For the latest ‘CODE in conversation with…’, CODE’s Adam Hyman headed over to West Street to meet up with the Ivy’s director, Fernando Peire. Following a five month refurbishment, we discuss the relaunch of one of London’s most iconic restaurants, Peire’s career and the high and lows of the industry.
Adam Hyman: Good afternoon, Fernando. Congratulations on the reopening of the Ivy. How is it all going?
Fernando Peire: Thank you. It’s going well and the redesign has been well received.
AH: Can you tell us a little more about the relaunch. It must have been a daunting task to close and redesign such an iconic restaurant?
FP: So, the long and short of it is the following; restaurants need constant maintenance and occasionally some level of refurbishment - it’s just the nature of beast. We have a lot of bums on seats and the kitchen equipment gets heavily used. It all takes it toll. Against that backdrop, you can keep a restaurant identical forever but if you do do that, you’re going to be like a pop star that never changes their tunes or a car manufacturer that never releases a new model. It’s all to do with part of staying relevant.
AH: So, in essence it was a sort of update to bring the Ivy back into the 21st century and relevant to how people now dine?
FP: The fact of the matter is that a number of old aspects of the restaurant just didn’t work anymore. For example, the bar was never a great space and needed changing. And the ladies toilets being situated on the first floor was never the best place for it. We had to reinvent the restaurant. Since Richard and I decided to do this, a lot of people have told me their stories of reinventing their businesses and how important it is. Sir Nicholas Hytner told me that the National Theatre needs reinvention every decade.
AH: There’s been talk that the Club at the Ivy had a detrimental affect on the restaurant?
FP: The media love creating a story. The Club did not really affect the restaurant. Ask any Hollywood celeb or film producer and they probably haven’t heard of the club - they still go to the restaurant. And on a positive side, it put a stop to people coming to ‘celeb spot’ - something I cannot stand. You don’t go to restaurants to see famous people.
AH: I’m a big fan of the addition of the new central bar that you can dine at.
FP: Yes, I want people in their thirties clammering to come to the Ivy. They’re the next generation of diners at The Ivy. I really want to get rid of the perception that you cannot get a table here or it takes months to get a reservation. It has to appeal to the people on their way up the corporate or creative ladder.
It’s funny because the Ivy, and Caprice Holdings to some extent, is still perceived as somewhere that you cannot get a job at. If I could have a sign in the window saying ‘staff wanted’ without my customers thinking we were in trouble, I would.
AH: Even if you were known at The Ivy, I don’t think it was ever really somewhere that people thought about as a place they could just pop in for a glass of wine and shepherd’s pie? That will hopefully change now.
FP: It was but people were not that comfortable doing it. But now we actively encourage it and people can as we have this large central bar for walk-ins.
AH: How has the feedback been from the clientele?
FP: We’ve had great reviews from the critics and press but that’s not the most important thing. For me, it’s all about the customers and they seem to be embracing it. They still feel like they are in the Ivy but appreciate the improvements.
AH: And all of us in this industry know, it’s all very well being fully booked for the first three months after you open or have queues around the block but the key to a successful restaurant is repeat custom.
FP: Indeed. The Ivy, because it’s an institution, has Americans coming once year but we need our regulars. I remember going to a restaurant once three times in one week in Kensington and on the third occasion when they asked for my name for the reservation I realised this was a restaurant I didn’t want to go back to and they were clearly not interested in having regulars.
AH: Although a lot of CODE’s readers will be familiar with your past, for those who are not, please can you tell us a how you got to be where you are today?
FP: I always worked in restaurants during school and university. I worked for a passionate restaurateur in Enfield when I was 16 for a few years. I learnt a lot through osmosis. Then went I went to Manchester, I worked in restaurants up there to earn money and I found myself as the one-eyed man leading the blind because of my experience in London. To this day, I like employing people whose family have restaurants as they normally know a lot before they start work.
When I graduated, I planned to work in restaurants for six months just to keep some cash coming in but then I decided to buy a restaurant in Chelsea at the age of 27 in partnership with someone. We opened in August 1987 and the stock market crashed in October. It was called the Left Bank. Three years later I sold my half of the restaurant for a £1. I was massively in debt, sold my car, moved in with my mother and came to work at the Ivy in 1990 under Jeremy King and Chris Corbin.
AH: And how long were you at The Ivy for?
FP: I stayed for eight years. In 1998, I resigned after the business was sold to Belgo PLC. So, I took a break and then went to work with Marco (Pierre White) at Quo Vadis for 18 months. I then went into consulting. I then worked on the Front Line club in Paddington when it was in a difficult space and helped turn it around.
And then in March 2007, Richard (Caring) offered me a job to come back to the Ivy. The restaurant had slightly lost its way.
AH: And you did some TV a while back. Would you do it again?
FP: Possibly but I would never want to repeat myself. However, we’re currently filming a documentary on the restaurant. I was discussing with the producer about a thing called ‘The Ivy’ way of doing things. It’s nothing to do with one person or egos. It all started from Jeremy and Chris and that’s how we’ve done things ever since.
1-5 West Street