Pearls of Wisdom: Mark Sainsbury

By William Drew

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sustainable restaurant association, Food

Mark Sainsbury, co-owner of Moro and The Zetter Hotel
Mark Sainsbury, co-owner of Moro and The Zetter Hotel
Mark Sainsbury is the co-owner of Moro and The Zetter hotel – both in Clerkenwell, London – with the latter housing the much-celebrated Bistrot Bruno Loubet. He also set up the Sustainable Restaurant Association earlier this year

Mark Sainsbury is the co-owner of Moro and The Zetter hotel – both in Clerkenwell, London – with the latter housing the much-celebrated Bistrot Bruno Loubet. He also set up the Sustainable Restaurant Association earlier this year.

I thought I was going to be a chef. ​In my year out before university I signed up for a cookery course in Paris and totally fell in love with that world – the flavours, the wine, the cheese, the whole French way. And I was in a classroom full of girls. It was heaven.

I cut my teeth as a stagiare at Jean Bardet’s restaurant in Tours.​ But the experience put me off – the chefs were automatons; the love of food had been bashed out of them.

Running a successful restaurant over time is nigh on impossible​ unless you’ve got people in the kitchen who are partners in the business, who care with a passion about the food that comes out.

Thankfully, I realised I could do the numbers, as well as the  front-of-house stuff. ​It gives you more freedom to move on to other projects if your name’s not above the door, as it were.

When we were designing Moro, we kept referring back to a photo​ that [co-owner and chef] Samuel Clark had of a place in the south of Spain: zinc bar, mirrors behind it and so on. That was our visual touchstone.

I think you can tell within a week or two if a restaurant is going to work. ​That’s not to say you can’t turn it around, but it’s hard.

A restaurant in a hotel is so different to a standalone.​ The number of menus alone is such a headache: room service, banqueting, out-of-hours, breakfast, brunch, sandwiches for meetings.

My family name was probably a help in getting people to take me seriously early on​, but then I’m sure I’ve paid a bit more for some things than I would have otherwise.

When we opened The Zetter [in 2004] we thought the restaurant would be the easy bit​ as that was our background. How wrong we were. It struggled to find its own identity until Bruno [Loubet] arrived earlier this year.

Don’t economise on fridges.​ Within the first six months at Moro we’d replaced them all as we’d bought second-hand.

Picking carrots, leeks and wild mushrooms with my kids​ and then us all cooking them – life doesn’t get any better.

I didn’t want a French restaurant at The Zetter​. Then Bruno cooked lunch at my home. It turned out to be one of the best meals I’ve ever had, all out of a couple of cold boxes. Dish after dish of  sensational food. It was love at first bite.

I can’t bear snooty service​ – anything that makes you feel  uncomfortable is just rude. But I’m terribly impatient: I don’t think you should have to wait too long for a drink.

We could probably get away with adding a fiver to all our dishes at Bistrot Bruno​, but it’s not what we’re about. You don’t have to rip off your punters.

Setting up the Sustainable Restaurant Association​ answered a craving in me to do something more worthwhile – I think it’s a mid-life thing.

Next year we’re opening the Zetter Town House next door​ – 13 more rooms and a destination cocktail bar. But I’d love to open another hotel at some stage.

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