Thursday, March 03, 2011

Ramsay Losing Head-To-Head With Oliver

Gordon Ramsay may like to boast about his footballing past, but he is certainly being outplayed by Jamie Oliver in their first head-to-head restaurant clash.

Last year, the TV cooks both signed up to launch restaurants at a £500m shopping mall in London. But whereas Oliver’s popular Barbecoa venue is trousering an estimated £140,000 a week, Ramsay’s place opposite is a huge empty building with a concrete floor.

The massive delay is raising questions about the state of Ramsay’s business finances. He had planned to open his all-day open kitchen with a "raw bar" selling soused fish, home-made pastrami and charcuterie early this year. This was pushed back to the spring, and now he may not open until September.

When a journalist from the Evening Standard went to visit the £3m site at One New Change shopping centre, next to St Paul’s Cathedral, he found little sign of activity.

“There were no workers at the venue, which runs the length of one side of the centre, or signs of any fittings except a handful of cheap tables and chairs, dozens of neon strip lights piled in a corner, and a wheelie bin,” he said.

The restaurant – to be named Bread Street Kitchen when it eventually opens – is supposed to have a lift, stairs, a lavish dining room, and an open kitchen with a wood-burning oven and a wood-burning grill; work that experts say would take six months even if it started tomorrow.

Land Securities, the developer of the mall, is reportedly piling pressure on Ramsay to get the work started. The firm is believed to have given the 44-year-old a £1m subsidy to entice him there, in the form of help with re-fit costs and a period of free rent.

A spokeswoman for Ramsay said: "It's all happening but the design has changed quite a bit. There are meetings with Land Securities this week."

Oliver, meanwhile, is coining it in with his 200-seater meat grill (above). Barbecoa has had some bad press from critics, but it has not stopped the tills ringing.

Ramsay and Oliver, 35, are well known for their mutual dislike of each other, so no doubt Oliver will be crowing about the result of their first head-to-head. Ramsay likes to say Oliver is "just a cook" while proclaiming himself to be "a chef". Unless, that is, you believe a chef is someone who works in a kitchen, rather than a brand making TV programmes and hawking cookware.

Ramsay knew he was throwing down the gauntlet when he signed the papers. In an interview with Hot Dinners last October, his right-hand man Stuart Gilles said: “Jamie’s next door and there are other good restaurants around, we thought a lot of people are doing meat, so we’ll do a raw bar.”

Gilles, who is due to run the new eatery, added: “We thought about the speed and that it’s (the food’s) got to be fast because it’s the City.”

Obviously the plan didn’t extend to the building work.

The set-back is the latest in a long line of troubles for Ramsay. The News of the World this week said he was facing a sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal claim from accountant Sara Stewart, a former director of one of his firms. Ramsay disputes the claims.

Stewart, 49, will apparently include allegations in her case that she was axed as she was about to blow the whistle on the chef's crisis-hit company.

And there has been a very public bust-up with his father-in-law Chris Hutcheson, who he sacked as chief executive of Gordon Ramsay Holdings about the same time Stewart got the chop.

Stewart and Hutcheson hit the headlines last November when they were snapped walking hand-in-hand, although there was no suggestion they were anything other than friends.

No doubt there will now be questions about whether Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen has got enough dough.