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  • Interview with Chris Wright, London Restaurant Festival Director

    4 October 2019


    London Restaurant Festival celebrates the incredible variety of restaurants in London through a series of events taking place over the month of October. The programme features over 60 events including Restaurant-Hopping Tours, Tasting Menus, Masterclasses, Gourmet Odysseys, Chef-Hosted events and Ultimate Gastronomic Weekends.

    We are excited to have partnered with the London Restaurant Festival to create the Searcys Gourmet Oddessy. On 5 October, ticket holders will enjoy three-courses across three different Searcys venues – Helix at The Gherkin, St Pancras Brasserie and Osteria at The Barbican. Each course will be accompanied by Searcys Champagne and guests will travel between restaurants on an iconic heritage Routemaster bus.

    We spoke to Chris Wright, Festival Director, about the inspiration behind the festival, how it has changed over ten years and plans for the future of the festival.

    How long have you been involved with the London Restaurant Festival and what was the inspiration behind starting it?

    So, the London restaurant festival is now in its 11th year, I joined as Festival Director 7 years ago. The inspiration behind why it started was threefold. Firstly, to give people a great reason to try those restaurants they’ve been meaning to try by creating original and creative dining experiences in those restaurants. Secondly, we wanted to give something back to the restaurant industry through holding a festival and driving covers into a restaurant at a time, the month of October, when they usually aren’t so busy. Thirdly, the idea is, unlike some festivals that take place in the middle of a field, this was much more like a culinary Edinburgh Fringe festival. All our events take place in restaurants, rather than taking people out of restaurants and putting them in the middle of a field, we are actually driving them into restaurants.

    How much has the festival changed over the last 10 years?

    It originally started with ten days and it’s now expanded to the whole month of October. It’s also expanded in scope; originally there were 20 events, we now hold 70 over the month. It’s expanded in participation; when it first started there were only about 5,000 people who took part but now about 50,000 people take part each year. Restaurants have expanded too; we now have 350 restaurants right across the city taking part in the festival.

    What is new this year for the festival?

    We have three high-profile events in particular that we’ve never done before. One is the ‘High Flyers’ event at The Gherkin where we have two of London’s best Thai chefs and a chef flying in from Bangkok cooking an amazing chef collaboration, six-course, Thai meal right at the top of the Gherkin. For the first time, in collaboration with Penguin Books, is a feast with Bill Bryson who will be talking about his latest book and helping us to create an amazing meal at Robin Gill’s new restaurant, Darby’s, just on the side of the Thames. Thirdly, we are hosting a fun event called London’s Longest Lunch, together with our partner Estrella Galicia, which takes place across two different tapas restaurants – Brindisa London Bridge and Brindisa Battersea with an amazing boat journey in-between; six courses with a ham carving on the boat – it’s about a five-hour lunch in total.

    What’s the demographic of people who attend the events?

    I think the one thing that would link all of the people who come to the events is that they are food lovers, they love restaurants. Rather than being any particular demographic in terms of their income, you get young people who have saved up all month to eat with a chef who they love, you get older people coming along – it’s a really interesting mix, but the one thing that unites everyone is their love of food.

    What do you think makes a stand-out restaurant in London?

    That’s a good question. I think a really good restaurant has to have three elements – the food has to be great, but as importantly it has to have great service and it has to have the magical third factor, which is the ambience; partly that can be the design of the restaurant, but also the feel. At the heart of a restaurant is hospitality and making the people who are eating there feel really special. A great restaurant always has to have all three of those elements to be successful – good food alone is not enough.

    How do you see the restaurant scene in London changing over the next five years?

    I think in two ways – firstly, I think that what we have seen over the last ten years is much less formality; so, you’re seeing more and more restaurants being awarded Michelin stars that don’t do white tablecloths and have things like sharing plates. The trend towards a less formal dining environment is one of the trends that I think we will see continue over the next ten years.

    The second thing is increasing internationalisation. I remember when I was growing up if you weren’t going to have English food the only option would be Italian or Chinese. Now every single cuisine from the world is represented in London and, often, at a high level. Indeed, one of our signature event series during the London Restaurant Festival is called Top 10 Cuisines, which is where we celebrate the ten cuisines that we feel are particularly interesting right now. We’ve highlighted the cuisine of Jerusalem this year as we feel that that is one of the places in the world that is doing really interesting, cutting edge food. So, I think the second trend is the increasing sense of internationalisation of London’s food scene.

    Do you have any exciting plans for the future of the festival?

    The festival, we feel, has got as big as we want it to; we want it to remain ‘the festival with a face’. We always make sure that an LRF Director is present at every single event – and that means that we physically can’t do more than about 70 events. The way that we are expanding is through new, exciting event series for American Express card members throughout the year. One involving street food and another, an event called Eat Live, which involves merging food and culture – either high or low culture. Both those programmes are exciting ways that we are expanding what we are doing, even though it will be out of October when the festival is taking place. That said, there is always the possibility that we will take the London Restaurant Festival to other capitals around the world and we continue to talk to potential partners about that.

    Why were you keen for Searcys to be involved with the festival?

    Partly, because they’ve got some fantastic restaurants. So, one of the events that we are doing this year which is going to be an amazing customer experience in terms of travelling to three of London’s most renowned landmarks is an event called the ‘Gourmet Odyssey’, which will involve separating a group of 150 into three groups of 50 and each of the three groups starting at one of the three restaurants. Each group has their starter in one restaurant, then we move them around via three heritage Routemaster buses and everyone has their main course in another restaurant and their dessert course in a third. Those with tickets to the Searcys Gourmet Odyssey are going to the top of the Gherkin, to Osteria at the Barbican Centre, and to the wonderful Brasserie at St Pancras station. As a customer experience, you get to try three amazing Searcys restaurants over one long Saturday lunch time and best of all, you’ll be drinking Searcys Champagne with each and every course.



    To find out more about Searcys’ participation in this event, CLICK HERE.

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