an outpost in Beverly Hills, one in Malibu, another in Miami and two in New York.
At the anniversary party, it felt as though everyone who had ever been stopped by, so popular was it. After working my way through the crowd (and checking out the great art on the walls), I couldn’t find Mr Chow. But I did find Mrs Chow. She explained Mr Chow’s absence (a bad cold), and said that the secret to its longevity was 'good food and good staff'. Another reason is surely its classic design-look, the sort which people pay millions now to recreate.
I’ve no excuse not to go back now, and maybe this time, find Mr Chow himself.