Mayfair’s venerable institution has opened up in the burbs. Something in Richard Caring’s world doesn’t compute, says Derek Guthrie
Don’t get me wrong, lunch was good. Although possibly the accountants back at corporate HQ may have enjoyed it more than me.
Real life intruded in 1975 when the IRA bombed this swank symbol of the establishment, killing one diner and injuring 15 others
Scotts has been around forever. At the heart of Mayfair’s Mount Street, a veritable open-air showcase for high profile supercars (summer Sundays are an unofficial, ostentatious, concours d’elegance) bookended by The Connaught at one end and the fabulous new Audley at the other, this is HNW central. After a discreet lunch or dinner at Scotts – oysters, whole Dover Sole – it’s only a few short steps for a post prandial at the George or Harry’s, even more discreet private clubs where you may bump into minor royalty or a billionaire or two. This ain’t Kansas, Toto.
“Forever” is an exaggeration. Originally, Scotts Oyster Rooms were in Haymarket in the 19th century, but in 1967 moved to Mount Street to become the stuff of legend, thanks partly to Kingsley Amis who wrote a James Bond thriller with 007 dining there. Real life intruded in 1975 when the IRA bombed this swank symbol of the establishment, killing one diner and injuring 15 others. Even more dramatically, they returned a few weeks later, this time for a drive by shooting which, after a high-speed chase through the West End, culminated in the Balcombe Street siege. By comparison, drama in the comparatively quiet suburbs of South West London tends to revolve around he said/she said and parking disputes.
Clearly restaurants aren’t just about food, something property and now catering millionaire Richard Caring knew from the get-go.
The multi-millionaire former rag trade associate of Sir Phillip Green, Caring tired of fast fashion and by 2005 had started to play Monopoly for real, buying London clubs, chains, high end restaurants, (including Scotts) new, old, struggling. You name it, he bought it.
At one point I wandered into a favourite gaff in Soho and an old friend, manning front of house, greeted me with “Ah, you got the memo”. “What memo?” I asked. “The one that dictates all your disposable income must be spent in a Richard Caring establishment”
If you’re a member of Soho House, or dine in any one of dozens of chain restaurants, or go to Annabel’s or Sexy Fish or their soon-to-open neighbour, the giant Bacchanalia on Berkeley Square, you’re in. Caring doesn’t do subtle. He does loud. And numbers.
He took the Ivy, a solitary celebrity haunt in theatreland where back in the day if you could get in, you could find yourself eating shepherd’s pie next to Mick Jagger, and developed a chain of nearly 40 Ivy Cafés and Brasseries. You can easily get in nowadays but won’t find Sir Mick in any of them, although the pie’s still on the menu. At £16.
Now it’s Scott’s turn for the roll out, starting in a riverside building next door, funnily enough, to Caring’s Richmond branch of The Ivy.
There was a minor squabble. This part of Richmond is all faux Georgian splendour from King Charles’ favoured architect Quinlan Terry, whose buildings mostly appear to be from the 17th and 18th centuries. Unlike most architects, he regards this as high praise. A glass canopy, the crowning glory of Caring’s planned rooftop discotheque, was opposed by the Richmond Society and Terry himself as a potential disfigurement and for the moment the design has been sent back to the drawing board.
Lunch with friends is always enjoyable but this was as out of context as the proverbial fish out of water
In the ground floor restaurant proper, bigger than the Mount Street site, at first glance it has the air of the old Langan’s about it. It was packed on a Friday lunchtime and afternoon, there were staff running hither and thither, lots of them, and our oysters came with two shallot vinegars, bread, all the tools, lemon wrapped in muslin and a side of wild boar sausages – first introduced to me by Mark Hix way back when. We had another platter of oysters then monkfish – one big meaty tail, mine smaller, cheeks with snails – and coffee. It was all big, busy, buzzy, and expensive. Just like the original but very odd for Richmond, which does small, discreet and quiet as a rule.
Outside on Mount Street, there would have been a flotilla of G-Wagons, chauffeured Rollers, and low-slung McLarens awaiting our departure. In the Richmond rain, there was a solitary Uber, or a short walk to the Tube.
Lunch with friends is always enjoyable but this was as out of context as the proverbial fish out of water. However, back at Caprice Holdings revenue central, I would imagine the bean counters were whooping with delight. C
Scotts, 4 Whittaker Avenue, Richmond TW9 1EH
0203 700 2660; scotts-richmond.com