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.