Pearls of Wisdom: Monika Linton

By Becky Paskin, 01-Aug-2011

Related topics: Business, People, Restaurants, Pearls of Wisdom

In 1988 Monika Linton began importing Spanish wine and cheese to the UK, selling produce to a number of London’s restaurants. Now, over 20 years later, Linton operates a shop at Borough market, a restaurant in South Kensington (Casa Brindisa) and a tapas bar (Tapas Brindisa) in London Bridge. She also recently converted Tierra Brindisa in Soho into a second tapas bar.

People were complaining they had to queue for too long at Brindisa Tapas London Bridge, so when we opened Brindisa Tierra Soho we made it a full-service restaurant. But we lost the heart of what tapas is about - to stand around in an unpredictable environment where you may or may not get a table. It was too sedate and quiet for the style of food we wanted to sell so rather than respond to the complaints people made about queues we changed it to Brindisa Tapas.

We’ve changed the colour so it’s much sunnier and bringing the bar to the front has allowed us to do more charcuterie.

We won’t be rebranding our Casa Brindisa restaurant though, and we’re certainly not planning to roll out lots of Brindisa Tapas.

Brindisa was a complete punt in 1988 for £1500 and this is where it’s got to. It’s been a hard slog but I believed in myself, although I haven’t done it on my own.

The flexibility and variety of tapas makes it so popular, and the fact you can enjoy it at any moment of the day or night, whether you’re passing through or wanting to stay for longer.

I don’t think the tapas bar style suits the British as well as the Spanish, but that’s partly the weather and partly our lifestyle.

In many Spanish neighbourhoods there are a lot of tapas bars where you go to four or five in a night because each has its own speciality. It’s a bit like a pub crawl, but with food. We don’t tend to have that in London. There are lots of places to eat but you wouldn’t want to fit four in a night.

I don’t think speciality tapas is necessary in Britain. We’re quite international and have a lot of cuisines already, so I don’t think customers will want to go to a restaurant and be limited to just Basque or Andalucian cuisine.

We’ve had quite a few people from the Brindisa stable move on to run their own business. We nurture quite an entrepreneurial spirit at Brindisa.

I wasn’t sad to see Jose (Pizarro) leave to run his own restaurant in Bermondsey. He’s always wanted to do his own business - he has that spirit.

It’s not that easy to find skilled chefs but finding them is one thing; working with chefs is another. I think that however good a chef you are you still need to be a good manager of your kitchen.

For me teamwork is absolutely imperative. Some people have been with us for 20 years and they are more important to the business than I might be, but I don’t think you can be complacent. You have to allow people to grow.

Use the best quality ingredients and keep raising the bar. It may mean food is pricier and more expensive but on the whole things are cheap for a reason and that’s generally because a corner has been cut or some ethic has been avoided in the cost. Buying the best if you can is worth it.

We’re in this age where anyone can send emails or blog about their experiences in restaurants and some comments are so incredibly inaccurate and offensive I just don’t know how the trade puts up with it. Some are extremely well written and constructively critical and that feedback is very useful, but it’s so random and often malicious and you have no control over it.