Influential restaurateur Jeremy King is back in business – opening a restaurant in the same space as his iconic Le Caprice, alongside two other launches. He reflects on looking to the future in order to look back, why his restaurants have captured the imagination, and what’s next for his empire

Words: Reyhaan Day

Jeremy King is the most influential restaurateur to have ever graced the capital. His restaurants – Le Caprice, the Ivy, J Sheekey (now under Richard Caring’s Caprice Holdings banner) and later, the Wolseley, the Delaunay, Brasserie Zédel and Colbert among others – were examples of a hospitality genius at work; iconic dining rooms that, more than any other restaurant, put the guest at the centre of the experience.

After a much-publicised, sad severing of ties with the restaurant group founded by King and his business partner Chris Corbin, following the majority shareholder Minor International’s takeover, the sharply-attired restaurateur is back – and is launching three new restaurants in 2024.

The first is Arlington, at 20 Arlington Street in St James’s: the same site in which Corbin and King launched Le Caprice – the restaurant that kickstarted an empire. Le Caprice under Caring’s custodianship closed in 2020, but Caring still owns the name. “I don’t normally go back in time,” King says.

“But Le Caprice was so important to Chris and myself and so much part of our DNA, that I found it irresistible.”

Upon hearing that the site was available again, his thoughts immediately turned to the much-loved maître d’, Jesus Adorno. “When I checked with Jesus to see if he was interested, he was so excited to be going back. I felt I must do everything to secure it.”

With Arlington, King aims to create a space that feels like Le Caprice never closed. “I’m imagining as if we’d never sold it – that it had carried on over those years, but had been clearly refurbished and changed. I think any restaurant that purely aims to stay the same is in danger of actually going backwards.

“I bore all my staff with a saying that comes from The Leopard – which is if things are to remain the same, everything has to change. It’s really important that you don’t change the intrinsic ethos or nature of the place, but you’re constantly looking to see how you can adapt. For example, the David Bailey photographs were removed and replaced and so on; but let’s imagine that they hadn’t been – would we have added to them? Yes, probably. And would we have ever taken off salmon fish cakes or bang bang chicken? Probably not. So it’s an element of the traditional and an element of the new.”

King says that out of all the restaurants he created, Le Caprice holds a special place in the hearts of those who experienced them all. “People often say to me about Le Caprice: ‘It meant so much to us – we grew up there, we met there’ – any number of things.

“Someone reminded me that 30-something years ago, I had found her at the bar at Le Caprice by herself, heavily pregnant.

It was a lovely moment because I asked if she was OK sitting at the bar and if she’d like a cushion. She told me that she purposely wanted to be there, and that she was going to have her baby induced after her lunch. She said: ‘My husband’s away, and I thought, well, it all started here. So this is a good moment in time for me to have a glass of champagne, have lunch and give birth.’

The child is 32 years old now. I know another woman whose parents I saw courting, falling in love, marrying and giving birth to her. Because it’s such a part of people’s lives, that’s why I wanted to continue it.”

King’s restaurants focus firmly on the diner – an approach he believes is being edged out in today’s hospitality landscape. “One of the beauties of Le Caprice was that its monochrome meant that the real star of the scene was the clientele. Nowadays, there is quite a strong movement to make the restaurant the star of the show.

That’s why we get more and more glitzy and overworked interiors. “The restaurant is a catalyst – it has to be a catalyst for whatever anybody wants it to be. If the restaurant imposes on the situation, it detracts. If the music is too loud, the lighting is too dim, the service is overbearing, perhaps the food is too soigné… I even say that a view can be too good. Show me a restaurant with a great view, and I will show you a pretty unatmospheric restaurant – because a third of the people are looking out the window, and the other two thirds are in a bad mood because they didn’t get a window seat.”

Most important is instilling in his team a confidence in offering a truly warm sense of hospitality. “It’s about giving the team the mandate to give people a good time. Because too often, one goes into restaurants and it doesn’t matter how good the food is – if it’s not served with love, care and attention, it doesn’t taste good.”

King is positive that his team is going to make Arlington – and later openings the Park in Bayswater and Simpson’s in the Strand – a resounding success. “I point to the fact that between December 2011 and October 2012, we opened the Delaunay, Zédel and Colbert.

And while the team is partially the same, it’s also increased and enhanced. I feel better equipped to do it than I did then.”

It must be gratifying opening three restaurants, given what must have been a galling few years. “It’s incredibly gratifying. I have an immense gratitude to the people who’ve kept that energy and anticipation going – staff and customers and, of course, my friends.

It was a stressful time; but I’m fortunate enough to be pretty good with stress. And in many ways, perhaps I was emancipated. I’ve been given the opportunity to go again for the third restaurant company and I honestly feel that I have more excitement and anticipation in doing so than I have at any other stage.”

Will he be settling on just the three restaurants for now, or is he planning to expand? “I don’t rule out the possibility of doing something else and in time, I’m keen to do a hotel – well, a hotel again. But these three restaurants were not a result of me wanting to open three restaurants; they were the result of me finding three restaurants which I found irresistible to open. Next year might just be settling… or maybe I’ll find something irresistible.”

Arlington is now open.