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London’s Other King Returns

The prolific London restaurateur Jeremy King is back in business with a trio of new restaurants serving old-school dishes, with an extra helping of drama.

London’s Other King Returns

London’s Other King Returns

London’s Other King Returns

London’s Other King Returns

London’s Other King Returns

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There’s no toppling this king.

Jeremy King, the dapper London restaurateur who cares just as much about the energy flying around his restaurants as he does about the dishes, decor and location, is back in business with a trio of new restaurants — and his ambitions are greater than ever.

In early March he opened Arlington on the site of Le Caprice, a restaurant that King and his now-retired business partner Chris Corbin transformed into an ’80s and ’90s hot spot with regulars including Princess Diana, Joan Collins, Mick Jagger and England’s current queen, the former Camilla Parker Bowles.

Over the summer King plans to open The Park on Queensway near Hyde Park, which will have a waft of ’70s California, while in the autumn, he plans to reopen the grand Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, with its meat carving trolleys and clubby, Grand Divan dining room.   

Corbin and King are beloved of diners at home and abroad, having launched some of London’s most popular restaurants, including The Wolseley, The Delaunay, Brasserie Zédel, Colbert and Fischer’s.

London’s Other King Returns

Inside Arlington

They served British, French and Mitteleuropean comfort food, including salmon fish cakes, sausages and sauerkraut, celeriac remoulade, and schnitzel. The desserts were just as delicious and the partners even named an ice cream sundae after one of their regulars, the Berlin-born Lucian Freud.

Decades before opening those buzzy, grand café-style eateries, the partners had revitalized a slew of old-time restaurants including Le Caprice, The Ivy and J Sheekey, which attracted an eclectic crowd of royals, pop stars, actors and deal-makers — as well as normal folk.

In those days the statuesque King — most likely dressed in a bespoke Timothy Everest suit — would spend his time gliding around the dining rooms and chatting with guests, keeping a close eye on operations and watching all sorts of dramas unfold.

“The really good restaurants should be a catalyst and allow so many things to happen – first dates, reunions, job interviews, sackings, seductions, divorces,” says King over coffee one morning at Arlington, as the cheery staff preps for lunch service.

Mood is of utmost importance to him and he believes that a warm welcome can go a long way. “What I teach is that you never, ever look at someone walking through the door as a potential source of income. You have to look at them as an opportunity, an opportunity is to give somebody a really good time. And if they have a really, really good time, you’ll make money anyway,” King says.

London’s Other King Returns

Jeremy King

Often it’s as simple as saying, “Good morning, or good evening,” rather than, “Hello, have you got a reservation?” he adds.

King’s restaurants have always had soul. That element is clearly missing at the restaurants he left behind two years ago after parting ways acrimoniously with the group’s majority owners, Minor International.

It didn’t take him long to regroup and he’s channeled that hospitable spirit, and his ferocious work ethic, into his new projects. While other mortals might have moved on or retired, King, who turns 70 this year, is revving up for a frenetic period of openings.

Returning to the restaurant business was not a brave decision, he says.

“I always think people are truly brave when they do something knowing that it’s going to cause them discomfort, or that it’s dangerous,” he says. Instead, King is doing what he wants. “It’s something I talk a lot about, with my staff, my kids, my friends. Too often in life, we do things because we feel we should do them instead of wanting to do them. You never regret the ‘wants.’”

His decision to open three restaurants in rapid succession was ambitious, and part of a wider strategy.

“I did feel that purely going back and taking over Le Caprice would have been a retrograde step. But in the context of one or two other restaurants, I thought it would be a forward-thinking decision,” he says, quoting Thomas Jefferson and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel “The Leopard,” about the importance of embracing change.

London’s Other King Returns

The lunch and dinner menu at Arlington.

Opening Arlington required him to look backward, and forward.

“I loved Le Caprice, and it was kind of unfinished business [for me]. I watched it change over the years, with some parts better and others worse,” says King, adding that he went into the refurbishment “pretending that Chris and I had never sold it. It’s much more similar now to how it was in the ’80s and ’90s.”

He restored much of the old decor, replacing the white onyx behind the bar (installed by former owner Richard Caring, who sold the lease but retained the rights to the Le Caprice name) with mirrors, and rehung the black-and-white portraits by David Bailey, many of which Caring’s team had switched around or removed altogether.

Crucially, the Bailey portrait of a young Mick Jagger has been restored to the landing that leads downstairs to the ladies’ room. In the old days, King says, “we used to have to wipe the lipstick off that photo” at the end of an evening.

The interiors, overseen by Shayne Brady of BradyWilliams, are still black-and-white with a deco feel. The cane chairs, starched white tablecloths, and menu mainstays such as salmon fishcake with sorrel sauce; bang bang chicken, and grilled calf’s liver and bacon with sauce diable are all in situ.

The restaurant has been a hit, with both old and new customers jamming the reservations line. Tom Holland and Zendaya, Nigella Lawson, Ruth Rogers, Anya Hindmarch and Vera Wang have dined there. On opening night King wore a double-breasted herringbone suit that Paul Smith made for the occasion.

Lawson posted a picture of her martini on Instagram, with a message saying her visit “was like coming home.” She had fish and chips, and shared desserts with friends. “Treacle tart, rhubarb crumble, and for old time’s sake, the mousse aux deux chocolats. My heart is full.”

London’s Other King Returns

The Wolseley homeware range.

The first few weeks of opening were certainly eventful. Jesus Adorno, the popular maître d’ at Le Caprice whom King had originally hired in the Eighties and then rehired to run Arlington, left after a few weeks, saying it wasn’t a good fit for him.

As he hunts for Jesus’ successor, King is also working on The Park, located in a new luxury building overlooking Hyde Park. That will have an altogether different mood, channeling the fresh, outdoorsy California cuisine pioneered by chefs such as Jonathan Waxman, Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower, and by the restaurateur Michael McCarty.  

“One of my big obsessions from the early ’80s is the food revolution that came out of California,” says King, who was wowed by the corn-fed, mesquite grilled chicken he ate at Waxman’s restaurant Jam’s in Manhattan. “There was no embellishment, but there was confidence — and authority,” he says.

The Park is going to be an all-day dining place, serving grills, pasta, salads and seafood. The interior draws on another of King’s favorite restaurants, the iconic Grill Room at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York, and the walls will be covered in ’50s and ’60s artwork.

He says there will be “an American generosity” to the place, with “just that tiniest hint of a diner about it,” with comfortable booths, corner tables and free filter coffee refills at breakfast. “It’s a place where you might stop in with your dog during the day, and then come back in the evening” for a different experience.

King will complete his trifecta later this year, opening Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, the vast restaurant adjacent to the Savoy hotel. It’s the biggest of the three projects with two dining rooms and a further one for private functions.  

Born in the early 19th century as a smoking room and coffee house, Simpson’s later evolved into the doyen of London restaurants, frequented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (and Sherlock Holmes), Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw and generations of tourists and families craving a delicious roast dinner, or a steak and kidney pie with Yorkshire pudding.

London’s Other King Returns

Jeremy Irons, Lady Antonia Fraser and Tom Hiddleston attend an after party for “Happy Birthday, Harold,” a charity gala celebrating the life and work of Harold Pinter at Brasserie Zedel in 2018.

The Simpson’s project plays to King’s strength of taking a classic restaurant and reinventing it for a new generation. “If I do the job properly, people will walk in and say, ‘Oh good, you haven’t changed it’ despite all of the work and thought I’ve put into it,” King says.

The booths, the silver carving trolleys in the old Grand Divan dining room (which used to be a male only space) will all be restored. In addition, King is transforming what was once the ladies’ dining room into a private events space, and is also creating a second dining area upstairs that’s even larger than the Grand Divan.

Depending on how long the works take, Simpson’s could open as early as October.

King appears to be unfazed by the work involved in all three projects. “Luckily, I’ve done it before,” he says, ticking off all the restaurants — The Delaunay, Brasserie Zédel and Colbert — which he and Corbin opened in rapid-fire succession between late 2011 and early 2012, while still juggling The Wolseley.

While he may be proud of his past work, King says he’s determined to do even better this time around.

“Sometimes restaurateurs rest on their laurels. They think that if a restaurant is a success, why change anything? My attitude is that if I’m not [regularly] changing the menu, the layout out of the menu, or looking at how the decor and systems can be improved, then maybe I’m being lazy. For me, everything is crucial.”

King recalls people asking him, over the years why he bothered visiting his restaurants on a Saturday night. In response, he’d serve up a side order of wisdom: “The easiest way to do restaurateur-ing is the hard way.”

Long may he reign.