Restaurant world pays tribute to Sir Terence Conran

Tributes have been pouring in from the restaurant world for Sir Terence Conran, founder of London institution Bibendum, who died on Saturday aged 88.

Born in Kingston-upon-Thames on 4 October 1931, Conran founded a design practice in 1956. One of his first commissions was designed a shop for fashion icon Mary Quant.

He went on to launch furniture and home furnishings chain Habitat in 1964. In 1989 he founded the Design Museum in London’s Shad Thames.

Outside of his successful design career Conran had a second life as a restaurateur, opening his first venue, called Soup Kitchen, in 1953, which took inspiration from the likes of Elizabeth David and Auguste Escoffier.

His Neal Street site in Covent Garden, which specialised in simple Italian fare, was taken over in 1989 by a then little-known chef called Antonio Carluccio.

Conran is best known for two restaurants – Bibendum in Chelsea and Quaglino’s in St James’s. He opened the former in Michelin House on Fulham Road in 1987. The restaurant is currently run by French chef Claude Bosi and holds two Michelin stars.

Bosi described Conran as “a visionary and a legend” in his tribute on Instagram. “Bibendum was so important to him. We will do our best to continue to make him proud. Tonight I will have a cigar in his honour,” he said.

Quaglino’s, which Conran bought in 1993, was opened by Giovanni Quaglino on Bury Street in St James’s in 1929 and attracted a glittering clientele in its heyday, including author Evelyn Waugh and King Edward VIII.

At the height of Conran’s success, his restaurant empire stretched to 50 venues including Orrery in Marylebone and the Blueprint Cafe at the Design Museum.

Jeremy Lee, head chef of Quo Vadis, who worked in the kitchens of both Bibendum and the Blueprint Café, gave this tribute to Eater London:

“What a man. What a legacy. I’ll miss his impeccable style and bonhomie. We loved the same food, beautiful produce, carefully prepared, considered, simply prepared and cooked, and, on many an occasion, the same wine, more often than not a Burgundy chosen by the late great Bill Baker.”

Australian chef and baker Dan Lepard wrote on Twitter that Conran was “an extraordinary visionary” and “the force that drove the wave of new kitchen talents through the 1980s and onwards”.

Restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin wrote on Twitter that Conran “changed how we live and eat, and brought voluptuous pleasure at a time when the country was starved of it.”

The Michelin Guide, meanwhile, described Conran as “a visionary who transformed the London restaurant scene and made eating out glamourous, exciting and stylish”.

His last restaurant venture was the sustainably focused Wilder, which opened last year in the basement of Boundary in Shoreditch.

In addition to food, Conran was passionate about wine, which he first got interested in while working as a designer for John Harvey & Sons in Bristol.

“Red and white Burgundy are my passions – they have an indefinable decadence about them. I was born in 1931, which was a terrible year for Bordeaux.

“As a result I’ve been given some disastrous presents. Michael Broadbent gave me a bottle of 1931 Haut-Brion, which was undrinkable vinegar,” Conran told me in a Decanter interview in 2010.

“As I get older, I understand the subtlety of wine more. I find Burgundy more French than Bordeaux. Bordeaux has been Americanised and is very concerned with money. Burgundy is more intellectual than Bordeaux.

“Old Burgundy has such fantastic, complex flavours. I’ve got two cellars under my house in Berkshire, one for white wine and one for red. They’re the perfect temperature and humidity for both wine and cigars,” he added.

Conran’s favourite drinking companion was the larger-than-life Bill Baker of Reid Wines, who helped him build his Burgundy collection.

“He would drive me around Burgundy in his huge Land Rover, loading case after case at every vineyard we stopped off at. When I went on the Eurostar with him, he’d bring a big basket full of wine, which we’d crack open during the journey,” Conran said.

Cigars were another of Conran’s passions – he was known to smoke three Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No2s a day. He was also an avid art collector and owned a number of paintings by Howard Hodgkin and David Hockney.

2 Responses to “Restaurant world pays tribute to Sir Terence Conran”

  1. Alan Montague-Dennis says:

    Sir Terence was a great inspiration to me . He had a clear vision and understanding of what a restaurant ought to be ; quality service , a sense of theatre with balanced simplicity . His style signature was a cornflower blue shirt and a cigar . I will always remember the occasion when Terence was my dinner guest at Quaglino’s . We enjoyed a havana cigar and a bottle of Bollinger RD 1996. Heaven ! He will be much missed.

  2. RIP Terence Conran. He was a great friend of my parents. I remember going to his 50th birthday party at his house in 1981 which ended with the most memorable fireworks display I’ve ever seen. I spent a lot of time chatting to Laura Ashley, yes, the Laura Ashley designer, who died not too long afterwards from falling down stairs. Sir Terence was, himself, equally giant in the world of London retail starting Conran’s and Habitat and restaurants such as Bibendum and Quaglino. My parents and I would have lunch at Bibendum every time I went to see them in England. In the Drinks Business obituary, it mentions that my father had given him a bottle of 1931 Haut Brion which was undrinkable. Should have stuck to Port! I didn’t know him well but a few years ago he connected to me on Facebook and I was very surprised that such a great man would bother with social media! I had a nice phone chat then and had we been able to arrange a memorial for my father, I know he would have wanted to come. Alas, it is too late now. Sad to see another legend leave us. Yet another reason to hate 2020.

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