It’s 10 years since Des Gunewardena and David Loewi launched D&D London, which now runs some of London’s top restaurants, including German Gymnasium, officially the most beautiful restaurant in the world. The Resident gets the low-down on how to run a successful restaurant empire…
When considering restaurant group D&D London’s portfolio, the stunning surroundings are just as key as the Michelin star quality food. Just last year, German Gymnasium in King’s Cross won an award for being the most beautiful restaurant in the world. Perhaps it’s not surprising when you consider the origins of the group.
‘D&D came about after a discussion between Terence Conran and myself on the strategy for the Conran business as a whole,’ explains one of the Ds, Des Gunewardena. ‘He was Chairman and I was CEO at the time. Terence wanted us to focus on shops and design, while I thought restaurants and hotels were the future. So that’s why we agreed that David [Loewi] and I should buy the restaurants.
‘We were most known in our Conran days for great design and the buzzy atmosphere of our restaurants,’ he continues. ‘As D&D we wanted to refocus the business on food and chefs. London was – and still is – in a love affair with food.
‘They want to know where the food comes from, how it’s cooked, who the people are that are cooking it, but we haven’t forgotten that going to a restaurant is not just about food and wine. It’s also about service, atmosphere, the crowd… We obsess about all the details.’
Today, D&D are behind some of our best restaurants including Quaglino’s, Bluebird and Sartoria, and Gunewardena has an interesting view on this area. ‘I think it’s fair to say that Chelsea, Mayfair and Knightsbridge, in terms of restaurants, are more establishment than pioneering,’ he considers.
It doesn’t matter where a restaurant is located. If it’s good then people will come
‘But we love these areas and we love the crowd. We always used to say that it doesn’t matter where a restaurant is located – if it’s good, people will come.’
One thing that Gunewardena is unanimous on is the capital as a whole. ‘It’s the best [scene] in the world,’ he says emphatically. ‘I’ve been to New York recently and many of the top chefs and restaurateurs over there want to have venues in London.’
It’s been success story after success story for D&D since launching in September 2006, with many top chefs joining for the ride. ‘Yes, we’ve had some great chefs who have worked with us,’ Gunewardena nods.
‘Chris Galvin, John Torode, Allan Pickett… But the one person for me who has stood out in terms of innovation and the joy and effort he puts into his cooking is Robin Gill. He worked for us for a number of years at Sauterelle, which is one of our lesser known restaurants. I’m really pleased that Robin is now getting the recognition he deserves with The Dairy, The Manor and Paradise Garage.’
There has been Michelin recognition, but D&D were also named Sustainable Large Restaurant Group of the Year 2015, adding to the likes of the design nod to the German Gymnasium. Despite a healthy looking roster after a decade in business, don’t expect them to slow down any time soon.
‘More of the same,’ Gunewardena says on the future. ‘We love opening and running restaurants, and London will continue to be our home and where most of our venues are. However, you will see us expanding more overseas, and we are also very keen to open more hotels.’ Grand designs, indeed.