Jeremy King of Arlington to Open Two New Restaurants

Words by
Ben McCormack
Photography by
Gemma Day

2nd May 2024

After the initial success of Arlington, formerly Le Caprice, and with two new venues set to open in London this year, restaurateur 'ledge' Jeremy King shows no sign of relinquishing his crown. In an exclusive interview for SPHERE, Ben McCormack interviews the 'King' on his recipe for success and Gemma Day captures him on camera at Arlington. Art directed by Lucy Wise

Jeremy King Arlington interview - Jeremy King in front of a Arlington Restaurant
Jeremy King in front of Arlington restaurant, London's most Instagrammable door frame

It’s rare that a restaurateur will suggest meeting in a rival’s restaurant, particularly when they have a new place of their own to show off. Jeremy King, however, is the rarest of restaurateurs, responsible for the heydays of Le Caprice, The Ivy and The Wolseley, the seminal London dining rooms of the 1980s, 90s and 2000s, respectively. And with three restaurants opening in the capital this year alone, King is set to repeat the hat-trick for the 2020s, too.

We meet in Maison François in St James’s. King’s first new restaurant that we’re here to talk about is Arlington, which is new only in the sense that the relaunch of Le Caprice, now safely back under King’s ownership after being closed during the pandemic by Richard Caring, chairman of Caprice Holdings, has a new name since opening its doors in March. So why are we round the corner in Maison François? “I think that François O’Neill, the owner, is a kindred spirit,” King says. “And I like restaurants that have booths and corner tables. The whole point about being a restaurateur is to create restaurants you’d like to go to yourself.”

Jeremy King Arlington interview - Jeremy King seated
Jeremy King sits at a discrete table at Arlington

Those restaurants did not exist in 1981, when King and his then business partner Christopher Corbin opened Le Caprice in the cul-de-sac of Arlington Street. The story goes that the restaurant only took off after King and Corbin took a booking from model Marie Helvin, who was hosting Mick and Bianca Jagger, Bryan Ferry and Jerry Hall.

Soon everyone from Elton John to Princess Diana (“she was terrific, a very natural person”) were coming for bang bang chicken, shepherd’s pie and salmon fishcakes — all of which are on the Arlington menu, although, King says, “tweaked and enhanced”. Diana’s favourite table, number seven, has gone in the new incarnation, but the Venetian blinds removed by Caring are back, along with a luminous new set of David Bailey prints, and former regulars are delighted.

“I’ve been taken aback by how emotional people have been, and realising just how much Le Caprice has meant over the years,” King says. “I’ve seen tears in the eyes of people walking through the door. The goodwill has been amazing.”

When I have dinner at Arlington ahead of meeting King, the most delicious flavour is nostalgia. Annabel Croft and her family occupy one table, Alan Yentob another, while Graeme Souness and his wife Karen are sitting at the table next to us (we end up having drinks with them at The Stafford hotel afterwards; an evening at Arlington tends to unfold like that). Orlando Bloom sticks his head through the door to enquire about availability. King is keen to emphasise that Arlington isn’t just for the late-middle-aged and upwards. “The last thing we should do is rely purely on nostalgia or the previous demographic,” he says. “Arlington has to appeal to a whole new group of people who I’m trying to encourage to come along because they’re interested to see what all the fuss is about.”

Jeremy King Arlington interview - Jeremy King fixing his tie
Attention to detail is everything for Jeremy King at Arlington, as he adjusts his tie

The biggest name attached to Arlington, however, was Jesus Adorno, the legendary maître d’ who started working at Le Caprice as head waiter in 1981 and announced on Instagram he was leaving Arlington a fortnight after launching, saying “it wasn’t a good fit for me”. King won’t be drawn on his departure, though one rumour is that Adorno has been poached by Richard Caring for the reboot of the Le Caprice brand, which he bought from King and Corbin in 2005, when The Chancery Rosewood on Grosvenor Square opens next year.

King won’t be drawn on Caring either, except obliquely. “I think St James’s is restrained and quite elegant; it’s a very different experience to Berkeley Square,” he says, alluding to Caring’s Sexy Fish and Bacchanalia with a wry smile that is almost a pursing of the lips. “I’m not sure people really want somewhere very blingy with loud music.”

King and Corbin opened The Wolseley on the corner of Arlington Street and Piccadilly in 2003. Two years ago, King attempted to buy back what had become a collection of half a dozen restaurants from his former backer Minor International, but instructed his new investors to pull out when they had reached the limit of what he was prepared to spend (Minor is understood to have paid more than £60 million for what is now The Wolseley Hospitality Group). “Hey, these things happen,” King says with a shrug about losing a company he started from scratch. “I was particularly sad that I was forced out immediately without being able to say goodbye to anybody. It was an upsetting time, but slowly that changes.”

Jeremy King Arlington interview - Arlington
Arlington in St James's, London's long-awaited opening

King’s follow up to Arlington, The Park, is due to open in mid June. The all-day restaurant will take up a light-filled corner on Bayswater Road and Queensway, opposite Kensington Gardens. West London is, admits King, “a departure for me”, and not only in terms of location.

Where his previous restaurants have been known for modern-British and Mittel-European cooking, The Park will be all-American. The 170-cover space will also feature a terrace and private dining room, and dogs will be allowed in the daytime. “You might come in your sweats during the day and then dressed up in the evening, or vice versa,” King says. “Both the feel of the place and the food will be contemporary comfort.”

King lives in Primrose Hill, north London, with his second wife Lauren Gurvich King, an American-born interior designer. He worked in merchant banking in the early 1970s before becoming the front of house for Joe Allen in Covent Garden. The role of maître d’ seems an odd career choice for someone who claims to be shy, but it has allowed him to carve out his own distinct niche of arm’s-length charm. “Restaurateurs are normally gregarious, hail-fellow-well-met characters,” he says. “I’ve never done that. I’m not someone who hugs people and sits down with them to have a drink. I think of myself more as a catalyst for them to have a good time, but I’m always going to be slightly distant.”

King turns 70 this summer and previously imagined he would be retired by now — “but I’m glad I’m not,” he says, even if he hadn’t anticipated opening three restaurants in the space of 12 months. The third is Simpson’s in the Strand, the historic dining room, or Grand Divan, attached to the Savoy hotel. “It’s early days, but hopefully it will be open by the end of October,” King says — well ahead of its bicentenary in 2028.

JerJeremy King Arlington interview - Princess Diane leave Le Caprice
Princess Diana leaves her favourite restaurant haunt Le Caprice, 1994

The restaurant, whose former patrons include Disraeli, Gladstone and Churchill, was closed by the Savoy in 2020 and past its best for a long time before that. “A lot of people have never really known what Simpson’s was like,” King says, which gives him something of a blank canvas on which to work. The wood panelling, plaster mouldings and carved-beef trolleys in the Grand Divan will remain, but everything else will be brought up to date.

“Simpson’s won’t be traditional British, but its roots will be British,” King says. “It’s funny how things are cyclical. In the 1990s the naffest thing you could serve in a restaurant was prawn cocktail, but now everyone is doing it. A lot of Parisian brasseries are successful because they serve a variation of what they’ve been doing for over 100 years.”

In addition to the Grand Divan, the upstairs Ladies’ Room will reopen as a banqueting space, while the basement bar and its 1am licence will be back, too — a challenge to recent reports of the death of late-night London. “When we opened Caprice, we took orders until midnight, which was pretty much unheard of,” King says. “The relationship with the theatre fraternity flourished because of it. I was recently talking to some actor friends and they find it really difficult to get a meal after a performance.”

Jeremy King Arlington interview - Jeremy King at a table
At the table: Jeremy King of Arlington

Arlington takes last orders at 10.45pm; King and I, however, have been having breakfast and it’s time to pay the bill. What does this master of the art of front of house recommend as the best way to attract a waiter’s attention? “Normally I can get their attention just by staring — even if their back is turned to me.” The most important attribute in waiting staff, King says, is to be well-informed. “I always tell my staff that no self-respecting maître d’ can come to work unless they’ve read a broadsheet in the morning.” Aspiring maître d’s will be able to read King’s advice in a book of his life lessons due out by the end of the year.

We head back to Arlington along Jermyn Street, where King, a copy of The Times tucked under the arm of his 6ft 5in frame, clad in an elegant grey three-piece suit, looks perfectly at home among the gentleman’s outfitters — though he has never imposed a dress code at any of his restaurants. Once through Arlington’s doors, it becomes clear why we met in the quiet of Maison François: it’s not even midday and there are lunchers at the bar knocking back Champagne with one hand and glad-handing King with the other.

“Most people want to walk into a restaurant and have somebody recognise them, call them by their name and know what they want,” King says. “In the end, longevity trumps pure talent. A lot of restaurants employ very talented people, but don’t stay open for more than two or three years.”

Arlington might be the biggest comeback in West End history, but the real star will always be the man behind the scenes.