Interview With David Moore On The 30th Anniversary Of Pied à Terre
We’ve been speaking with David Moore, legendary restaurateur at Michelin starred Pied à Terre in Fitzrovia, London W1.
The son of an Irish immigrant family, David arrived in the UK at the age of twelve when his parents settled in Blackpool. Having attended a local comprehensive school followed by Blackpool Catering College where he obtained a HND in Hotel, Catering and Institutional Management, David commenced his working life in 1986 when he was twenty one, working as a Chef de Rang front of house service waiter at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons luxury hotel-restaurant in Oxfordshire.
David worked at Le Manoir for five years until 1991, rising to Assistant Manager, prior to opening Pied à Terre at the age of just twenty seven. The restaurant was an instant success, obtaining a Michelin star within 13 months of opening which it has retained to this day.
First of all, congratulations on Pied a Terre’s 30th anniversary this year and for running the longest independently owned Michelin starred restaurant in the UK. How has the last 12 months been for Pied a Terre?
It has had a lot of different challenges.
I have made a point of not drinking too much and enjoyed cooking at home creating new dishes. Having the joy of a happy family life with my wife and two daughters has provided immense comfort.
The last 12 months have given me a lot of time to think about the restaurant and how it will be run as we enter the post-Covid world. I am looking forward to Pied à Terre reopening on 17th May – it will be an interesting exercise implementing the re-jigging of the business and seeing the big changes that we have made being instigated.
Have you been happy with the job retention scheme, rates assistance and government grant schemes that have been – and continue to be – offered since the beginning of the Covid pandemic and what other financial assistance would you like to see provided to get the restaurant events & hospitality sector back on its feet?
When the first round of grants were announced the rateable value assessment was incorrect although subsequent grants, rates holidays and discounts have meant that the restaurant has received money for which I am very grateful. It has obviously not been enough but it has been extremely helpful in terms of assisting with the restaurant’s survival.
The furlough scheme has been good.
Prior to the recent Budget I had drawn up a wish list of measures I hoped would be included and the budget ticked every box so I would say that, overall, I have been satisfied with assistance that the government has provided during the last 12 months.
The biggest problem that the industry – and all high street businesses – will face in the coming 12 months will be with business rates and rent. Business rates is a broken & outdated system in desperate need of overhaul. To get the high street back on its feet business rates really need to be looked at by the Chancellor and fixed. I have heard of West End business spaces where landlords may even be forced to offer rent free leases with occupying businesses only having to pay the business rates to avoid the landlords having to take the double hit of having to pay business rates on unoccupied premises. The US system of adding a contribution to bills seems fairer, for example – i.e. the more successful a business is, the more business rates they have to pay.
How important has your gourmet vegan food delivery been to Pied a Terre?
The gourmet vegan food delivery boxes were very successful during the summer although enthusiasm dwindled as restaurants were allowed to reopen. We have continued to operate a gourmet vegan food delivery service during the winter and will see how things pan out in the coming months regarding continuation of the delivery service.
Do you have plans to extend the vegan selection into the restaurant menu selection?
Vegan food is here to stay. It is the start of a new dining format and the demand will continue to grow exponentially. At Pied à Terre we made the conscious decision to get in early in response to the increase in popularity of vegan food and have won awards for our vegan cuisine including one for Top Gastro Vegan Menu in the UK and another for Top Three Gastronomic Vegan Menus in Europe.
How important do you think that vegan cuisine will be in the coming few years and do you think that it will be essential for fine dining restaurants such as Pied a Terre to provide a substantial restaurant menu vegan selection?
There are sound business reasons for including vegan dishes to the menu, not least of all the fact that doing so attracts a new & different crowd of customers to the restaurant. In the six months leading up to the March 2020 lockdown Pied à Terre had really started to gain traction on its vegan cuisine and we will always include it on our menus whilst continuing to provide an omnivorous menu selection. We do not insist that the whole table has the same menus and are happy for vegans and omnivores to dine alongside each other!
What are your thoughts on the challenges that London restaurants will face as they hopefully emerge from lockdown in the post Brexit world?
Whatever one’s thoughts on Brexit, it has happened and we will adjust to it. Discussions that we have had with suppliers indicates that the increase in costs for ingredients is led by Covid at the moment as much as Brexit. The cost of wine from European countries such as obviously France will increase which will be mitigated by the increase in quality of wines from suppliers in areas such as South America and South Africa.
My main concern in the post Brexit world concerns the reduction in supply of readily available European labour. The UK needs to have a 2 -3 year work permit to allow restaurants to have access to untrained lower level workers who have for many years been so important to the UK restaurant industry. In my experience most European workers who work in UK restaurants are simply young people who come to our country to learn a new language, enjoy a new life experience, save a little money and return to their own countries after 2 – 3 years; more often than not to open a coffee shop or little bistro in their own country. Such people are hard workers who do really important necessary work that many UK workers are reluctant to do and as the unfortunate unemployment figures caused by Covid reduce I feel that there will be a labour strain caused by their absence.
Are there any important lessons that the events of the last year have taught you?
To keep an open mind whilst giving the business a hard looking at. To be able to make difficult decisions based on detailed research and to not be afraid to implement these decisions.
To challenge yourself all the time, look for new opportunities and find a way to make the changes that you need to initiate work.
The last year has made me realise the importance of being responsive; for example, when the 9:30 pm table curfew was introduced we responded by encouraging diners to eat at 4:30 pm which actually proved to be extremely popular.
Covid has beckoned in a new reality at Pied à Terre with a more restricted menu, a lower number of chefs in the kitchen due to social distancing restrictions and less staff working shorter shifts. Price points will remain the same as obviously will be the excellence of the service and cuisine. The restaurant will reopen as a leaner operation with less waste & the new running operation here to stay.
The last 12 months have undoubtedly been incredibly hard but many years of running Pied à Terre have taught me to not be afraid of change and when change needs to be instigated it is important to own it and embrace it.
Speaking of which, this year marks the 30th anniversary of you opening Pied à Terre. As the restaurant has held a Michelin star for 28 years and held two stars for 13 years with five different chefs, what would you say have been the achievements of which you are most proud and what are the biggest changes that you have noticed during the last thirty years?
I am proud of having created a restaurant which has turned into being part of the establishment and of creating a brand that means so much to so many people.
My greatest achievement having established a successful London fine dining restaurant business is to not have messed it up!
How important do you think private dining events will be to restaurants like Pied à Terre with separate private dining rooms as restaurant restrictions are relaxed and do you think that there will be an increase in demand due to perception of them being ‘safer’ environments for group dining events?
Private dining events have always been important to Pied à Terre, as they are to many restaurants.
I think that demand for private dining rooms will be increasingly popular when restaurant lockdown restrictions are relaxed as people’s perception increases that they are safer environments for group dining events.
People with a multitude of underlying health conditions will still want to come out to eat and will be mindful of hygiene, erring on the side of safety.
Covid hygiene at Pied à Terre in both the main restaurant and its private dining rooms has been scrupulously addressed; staff will be wearing face masks, chefs will be working within social distancing restrictions, sanitiser stations will be placed at every touch point as well as on all tables, toilet door handles will be sterilised and we will be providing single use menus that guests will be encouraged to take away as a souvenir of their dining experience with us.
Private dining rooms genuinely are special. What could be a more special and memorable experience for a group dining get-together with business colleagues, family or friends than the kudos of holding the event in a private dining room at a Michelin starred restaurant?