Down but never out: I salute the comeback kings

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Jamie Oliver and Jeremy King are two restaurateurs with something to prove

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Jamie Oliver and Jeremy King are two high-profile restaurateurs who could have called time on the sector after suffering setbacks, but both are back with something to prove.

Being a restaurateur is often much more than just running a restaurant business. For some it is not merely a job, or even a career, but a calling, an itch that must be scratched time and again regardless of the circumstances. In the past few months, we’ve witnessed this first hand in the form of two successful restaurateurs who have also had their share of pain. Both could be forgiven for calling time on their careers and, in the words of Sam Dodsworth, sitting back “with nothing more important to worry about but the temperature of the beer” but have instead decided to go again.

One is a certain Jamie Oliver who, later this month, will return to the UK’s restaurant scene with the opening of Jamie Oliver Catherine Street ​in Covent Garden. The TV chef could have easily hunkered down and reaped the rewards of his 70+ global restaurant group, not to mention his lucrative publishing deal that has seen him write more than 30 cookbooks, but he has a point to prove following the high-profile demise of his Jamie’s Italian chain​ in the UK back in 2019.

This is a high stakes move for Oliver, who is putting his reputation on the line in a very public way. Yet it also indicates that he maybe thinks has nothing to lose and everything to gain. When Jamie’s Italian threw opened its doors in 2008 it brought a frisson of excitement to the Italian casual dining sector, but it would follow the trajectory of other trailblazing brands (that means you Byron) with the shine eventually fading to black.

Since then, times have changed dramatically, expedited by the pandemic, and some might question Oliver’s relevance in today’s dining scene. And yet here he is his, undeterred, having another crack at it. What will the return of the Naked Chef bring? It’s a question that will soon become clear, and one we hope to answer in our feature with Oliver as well as Ed Loftus, global restaurant group director at the Jamie Oliver Group, and the restaurant’s chefs Chris Shail and Emma Jackson, which we will publish later this month.

The other person in question might not be as famous as Oliver on a global scale but in the London restaurant scene he is practically royalty – I am of course talking about Jeremy King. Now referred to - by me at least - as the Comeback King, the urbane restaurateur also has a point to prove having been unceremoniously ousted from the restaurant group​ that once bore his name as well as that of its co-founder Chris Corbin. King’s trademark is the bold approach, as evidenced in the opening of grand dining rooms such as The Wolseley and Brasserie Zedel, so it really shouldn’t have come as any surprise that his comeback ​would be of equal chutzpah.

Not only is King going to open a restaurant in the new Park Modern building in Kensington next year, but he will reopen the restaurant that was formerly the much-loved Le Caprice and relaunch historic London restaurant Simpson’s in the Strand.​ Just like Oliver, King is putting his reputation on the line but believes he still has something to offer London’s restaurant scene, and who would argue otherwise?

Oliver and King are very different people, from different backgrounds and with different approaches to running a business, but they share a common thread in their indefatigability and passion for the world of restaurants.

I look forward to seeing what each brings in the coming months. 

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