What’s in a restaurant name?

Restaurants tend to bring out the inner snob in many people. The one that’s been most talked about since Chiltern Firehouse began to obsess us is Richard Caring’s Sexy Fish. Apparently he spent £15 million setting it up not just on the huge art pieces, but also on a promotional film featuring Rita Ora dressed as a mermaid.

It’s not though the décor that we talk about, or the service which The Ivy and The Caprice, two of his other restaurants, are rightly celebrated for. It’s certainly not the food – food really isn’t the point of these places.

It’s the diners in there that gets everyone talking.

Virtually on a daily basis I hear from friends and associates how ghastly their fellow diners were when they visited. Whenever I go to a new restaurant, I like to get there before my friends arrive so I can take it all in, un-interrupted. I take in the design, the layout (I’ll have, like most of you, already looked at the menu on the website and decided what I’m eating), the people working there – after 15 years in this game there’s invariably someone you have employed there and it’s a massive memory test to remember them all.

And then I study the people. Do I recognise any of them, can I guess what they do, are they all of a certain type and do all these elements combine to make a cohesive set? The Ivy and its previous owners who went on do The Wolseley effortlessly manage this feeling that you are entering a club of which you are either a member and embraced or a viewer who is politely tolerated.

As everyone keeps telling me and as I indeed I ashamedly admit to having also observed, the people dining at Sexy Fish were indeed ghastly – a mixture of high heels Essex and the shabbiest of the Mayfair overseas dodgy money crowd who know how to buy a “get noticed” table.  How this got to happen is quite simple to explain – it’s the name. Anything that has to call itself sexy isn’t going to be that any more than the Tasty Fried Chicken shops I see around are going to live up to that promise. And anyone who hasn’t got the sense to work that out will want to go there – and let everyone know they’ve been.

The discerning London diner has worked that out about Sexy Fish, gone once and decided in future to shop elsewhere. But said diner also finds it perfectly legitimate to go a step further to become a snob and talk of what New Yorkers call the Bridge and Tunnel crowd and which here might be called the TOWIE Factor. So whilst we would never mock the poor, we quite easily fling mud at the taste-challenged newly rich.

A restaurant name then can not only bring out the most socially undesirable among us but as my very own description shows, it can also bring out the most socially unacceptable ways of viewing people.

About Iqbal Wahhab

Founder of Roast Restaurant, Borough Market.
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