Le Chabanais on Mayfair’s Mount Street is one of the hotly anticipated restaurants of 2015. In partnership with Bollywood film producer, Mukesh Talreja and his son, Varun, Inaki Aizpitarte of Le Chateaubriand in Paris is opening this 90-cover French bistro at the end of the month.
One of London’s most recognisable front of house will be running the restaurant. He’s no stranger to Mount Street and the Mayfair crowd, having worked at Scott’s for 8 years, as well as some of London’s best known restaurants. On a sunny spring morning, CODE’s Adam Hyman went to the Connaught to talk to Kevin Lansdown.
Adam Hyman: Good morning, Mr Lansdown. I think this is the first time you and I have sat in a bar together and only ordered sparkling water.
Kevin Lansdown: Indeed.
AH: I think the last time we caught up was at Mark’s Bar at Hixter Bankside. Anyway, drinking aside, how is everything going at Le Chabanais?
KL: It’s going well. There have a been a few delays but we’re not far off now. It’s been a great project to work on right from the beginning.
AH: And can you tell us a little more as to what we can expect when it opens?
KL: The idea is for Le Chabanais to be a reinterpretation of a French bistro menu. We’ll be serving the bistro classics but reimagined by Inaki with his twists and interpretation. It’s going to be different to Le Chateaubriand. The menu will have around 12 starters, 12 mains, five sides and six or seven desserts. This sort of menu also enables you to ensure seasonal purity. The price point will probably be about 7-8% less than Scott’s. Scott’s average spend is about £74 per person, so Le Chabanais will be around £65 per person.
AH: I’m so pleased you haven’t mentioned sharing plates.
KL: I think the idea of sharing menu and sharing plates has dated quite quickly. We were looking at doing that originally but have stayed away from it. Customers - especially in this part of London - don’t want to be dictated too. Personally, I find you never end up eating enough when you share food and the bill racks up very quickly.
AH: My understanding from when we talked a while back was that you are keen to get a younger crowd into Le Chabanais?
KL: This is something Jeremy (King) and Chris (Corbin) have always done very well. When they opened Le Caprice and took over The Ivy, they wanted to get a far broader, diverse and egalitarian crowd into their restaurants. Just because we’re in Mayfair, it shouldn’t mean we should only attract a certain clientele. It would be great to have a little incursion of youth into Mayfair.
AH: Is this part of the reason for the separate bar beneath the restaurant?
KL: I’d like the bar to operate as a little bit of a holding bar but mainly as a separate entity as we have a full bar licence until 12.30am. The bar’s decor is quite different to the main restaurant. I hate the term ‘speakeasy’ but the idea is for it to be a something along the lines of 1920’s cocktail bar. There are a lot of classic cocktails that come from France from around that sort of time.
AH: Staying on the topic of design, what will the main restaurant look like?
KL: The design has some great features. The floor and walls are made from patinated brass that has been manufactured by a company called Capisco in east London. There’s also quite a bit of marble - on the table tops and the main bar that you can also dine at - and there’s also a small courtyard at the back.
AH: Many people reading this know you and your career very well. But for those who don’t, can you give us a quick run through.
KL: Sure. If we go back right to day one - I studied interior design, cabinet making and photography at university. I then went to travel around the States for a bit and worked in a biker’s bar in New York state in 1979 for four months - three months on the bar and one month on the door. During which I went to Studio 54 with some of the bikers. We ended up getting turfed out and arrested. I then came back to England. Upon starting my second year at university, I started working for Bob Peyton at Chicago Pizza Pie Factory in Hanover Square as a barman.
AH: I had no idea about this early part of your career. Including the Studio 54 incident.
KL: Well, there you go. I then left Chicago Pizza Pie Factory in August 1981 to go and work for Chris and Jeremy to open Le Caprice. I started on 16 August as barman in advance of the September opening. I worked there until May 1990 (leaving for 6 months to work for Ken McCulloch in Glasgow at the Buttery and Belfry) and in the mid 80s I moved from working at the bar to reception as day time maitre d’ from Monday to Friday.
AH: And that was the only restaurant Jeremy and Chris had at that time?
KL: It was until they took over The Ivy in 1990. They were there all the time. Consequently, those of us that were there, got a very, very hands on education of the business. They were still young themselves - Chris was nearly 30 and Jeremy was 28 - Jesus (Adorno) was around the same age and I was 21.
AH: And then you went over to The Ivy?
KL: In May 1990, Mitch Everard and I went over there. I was at The Ivy until October 2006. I did leave for a year in 1995 to go and open Coast for Oliver Peyton, as well as work at Joe Allen and Orsino, that was in Portland Road in Notting Hill, which is now a Cowshed. In 2006, I then went to Scott’s.
AH: Fascinating. I find the restaurant history so interesting. And coming back to the present, what’s your view on the London restaurant scene today?
KL: I love the fact that people who are really, really creative about their menu and wine lists are spreading to the suburbs. Look at Clapham for example with the likes of Trinity, The Dairy and The Manor. And then you go over to Shoreditch and you have The Clove Club, Lyle’s and then you cross the river again and there’s Jackson Boxer’s Brunswick House in Vauxhall. The nice thing is that it saves us from the homogenisation of the gastropub serving us a selection of faux seasonal menus and not being allowed to serve medium-rare burgers.
AH: You’ve seen the restaurant world dramatically change. Can you share your thoughts on this?
KL: Do you know the best way to look at it. Thirty years ago if I was at a drinks party or sitting next to someone at a dinner and you told them that you worked in a restaurant, that was the end of the conversation. They assumed that because you worked in a service industry you were an idiot. A few years later, it became a bit better but then it came down to where you worked. If you worked at Le Caprice, for example, it was deemed ok. And now it has actually become a talking point for people - they take far more interest in which restaurant you work for. The only counter point is that they then think they can get a table through you whenever they want. If you don’t ask me, you have far more chance.
AH: Do you think the perception of working in the industry has got better?
KL: It has got better but it is still not regarded as profession like in parts of Europe. It still has a stigma attached to it as it’s a service industry. The training is far better now across the board although there are not enough people to work in restaurants. Anyone who says migration is an issue needs to look at the hospitality industry. This industry would not function.
AH: And finally, do you think the art of the maitre d’ is dying out?
KL: No reservation restaurants don’t help the issue. A lot of people who run businesses see the maitre d’ as an added expense. They look at the bottom line as opposed to how we can increase the top line. It’s all about polite anticipation of people’s needs as opposed to reacting to their needs. It all comes down to hospitality.
Le Chabanais opens later this month.
8 Mount Street