Des McDonald is the chief executive of Caprice Holdings, which oversees the London celebrity restaurant The Ivy. He spoke about localising the restaurant's offerings for its first international location, which opened in Dubai this month.
The Ivy has been a fixture of London's food scene for decades. Why did it take so long to open a sister restaurant?
I think it's all about timing. Really, after myself spending the last six years looking into - and talking to - potential partners, Jumeirah [Restaurants] ended up being a like-minded partner in the region. We've been discussing for a couple of years, making sure we have the right location.
You've set up on The Boulevard, at Jumeirah Emirates Towers. But why Dubai over Tokyo, New York City or elsewhere?
I think there's quite a few British [citizens] living and working here, holidaying here. I think that Dubai offers a central location … and we felt it was a good opportunity.
The Ivy is popular with the theatre crowd back in London, but there's no established theatre district here. How do you plan to market the restaurant differently?
Well, I think there's definitely an eating-out culture with the likes of Hakkasan [preparing to open in November] and lots of other good places. The theatre crowd here would be the after-work, drinking sort of crowd, and there's a nice art scene developing here. I think it's a different type of opportunity; a different type of audience.
Will the restaurant lose some of its historic cachet because you'll be targeting such a different clientele?
No, I think working with our partners at Jumeirah, we've produced a very elegant restaurant that pays homage to the original, and the menu pays homage - although it's somewhat localised with seasonal ingredients. That's why we've chosen a partner.
Earlier this year you also partnered with Jumeirah on another of your restaurants that opened in Dubai called the Rivington Grill. What did you learn from that launch that you're applying to The Ivy's opening?
Well, I think you have to understand the local customs. You have to understand your local market. I think what we've been able to achieve at Rivington is a very relaxed charm. [It's a] simple place you can go and have chips and burgers and just hang out. We've learned that with every restaurant we open, you have to be humble and understand the local market.
Have you made any changes at Rivington Grill in response to what the local market wants?
Nothing springs to mind.
What about at The Ivy? How did you localise the menu to fit the tastes of this region?
Well, I mean the classics would be from London - iced Scandinavian berries, Shepherd's pie or salmon fish cake. These are from The Ivy. With the guys working with our executive chef here, it's a question of having a twist like maybe a local Lebanese broad-bean hummus or grilled dishes [such as] grilled chicken, and using local fish as well.
* Neil Parmar