Bob Walton is an astute and passionate man. On top of winning a plethora of awards and titles, he has also dedicated 40 years to the hospitality industry that he loves. He knows the ins and outs of this business better than anyone else, something you would expect from the President of The Restaurant Association.

We met to discuss Bob’s current focus, virtual members club The Nth Degree. The Nth degree is based on an innovative concept that embraces the idea of social networking – very much in the old-fashion, physical sense – and presents it on a plate. Members meet in worldwide locations to experience what can only be described as the ultimate in gourmet dining. Bob explains that each experience is tailored to the individual – to their tastes and cultural background. An exclusive club, its focus remains on fine dining in London which, apart from New York, is seen as the zenith of dining experiences. Conversing over the dinner table, and laughing over a glass of wine with like-minded people is a much nicer way to explore the world around you.

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Right at the start of our conversation, I frankly ask him, “What is the secret ingredient to being a successful chef (especially in such a competitive environment)?”

His reply, “Quality will out”, was one which seems to be in vogue recently – although perhaps it is reflective on society. Using quality throughout is essential, Bob says. That includes: the quality of food, the general produce and origin of it, its preparation and presentation, the service, the atmosphere and the reputation of the establishment.

I ask if it is necessary for an establishment to have celebrity chefs backing it for it to be successful.

“You must remember,” Bob explains, “that a Michelin star by no means justifies success. There are many excellent chefs out there – many of whom have not been christened with the Michelin star – but they are not famous. This does not make them worse than those celebrity chefs by any standard. Having a celebrity chef in your kitchen adds that celebrity factor. Many of these chefs will go on to open their own restaurants – think, ‘Dinner by Heston’, or the ‘Fat Duck’. The aspiring chefs, on the middle echelon of chef celebrity – that is, those who have not acquired celebrity status but are of the highest standard – have been trained, for a large part, by those masters.”

Main Course:

We think of several celebrity chefs as the ‘untouchables’. Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Claude Bossi, Michel Roux (Jr.), amongst others. This is not a fallacy, Bob confirms. Many of these ‘upper echelon members’ maintain this aura that they are the greatest in their industry and, consequently, that they are above it all, untouchable. It is those who do not fall into that bracket that are most willing to meet their guests and, in general, to interact and engage with their work and the people surrounding them. I ask Bob’s opinion on the ‘untouchables’.

“They ought to give back to the industry what the industry gave them. It was, after all, the industry that made them and that made their success.” It is true, and the philanthropic argument made me smile with agreement: shouldn’t we all be charitable, especially those who have ‘made it’?

Bob continues, “Think of Heston Blumenthal, for example. His business was about to collapse until he was awarded 3 Michelin stars. The stars put him on fine diners’ map. However, without the adeptness essential to running and maintaining a business, it would not have been successful. You must wear that attitude on your sleeve to be a successful chef.”

I point to San Lorenzo and the Langhams’ heyday in the 90’s, almost 25 years ago.
Aside from friendly and interactive owners, does an establishment need a celebrity clientele to achieve fame and popularity?

Further, are traditional establishments on the decline, what with the influx of new money backing trendier, newer places?

Admittedly, knowing the right people helps – as do friendly owners. The Langham is case in point, says Bob. A traditional establishment, it now has a sponsor (as most high flying restaurants do nowadays) but despite its tradition, it is innovative. Discussions are underway for creating a bar on the second floor, similar to the one in The Arts Club (whose manager recently moved to the Langham). Yes it had amenable owners, a high quality of food and loyal customers but it has now survived through innovation.

This leads me on to the subject of food itself. Most people – I postulate, tentatively – seem to like good, basic food. I asked Bob to comment on the success of this in restaurants. Despite my understandable wariness in suggesting this to a gastronome like Bob, he is in total agreement with me. It seems that simple food is a winner after all. Bob cites Zuma and The Wolseley as two of the most popular restaurants in London with relatively basic food, although they often have a twist on the traditional fare.

In truth, one cannot dine at Joel Robuchon every week, despite it having an incredible 16 course degustation menu accompanied by the finest of fine wines. Simple food, it seems, can definitely hold its own against a smorgasbord of rich, delicious and sometimes overwhelming dishes – as can be seen by the ever-popular Zuma and The Wolseley.


Someone once remarked to me that ‘the key to a good dinner party is good food – everybody likes good food – and lots of wine.’

He laughs. “Wine is useful for an atmosphere and a degree of joviality, of course. The thing to remember is that, especially in this day and age when making money is so difficult, it is not a case of how far the buck will go but getting its full worth – in  whatever you spend it on. “

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