Pied a Terre restauranteur dips a toe into barbecue chains

October 23, 2015 | Financial Times | Malcolm Moore

Malcolm Moore on a perfectionist adding casual dining to his repertoire

David Moore says he is not a perfectionist but he is fibbing. For 25 years he has presided over Pied a Terre, the one-Michelin star restaurant on Charlotte Street in London. To win a Michelin star, you have to be obsessive.

He has even told the Financial Times previously that the secret of his success was meticulous attention to detail.

But for restaurateurs, vast wealth seldom lies in a restaurant gilded by the Michelin guide. These small outposts of perfection cannot be replic-ated. The overheads are high and they can serve only a limited number of diners.

The money lies in finding a formula - like the French bistro chain Cote, for instance, where you can open tens or potentially hundreds across the country. Cote has been so successful that it has been bought by BC Partners, the private equity house, for around [pounds sterling]250m, valuing each of its 67 leasehold restaurants at nearly [pounds sterling]4m.

While he still runs Pied a Terre and its Blandford Street sister restaurant L'Autre Pied, Mr Moore now has one foot in a chain. One Sixty , which set up a branch in West Hampstead, north-west London, and then an-oth-er in the City of London, is right on trend: a barbecue diner where an eight-hour smoked half-rack of ribs and chips costs [pounds sterling]10.

Mr Moore's obsessiveness is nevertheless evident throughout One Sixty. The pickles are homemade. The ribs are from acorn-fed Iberian pigs in Spain. The meat is smoked until it "melts", he says, speaking in the City branch. "I'm still in every restaurant at the moment every day, Monday to Friday."

But if he opens more branches, he knows he will not be able to supervise everything. He will have to cede more control. "The worry for me, looking forward, is worrying less about the food than about the management of the business. I like to do a good job," he says. Visiting the restaurants and seeing regular customers is important: "I have to have my boots on Charlotte Street and Blandford Street."

His solution is to inculcate attention to detail in the staff. "At Pied a Terre I have a manager who has been with us 11 years, a personal assistant who has been with me 17 years. There are people there who watch over everything every day," he says. It was when a fire closed Pied a Terre for several months in 2004, he says, that he was first able to stand back and realised that he should "stop being so involved in the nitty-gritty".

When One Sixty was first opening, he says: "I bought a new pair of jeans and trainers and ran round like an idiot. I lost weight."

At West Hampstead, the restaurant is taking [pounds sterling]30,000 a week despite not opening for lunch on weekdays. But the rent is high, at [pounds sterling]83,000 a month. In the City, the restaurant is just becoming established, with a lunch trade and a "good bunch of regular drinkers in the evening".

Does a chain restaurant offer the same level of satisfaction as winning a Michelin star? "This is just very, very different," he says. "When you see it busy and everyone is enjoying the food and you think we are doing a good job, well, there's the thing about doing a good job." One Sixty did not have to advertise for staff beforehand, he says, because word had got around that Pied a Terre was planning a restaurant chain. He adds that "I look for people with Nando's training on their CV".

But can he roll out dozens of barbecue joints without feeling that some of his magic is diluted? The short answer is no. "I honestly think I am not the person to grow it," he says. After three branches he will be looking for a buyer. "If someone pays their money for this they take it and we walk away from it," he says.

In the meantime he orders one of his favourite dishes: barbecued ox cheek. "It better be bloody melting when it comes to the table," he says.

last updated december 2015