David Moore has barely slept. And he’s very pleased about the fact. The boss of the Michelin-starred Pied à Terre in Fitzrovia has just hosted his first business breakfast hot on the heels of closing up in the wee hours.
The breakfasts are the latest in a string of new ideas to boost revenues at the eatery. There are plans to offer a chef’s table experience upstairs, create a bar which spills out onto Charlotte Street and even venture abroad for the first time, with possible openings of Pieds in China and a Greek restaurant in New York.
The Chinese site is coming up fast, with a debut planned in Ocean Flower Island, a resort on an artificial archipelago, next June.
“China is weird and wonderful. The potential opportunity to do business there with the Pied à Terre is massive. They love the Michelin star prestige and they are keen to see Western brands,” explains Moore. “You’ve got to be practical. Sometimes it’s the time to push the button and see what happens.”
It’s an intriguing next chapter for the fine-dining establishment which gained its Michelin-starred status — and even had two stars at times — almost straight away, after opening in late 1991. Moore used to carry photos of the reviewers in his wallet to spot them on strolling in.
Pied’s inception is a tale worthy of telling over lunch, which Moore does in the copper-panelled surroundings of his restaurant tucking into snails on a specially commissioned 30-year-old plate.
He was waiting tables at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire (after studying catering in Blackpool) under restaurant director Alain Desenclos, with Raymond Blanc its head chef.
“If I had five or six people coming from London that night I’d seat them so I was looking after them, chat into the night and write to them about investing the next day,” he recalls.
This army of backers helped him open and he has tried to take on Desenclos’ manor. “Alain was super suave but such a nice guy. He could make the roadsweeper so welcome without any pretentions and then he could flip around and start chatting to the Queen Mother like she was just another roadsweeper.” It’s a tactic Moore employs, especially for intimidated diners not used to haute cuisine. “It’s the bright shirt and the big smile, ask them how they are, chat to them. Sometimes you can see that people are wide eyed. Others are super cool.”
And what of the relentless nature of the job, the downfall of many a restaurateur: “It is a stressful business. You have to have a lot of energy and a constant smile. It’s a theatre and the curtain goes up twice a day. We’ve just got to turn round and smile. Nobody wants to hear my problems.” It’s this determination which has kept Pied, led by head chef Asimakis Chaniotis, sought after.
Stars from Robert De Niro to Brad Pitt and Kanye West have eaten there, though Moore insists celebs who want to be snapped head to The Ivy or Sexy Fish.
The Irishman has had to tackle fire and fallouts to stay at the top. The first occurred in 2004, when a faulty ice machine caused a blaze which closed the restaurant for a year. (“We’d just got our second Michelin star back, so we kept as many of the staff on as we could.”)
The latter was just last year, when a dispute with a senior employee led the worker to set up a rival restaurant. Moore’s handling of the situation is said to have angered a key investor.
Moore, 55, retains an 85% stake together with his wife Valerie, who exits the restaurant from a lengthy marketing meeting with a jokey chastisement (“What happened to the ‘no mid-week drinking?’” she laughs, glancing at his glass of white.) A waitress then comes to break open a chocolate encased mousse ball with a tiny gold hammer, Moore has to intervene to give it a good whack.
Beyond Pied, there are several other ventures for the serial entrepreneur: he backs a Yorkshire craft ale brewery, Treboom, and a pub near Temple called The Devereux which ironically doesn’t bother with serious food, just toasties.
He’s also co-founder of the London Cocktail Club, a bars chain featured in TV show The Restaurant, in which Moore and Blanc were judges. There have been other brands down the years, an American smokehouse called 160, Van Zeller in Harrogate and L’Autre Pied, which Moore reckons could be rebooted, potentially inside a hotel.
Back at Pied, Moore is hoping to break even this year after making losses over the last two years as tough competition and Brexit uncertainty has hit trading.
He’s confident his initiatives will do the job, and a growing reputation as a vegan hotspot is helping: “Some busy nights over half the people in here are on the vegan tasting menu,” he says, looking around the cosy enclave.
This restaurateur has plenty to get his teeth into.