Magazine article The Spectator

Trouble at Club

Magazine article The Spectator

Trouble at Club

Article excerpt

Far be it from me to denounce the British for having lost interest in their heritage - they have embraced multiculturalism, deny the good their empire once brought the world, have banned fox hunting - but when it comes to changes that directly affect me, it's time for action. Especially when the change is based on a silly agreement made 26 years ago. Let's take it from the top: Mark Birley is known the civilised world over as the numero uno upmarketclub/restaurant/ nightclub owner, the so-called Nijinsky of the catering world, a perfectionist like no other, and the proof is in the pudding, as they say in Kansas. His four clubs, Annabel's, Mark's, Harry's Bar and George, are the best-run, most perfect retreats imaginable, offering not only the best food, wines and atmosphere by far, but also the best service. The last is important.

In the years that I've been dining and clubbing my nights away, I don't think I have ever left a Birley establishment with the slightest complaint. In fact, one of the pleasures of my life is entering Mark's places. The ever-smiling staff greet one by name, you're shown to your table at once and with courtesy, and then the fun begins. Now as everyone knows, London is full of over-the-top expensive restaurants run by rude, supercilious, glorified waiters, who think a customer is there to be robbed, looked down upon, and told to wait while some rich yob bores all and sundry over coffee about how much money he's made lately.

Not in Birley land. Reservations are honoured and tables are kept empty, waiting for those who reserved them. Harry's Bar is a particular favourite of mine. Just the decoration is worth the price. The L-shaped room is full of priceless posters depicting a bygone era when manners meant more than money and the beautiful people were not oik celebrities but truly beautiful with manners to match. If only St James's clubland were run like Harry's. But things are about to fall apart.

When Mark began the club, following the great success of Annabel's and Mark's, he took as a silent partner James Sherwood, a man I've never met and, as things are going, hope never to. Mark had a 51 per cent stake and Sherwood 49. The latter was a hands-off partner who has done extremely well by keeping his hands off. …

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