But he’s come to terms with that at Zafferano, imposing stringent demands on his suppliers: six for fish and six grocers, three butchers, with two importers. As Aubergine slides down the slimy serpent and is forced to make a new start, an obliging ladder is put in place by the top prize in the Restaurateurs’ Restaurant of the Year awards, making Zafferano top of the pile.And it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Another was the head at the world’s most exclusive chocolate company, Valrhona, who was heard promising: “I’ll be back.”How true The restaurant business is a game of snakes and ladders. Not only was it full of animated, greedy customers, but many were revealed to be members of the gastronomic league: one group included Yen Kit So, the leading writer on Chinese food, protesting she’d been unable to get a table for dinner. Then, when we are ready, we can respond to customer supply and demand.”On the day I had lunch, demand looked as if it had already reached full capacity.
Claudio Pulze had been a customer at Olivo in Victoria for some time, tucking into Giorgio Locatelli’s delicious pasta three evenings a week.A-Z offered him a stake in Zafferano and it was a resounding success “We kept our prices down,” says Lotto “We haven’t tried to make a lot of money out of it We would rather have it full all the time. Of their seven restaurants, every one has been a bull’s eye.”If I had to write a book called How to Start a Restaurant,” says Lotto, “I’d base it on Aubergine. If I had to write a book How to Start the Perfect Restaurant, I’d write it about Zafferano.”What is the secret, then? Zafferano was another under-successful restaurant, a Wheeler’s, when they bought it The site, in Belgravia, was a good one. Giorgio Locatelli, consultant to the Italian division, on the other hand, has been happy to oversee A-Z’s pizzeria restaurants, Spiga and Spighetta.Giuliano Lotto was born in Milan, but has lived in Britain since he joined University College, Buckingham (as one of the first students at this college founded by Margaret Thatcher).
He graduated in economics and set out to pursue a banking career.It was after meeting Claudio Pulze, who’d successfully converted an ailing Chelsea Harbour restaurant, the Waterfront, into the Canteen with the aid of Marco Pierre White, that Lotto saw the possibilities in building up a group of restaurants.”This business is all about getting in the right people If you can do that, it’s easy,” according to Lotto. Claudio has the inspired eye for the best premises, chefs and staff, he says, and Franco has the feeling for day-to-day management. “I have nothing but admiration for what both of them did,” says Lotto.But of their differences, he can only surmise Certainly A-Z was looking to maximise on the Aubergine name. Lotto had hoped that Ramsay would help the group expand, perhaps opening an Aubergine in New York, and another in Bermuda. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to open further Aubergines in the UK, though there might have been a case for an Aubergine Bistro (there is a precedent in Paris for Michelin-starred chefs to cash in on their reputations with satellite operations: lower-priced cafes and bistros).Gordon Ramsay said he didn’t want to put his name to an “Aubergine pizzeria”, which he saw as a dilution of his reputation.