«Can you imagine anything more ridiculous than the concept of a fashion restaurant?» Manolo Blahnik once asked. No matter that the shoemaker extraordinaire was attending a reception at Noughties hotspot Davé in Paris following the memorial service for Helmut Newton. For some people, the idea of mixing fashion and food will always be a recipe for mirth – especially if they ever ate at the ill-fated, supermodel-fronted Fashion Café.
Get the key ingredients right, however, and you will have a restaurant packed with the international best-dressed list, season after season. «Fashion is a small world,» says Bertie de Rougemont, founder and managing director of Cellar Society, who provided the food and service for Kate Moss’s wedding. «We all know each other and there’s a lot of trust about what is required, but once you understand what is approved by the fashion world – you’re in.»
London’s current fashion-industry canteen is Isabel on Albemarle Street. You won’t spot many carbs on the menu but you may well see Victoria Beckham at a table; her boutique is on neighbouring Dover Street and she celebrated her OBE at sister restaurant Casa Cruz in Notting Hill. The look of the place, including hand-painted de Gournay wallpaper in the individually decorated loos, is part of the appeal. But the icing on the cake is silver-fox owner Juan Santa Cruz, who is blessed with model good looks and plays the part of host to suave perfection.
«Juan puts the right people in place and makes them feel at home,» explains celebrity stylist Elizabeth Saltzman, who was an early adopter of Casa Cruz. «Fashion types like to feel welcomed and recognised. A lot of Isabel’s success is down to Juan taking the time to do something low key at Casa Cruz and making sure it was kept private so people can enjoy themselves without the paparazzi.»
Paris’ Loulou: Launched in 2016 to coincide with the Musée des Arts Décoratifs exhibition ‘Fashion Forward: Three Centuries of Fashion, Loulou restaurant (107 Rue de Rivoli, 75001, Paris) within the museum was designed by architect Joseph Dirand to look like a decorative arts collector’s dingin room. Dirand has worked for Balmain, Chloé and Alexander Wang. The Rivera-themed menu includes pistachio-crusted tuna.
It helps, of course, that the food is as healthy as it is delicious. «You don’t have to sit down for a heavy three- or four course meal,» Saltzman says, «you can just have some light bites and it all feels easy. The artichoke salad is my favourite – if I could cook that at home, I’d eat it seven days a week.» Saltzman also sees «a ton of fashion people» at plant-based restaurant Farmacy in Notting Hill, and hosts meetings with designers at members’ club 5 Hertford Street. The process of a restaurant becoming a fashion hangout is an organic one, she says. «I don’t think restaurants try to talk to the fashion crowd. The cool kids and influencers start to go somewhere and then Instagram follows.»
In London these days, the cool kids are flocking to MNKY HSE on Dover Street, where Toby HuntingtonWhiteley (model Rosie’s brother) loves the black cod and GQ editor-in-chief Dylan Jones goes for the yellowtail aguachile. Richard Caring’s Sexy Fish, meanwhile, is still reeling in the likes of Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid, while the Chess Club on Chesterfield Street is the unofficial HQ of up-and-coming fashion operatives.
The secret to a successful fashion restaurant? «Simple food is super-important,» argues de Rougemont. «We’d generally recommend a light starter, a more substantial main, and that’s pretty much it – maybe some thinly sliced fruit for pudding. I rarely see bread being offered; there’s a general feeling that carbs should be consumed in the morning. And meat is getting a bad rap at the moment, so if we serve a tartare it’s lightly dressed fish rather than steak.»
New York’s Cecconi’s Dumbo: Soho House supremo Nick Jones chose the Brooklyn waterfront for his newest international outpost of Mayfair Italian Cecconi’s (55 Water Street, NY 11201) because he wanted somewhere in New York with outdoor seating and great views. Take in the vista of Manhattan Bridge from a riverside table over calamari fritti, lobster spaghetti and veal Milanese. CREDIT: DAVE BURK
Exclusivity is another essential ingredient, says the Telegraph’s fashion director Lisa Armstrong. «Hard-to-get-into is key. The fashion editor is hard-wired to do battle, be it with show queues, non-appearance of invitations they feel are their due, or restaurant waiting lists.» All of which explains why the new Cecconi’s is the current hot table stateside. Ownership by Soho House lends an air of exclusivity, the location in Brooklyn’s Dumbo adds urban edge and the cinematic view of Manhattan Bridge and the New York skyline means you can forget about getting a table unless you have Nick Jones on speed dial.
But for the last word in fashionable entertaining, dinners are increasingly being hosted in an actual home. «We’ve noticed that a lot of fashion brands are entertaining clients in people’s homes – it’s the ultimate ‘you can’t get in there’,» de Rougemont says. «Tory Burch recently hosted a dinner for 40 friends at the house of Yana Peel, the new head of the Serpentine Galleries, the day after the British Fashion Awards. We started with langoustine tartare, followed by risotto with freshly shaved white truffle – we did something carby because everyone was a bit tired and worn out and fashion loves homeliness.»
Milan’s Bice: Fashion, football and finance collide at this institution (Via Borogospesso, 12, 20121 Milan) that has been feeding the movers and shakers of Milanese society since 1939. The tartan carpets may be an acquired taste but the menu is everyone’s idea of wholesome Italian food, including salmon carpaccio, calf’s liver, spaghetti carbonara and tiramisu. CREDIT: ANDREA SUDATI
With so much of the fashion industry’s year spent travelling, perhaps it’s no surprise a well-loved restaurant will never go out of style. «Fashion people are constantly on the move and we don’t get to rest long in one city,» Saltzman says. «We want a welcome home. Somewhere like Bice in Milan is like a favourite sweater – you don’t want to let it go.» It’s certainly true that Donatella Versace and Giorgio Armani are both devotees of the restaurant’s legendary pappardelle ‘al Telefono’, tossed with tomato, cream and mozzarella.
But back to Blahnik. Surely the number-one reason some people find the concept of a fashion restaurant ridiculous is that if you spend too much time in restaurants, you won’t be able to fit into your straight-off-the-catwalk clothes. Armstrong, however, greets the idea that fashion folk don’t enjoy eating with muffled laughter. «Most of us have a pretty healthy attitude towards food. Fashion insiders tend to eat small portions of proper food. We’re lucky enough to be invited to wonderful restaurants, and it would be very sad not to enjoy them.»