You’ve become two-site brand again. How does that feel?
Sophie Bathgate: I’m very excited. We didn’t really want to leave Covent Garden, and it was quite traumatic at the time. It’s been wonderful to look at what we were doing and then be able to start again - it has been very refreshing. Everything we’ve been working on internally we can now do all at once, instead of drip feeding things in.
Rupert Power: We were at Covent Garden for nine years, and although we strived for perfection we never got there. When we spotted this site in Soho, I honestly didn’t think there was another site for us.
SB: We are so ridiculously fussy, and specific about where we want to be.
It’s a huge site…
SB: It has a 125-cover all-day dining restaurant, a bar and covered terrace as well as a 120-cover high-end steakhouse. There’s also a separate kiosk with an in-built wood fired smoker and a ‘secret’ underground speakeasy nightclub/bar.
RP: This building used to be Sugar Reef, and Grace Bar, and it was also a seedy cinema back in the ‘70s. It has had layers and layers of crap piled onto it and it needed to be taken right back to basics. Most people wouldn’t do it…. we’re beginning to realise why!
Why did the Covent Garden site close?
SB: Our landlord wanted to redevelop it with someone else. It was part of an entire block with us and Joe Allen and lots of other fantastic sites.
Why now for the move?
SB: We have been trying on and off for about seven years
RP: The reality was that for us to move on from Covent Garden we needed to have somewhere else to go and we knew it had to be this site. It’s a confidence thing. We knew that we could be bullish about it to make the a reality. We get on very well with the landlord, but at the end of the day, if you’re second best it’s going to end in tears at some point.
There’s more than just steak on the menu, and you’ve dropped the ‘Steakhouse’ from the restaurant’s name. Is it a rebrand?
SB: Although we will be operating two sites, we don’t really consider ourselves a chain. We see ourselves as two great sites doing different things. Here, we’re taking the steakhouse up a notch, keeping the core of what we are, which is steaks and a great bar area, but adding a terrace and kiosk. It’s more than Sophie’s Steakhouse. It becomes Sophie’s Soho – and it has lots of different guises.
The London steakhouse sector is quite crowded. Where do you fit in?
RP: Something that’s always been a strong culture for us is atmosphere. We encourage people to arrive at six with no idea how the evening’s going to take shape, and let it evolve over time, starting at the bar. We started with a focus on meat but we have moved to fish and vegetables as well, and the kiosk is an extension of that.
SB: Sophie’s Steakhouse shackled us. We were very beef orientated and Sophie’s Soho is an opportunity to not be pigeonholed, hence the putting vegetables alongside beef in terms of importance. That’s been liberating. I’m envious of people who have more freedom with their menus. This is a great opportunity for us to do that while keeping our core ethos, which has always been amazing beef.
Will you consider doing any more projects in the future?
SB: It’s probably not the best week to ask us about new projects! For us it’s about great locations and choosing things that suit the history of the building. We’d love to do a hotel - that’s very much on the ambition list. Or a restaurant with rooms, at least.
RP: We always saw ourselves as owner operators. That’s how we behave. We’re not really investors. But the hotel idea - that’s been around for some time. Once, after a few too many drinks, we were talking about what next, and we realised that each time so far the next project has been bigger than the one before it.
Sophie’s Soho, 42-44 Windmill Street, London, W1D 7NB