Not a member? Join the club: the new restaurants with a private atmosphere
At the corner of Hay Hill, where it flows into the end of Berkeley Street facing the Ritz, there is a new orange awning over black lacquered doors. There is no name, just a pair of Roman numerals: XX. “Funny, a lot of people this week asked, ‘Is this a members club?'” says Alex D’Aguiar, who alongside Misha Zelman envisioned the place after recent successes with Humo and Sumi. “And my head doorman Johnny keeps saying, ‘No, no, no! This is an open door policy, please come in; it’s our home but treat it like your home.
It is 20 Berkeleys (20 Berkeley Street, W1J, 20berkeley.com), opened a week ago today and one of many sites where the difference between restaurant and private club is increasingly blurred. At 20 Berkeley, it’s not just in the name or the entrance, but in the ambiance and in the appearance. “It was never a restaurant,” says D’Aguiar. “But it had been reduced to a concrete shell after being offices. It used to be a house, and that’s how it looks now: you have a living room, an orangery, a pantry, and downstairs the bar and a private dining room. We could have opened it up into one big space, but why?”
D’Aguiar’s inspiration came from “looking for what you find in the countryside – that quintessential English feeling”. With fireplaces upstairs and downstairs, plush rugs everywhere, an old oak staircase that was the building’s original, and a picture-perfect farmhouse kitchen filling the end of the dining room that D’Aguiar calls the pantry, that feeling is the kind you might find among friends. family home – whether that friend ran a bank or inherited a county. Or, for those of us less well-connected, at a club. 20 Berkeley is a restaurant for lounging and lounging. Even the food is clubby – simple but artfully executed British dishes, scallops and sea bass from Cornish, rib eye and fillet from Scotland. It’s done with sincere intentions – they have their own allotments not far from town, menus will change with the seasons, but are changed daily – and what you might call insider knowledge.
Executive Chef Ben Orpwood knows what works in these environments; the former Gordon Ramsay man recently ran the kitchen at Maison Estelle in Grafton Street, where an open-door policy is decidedly not the thing. Its 20 menu is one that could be eaten over and over again – just like the member places aim to do.
“We’ve already received membership requests here,” says D’Aguiar. He attributes it to the reason many seek out a club to start with – to belong, to be known, to feel comfortable. The best restaurant is the one where you’re most famous and all that? He smiles softly. “Membership works for many operators, but I’m only a member of my local gym.
“I believe there are other ways to acknowledge your guests, without having to put them in this structure. There are other ways to say, ‘we love you and we want you to be part of our great family.’ We’ve worked hard here, in our food program, our beverage program, in the way people are treated – and we want as many people as possible to benefit from that.
Although D’Aguiar can deny it, once inside 20 Berkeley, the feeling is of discovering a chosen place, a place where entry relies on knowing the right people. Its great strength, however, is that while today exclusivity may be more ambitious than egalitarianism, here the two are balanced.
It’s something offered, but not as explicitly, close Twenty two (22 Grosvenor Square, W1K, the22.london) as well. That air of exclusivity is undeniable – everyone from Jeff Bezos and his now-fiancée Lauren Sanchez to Kate Moss, Kylie Jenner and even Tom Cruise have been spotted inside. Unlike 20 Berkeley, the doors are closed and it largely markets itself as a private club, which it partly does. The other part, however, is a marble-floored, blue-panelled dining room where diners spend as much time trying to get their way as they eat the food. But, well aware that nobody eats at their club anymore if the food isn’t up to par, here it’s a cornerstone, and the Sunday roast is one of the best in town. Food is also front and center at Soho’s 1 Warwick, an end-to-end private club – except the biggest draw is its restaurant open to the public, Tom Cenci’s nessa (86 Brewer Street, W1F, nessasoho.com). Nessa’s formula is the same as 20 Berkeley or Twenty Two: simple, well-executed Anglo-centric cuisine and strong cocktails. Talking about that, Amazon (10 Berkeley Square, W1J, amazonicorestaurant.com) opens new late-night cocktail bar Octo in a fortnight; not private but it’s supposed to feel like it, with its entrance hidden and guarded for those in the know.
The recently renovated Where are you going (26-29 Dean Street, W1D, quovadissoho.co.uk), meanwhile, takes a different approach – where at 20 Berkeley or Twenty Two, diners can anticipate a club and be delighted to find a restaurant, the famous head of QV, Jeremy Lee says the opposite at home. “Because we don’t take bookings three months in advance, we have a lot of appointments, and I don’t think they expect a club. They will come in and there will be a sense of wonder “Who are all these people disappearing behind the curtain? Where are they going? It’s a sweet sense of mystery. That way, he says, guests might learn it’s members-only upstairs, but they get a glimpse of what’s there at the same time – the same food and drinks are served in what Lee calls “a big shambolic building that can be anything for everyone. Others negotiate by welcoming only connoisseurs. Camden Festival Hall Size (74 Crowndale Road, NW1, koko.co.uk) is primarily for the public – and has fans in Maya Jama and Sienna Miller – but so is the exclusive game, with the Koko’s House hidden club upstairs.
The trick is also elsewhere: Langans To Upstairs at Langan’s (Stratton Street, W1J, langansbrasserie.com); it’s a room that glows, like with lust, rocks to live music most nights, and seems happy enough to handle most temperamental behavior with a carefree wave. And while Langan seems like a bit of a joke, bacchanalia, Richard Caring’s absurd but pleasantly amusing ode to opulence (who counts Naomi Campbell among his fans) has just opened Apollo’s Muse (1 Mount Street, apollos-muse.co.uk), which is perhaps the most sumptuous room in London. The word is absurd: extravagance barely covers it. Not only is there a wine list where dropping hundreds is a no-brainer, but the room itself is unlike anywhere else in the world. One of the main draws is its collection of “one-of-a-kind, 2,000-year-old Greek and Roman works of art.” This means that, for those lucky enough (and with sufficient means) to become members, restraint may in fact be the order of the day: tripping in a vase here could mean more than being banned – it could mean bankruptcy. And that would mean getting admitted to another club on his own, sort of.