OPINION - The Wolseley’s Corbin & King changed London’s dining scene forever — the city needs them

·2-min read
 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

There is a reason why the difficulties of The Wolseley owners Corbin & King have rattled restaurateurs across town, and it’s this: the influence of Chris Corbin and Jeremy King on the way London eats — and the way its restaurants run — is almost impossible to overstate. Alongside the likes of the Roux brothers, Sir Terence Conran, Wagamama’s Alan Yau and perhaps gastropub inventors Mike Belben and David Eyre, theirs has been a hand on the scruff of this city’s neck, hauling it from culinary dust bowl to world-leading dining destination.

More than just The Wolseley, they made history by breathing new life into The Ivy, J Sheekey and Le Caprice. Their empire still includes Brasserie Zedel, Colbert and The Delaunay. They pack dining rooms day in, day out and it is their achievements that so many try to mimic.

The story is this: the pair are battling with their company’s largest shareholder, hotel group Minor International, over a near £35 million loan. What’s going on, exactly, remains opaque. King has come out swinging. “There is absolutely no need to go into administration… It is a power play for the holding company,” he said. “The irony is that it is Minor who have been in financial trouble. Not me.”

Minor don’t see it the same way: “Contrary to the picture that Mr King is trying to paint, the business is insolvent,” read a particularly brutal press release.

American investment fund Knighthead Capital Management yesterday said it was prepared to offer Corbin & King some £38 million to shore them up and both Minor and King insist that the restaurants face no threat at all. Bill Nighy and Nigella aren’t going to go hungry at breakfast then, but this morning King admitted “we are very much under threat and they are trying to seize control despite us offering a handsome amount to buy it back”.

But the disagreement has cast an ugly light on the fragility of the restaurant business. To their many imitators and admirers, they stand for success, showing just how far a dream can go. The idea that they, of all people, risk their empire collapsing at the whim of an investor is a terrifying thought to everyone shadowing their moves or simply trying to learn from them.

Once press-shy, Jeremy King has over the past two years become an outspoken advocate for the industry, offering his reassuring, steadying words of wisdom to those panicking through the pandemic.

London, then, needs Corbin & King, and it needs it in rude health. May the resolution come as swiftly as possible.

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