Will Ricker - the Australian-born businessman behind five pan-Asian restaurants across London including Eight Over Eight, E&O and Great Eastern Dining Room – believes the area is ‘the obvious choice’ for any restaurateurs, using the immediate success of his new Mexican concept La Bodega Negra as a case in point.
Speaking to BigHospitality two weeks after the opening of La Bodega Negra restaurant in Soho, Ricker said: “I don’t understand why anybody would want to open a restaurant outside of London. You’re paying rent seven days a week, so it’s no good being closed Sunday and Monday, and it’s no good having a poor lunch trade.
“I’d never consider opening outside of London. It’s an entertaining capital and people go out all the time here - on Sunday and Monday nights, we’re really busy. I’m sure you can do it but there are so many more opportunities and things to do here.”
La Bodega Negra
Having opened in mid-March, La Bodega Negra is Ricker’s latest restaurant, and his first departure from Pan-Asian cuisine. A joint venture between himself, New York nightlife legend Serge Becker, and entrepreneur Ed Spencer Churchill, the restaurant aims to serve contemporary Mexican food in equally contemporary surroundings.
“The beauty of bringing Mexican food here is that the concept in the UK at the moment is just a hybrid, dumbed-down American version with an essence of Mexican food, but it’s not authentic Mexican. What we’ve done is deconstructed the food concept and taken out everything that’s not authentic.”
The 160-cover venue is a triple-fronted site in Soho’s Old Compton Street and Moor Street. It comprises an upstairs café and taqueria and a more salubrious hacienda-style basement dining room and lounge.
Each section has its own individual character and menu, with Mexican street food a key component of both. In the 66-cover upstairs café, dishes include tacos, tosstaditas, quesadillas and other dishes devised to be eaten with fingers. The 90-cover restaurant places greater emphasis on the grill with mains including tiger prawns and slow roasted lamb barbacoa.
Ricker, who has a proven ability to know what customers want when opening new sites, believes the restaurant is proof that London is the place to be, having had to turn customers away due to its immediate popularity.
“Business has been incredible,” he added. “It’s so busy we can’t keep up with the telephone traffic - we’ve had to take on two more receptionists just to deal with the phone enquiries and the emails. There’s been no gradual build-up here. We’re turning away 50 or 60 covers every night at the moment. On the weekend we catered for 700 covers and we’re only a 160-cover venue.
“The concept of La Bodega Negra has got real legs. As a high-end Mexican restaurant I don’t think there’s one. We think we can open up several of them, if not in the capital then certainly around the globe."
There is still a growing argument that London is no longer the recession-free zone many have considered it to be, with a number of high-profile restaurant closures there in recent months, including Galoupet in Knightsbridge and Assemblage in Spitafileds.