How many successful restaurants does it take to build a restaurant empire? Five, ten, twenty, or something in between? Asking someone like Jason Atherton could be a smart move, the man has fifteen restaurants in The Social Company. That sheer number alone would constitute an empire, but then you also consider their locations – London, New York, Dubai, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Cebu, and Sydney – and wow, that’s what I call a proper empire. In a climate where opening one successful restaurant in any of those major cities is an achievement, having fifteen under your belt is quite a miraculous feat.
Whether he managed it through sheer skill, hard graft, or dumb luck, I was curious. So where better to start my investigation than Atherton’s flagship, Pollen Street Social, the first of three Michelin star restaurants, in The Social Company. We arrived on Pollen Street to find a refined and much larger than expected dining room, it was well-kitted out but not ostentatiously so; I like that sort of restraint.
I uncovered two fun facts about El Pirata when I did my customary restaurant google: it’s been serving tapas in Mayfair for over twenty years and is Fred Sirieix’s favourite restaurant. Any restaurant which can last more than two decades in this city is all very impressive but who the heck is this Fred fella and what does he know about good food? More googling reveals that Mr Sirieix is the country’s most famous maître d’ but obviously, those of you who watch First Dates already knew that.
While you’re judging my sheltered TV-watching habits, I was judging Fred’s taste in restaurants. In a recent Guardian article about the best things certain people in the know had eaten in 2016, he mentioned the black rice, the langoustines in tomato sauce, and the ham. We hadn’t intended on copying his order, but rice, prawns and pork are some of our favourite things, and according to our waiter, they are some of El Pirata’s signature dishes.
On a wet Wednesday night in 2012, I went on a date with a very nice man who took me to a very nice restaurant. We ate more than we needed to, drank more than we should have, and laughed so much more than I expected. I’m no dating expert, but in my opinion, it was a very successful first date – no awkward silences, no over-politeness, just comfortable in each other’s company. Three years on, I am still going on dates with this man to wonderful places, eating, drinking and laughing all the way, though we foot the bill together now!
I know people say you shouldn’t change when you get into a relationship but we have and I think it’s for the better. Sure, there’s all that emotional stuff like being a little more patient and understanding… blah blah blah… but let’s get down to the nitty gritty, the most significant change is in our culinary skills and tastes. Before a certain someone met me, he’d never eaten udon noodles (that’s a whole other story) and a generous sprinkle of pepper was the height of spice he could tolerate. I probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere near offal and shamefully purchased pre-made pasta sauces.
For the last year, it feels as though there have been three of us in this relationship; I’ll confess, I’ve acquired another significant other. A certain someone isn’t too jealous though, they’ve been acquainted for years but to me it’s all shiny and new. Less tragic than the Diana, Charles and Camilla love triangle and definitely not as salacious as an affair which started life through a dodgy dating app, my other significant other is quite simply London.
I knew straight away we would get along. I relish in the occasional breath of fresh country air but I’m a big city girl at heart so gimme the bright lights, breathtaking skylines and unfortunate smog any day. Just as a certain someone figured out early on, London also knows the way to my heart is through my stomach. Over the last year I have been wined and dined for my affection and it’s been worth each and every calorie.