Titan of London power dining Jeremy King branded Brexit “stupid, short-sighted and xenophobic” during a Q&A session with Harden’s co-founder Peter Harden at the second annual London Restaurant Awards this week. The restaurateur – who, alongside his partner Chris Corbin, picked up the Lifetime Achievement Award at the ceremony on Monday 11 September – said he believes Brexit is the single biggest threat to London’s hospitality industry.
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Speaking at the awards ceremony at the Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square, King said: “I saw on Friday that 43 restaurants are opening in London in September. I don’t know where they are going to get the staff from and I certainly don’t know where the customers are going to come from. We are so brittle, I just don’t understand it. And for us to be so stupid, so short-sighted, so xenophobic, so myopic, to actually go with Brexit.
“I have 57 nationalities working for me, of which 61% are European, I think 16% are international from outside Europe, and we only have something like 20-21% British. We haven’t got a chance without Europeans. We built our trade with the help of the Europeans and I don’t just mean in terms of labour – it is expertise, cultural, and artistic. It makes me so angry.”
He also said he believes the hospitality industry has been “too patient” with the government over the issue of Brexit and that it was “unquestionably” the biggest threat to restaurants in the city.
Corbin & King’s names first became synonymous with power dining in the capital after they purchased and re-launched Le Caprice in 1981, and followed it up with an even bigger hit The Ivy in 1990 (both, nowadays, owned and operated by Richard Caring’s Caprice Holdings). Follow-ups have included their enduring Grand Café The Wolseley, as well as The Delaunay, Brasserie Zédel and many others. In 2016 the Harden’s Lifetime Achievement award went to Bruce Poole (chef-patron of Wandsworth’s Chez Bruce) and this year Bruce was on hand to present this prestigious accolade to his successors.
Peter Harden said: “It is very fitting that Bruce Poole should be present to hand the award to Chris and Jeremy. The Ivy was rated Londoner’s favourite restaurant in our poll for 9 years running – an accomplishment beaten only by Bruce himself for the last 13.” Adding that: “When the time comes to write the history of London restaurants, the job will not be complete without several pages dedicated to the efforts of Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, truly two of the city’s greatest restaurateurs.”
King’s comments came a week after the British Hospitality Association (BHA) called leaked proposals to cut the number of low-skilled immigrants from Europe permitted to work in the UK after Brexit as potentially “catastrophic for the UK hospitality industry”.
He also spoke about his lengthy career and partnership with Chris Corbin. King says the two have a loving relationship (although not in that way) and that they try to see the merits rather than the flaws in each other’s differing opinions. The idea of “creating a brasserie where a duchess can sit down with a taxi driver” underpins the philosophy of Corbin & King’s restaurant empire and although credited with creating modern restaurants King believes that honour goes to the Italians – particularly the Mario and Franco dynasty (Mario Cassandro and Franco Lagattolla).
He also believes that heart and soul when it comes to service is what makes a restaurant successful, not necessarily location or even the food: “Technical ability is soon trumped by genuine, heartfelt care,” he said. “It is as the old saying goes – treat others as you would like to be treated yourself – unless, of course, you’re into S&M,” King joked.