In the latest instalment of our Friends of Sunspel series, we met with Peter Prescott of Prescott & Conran to talk about just what it means to keep things simple.
Since 2008, Prescott and Conran has been keeping Shoreditch locals and visitors alike, well fed, watered and rested. We’ve heard that the Boundary Hotel is the perfect place to rest your weary bones at the end of a long day, and for good honest British fare, we can personally recommend the Albion, which, if you ask our waistbands, is rather too conveniently located next to our Redchurch Street Store.
I started in the hotels, known in Paris as the Grand Palace Hotels. In London they never really had that moniker, but they were in that style, including Claridges, Connaught, Savoy, Grosvenor house. The appeal and the allure for me was the idea of this big, grand house – in some cases palaces – where everybody was having a nice time. Everybody was comfortable, enjoying themselves, upbeat. Hopefully everybody was happy. I liked the idea of being part of that.
I never really wanted to be the centre of attention, but I wanted to be the person facilitating it all. I think in those sorts of hotels, as the hotelier, you get that immediate feedback. If you see people happy, smiling, enjoying their food, it’s immediately rewarding. I wouldn’t say the draw was the glamour, I’d say it was more the traditional innkeeping: making sure everybody was having a great time. When some of the larger hotels started to become quite corporate, some of the enchantment went for me and I moved more towards working with restaurants. There, I started to see new things, but I also saw the personal approach that I’d seen disappearing from the hotels; the restaurateurs were the figureheads, similar to the traditional hoteliers.
I stayed in restaurants for a while, and then I came to work with Terence (Conran) and saw a new sort of design in a restaurant. Before that it was all about making it as traditional as possible: make it old-school, make it script font, wear tailcoats, all that sort of stuff. Terence Conran was the complete opposite of all that. When I first met him in an interview situation, we were in one of his restaurants. He came in, sat down and ordered the perfect Negroni, and I just thought, “Here I am, in this clean, fresh, modern environment, and I’ve got this Negroni, which is what is so associated with the bar at Claridges; this is the best of both worlds.”
For the first couple of years working with Terence, he kept saying: “Keep it simple” and I didn’t quite get it. Then the penny dropped. Of course, it’s all about the simplicity, but if you’ve not got the qualities of the materials, simplicity doesn’t work. If you’ve not got the right cut, simplicity can be bad. You talk about keeping things simple, but in the case of kitchens and restaurants, it’s got to be the best ingredients. From my point of view, as a restaurateur, when we set out to do Albion, we wanted to correct opinions on things like, fish and chips, kedgeree, fish pie, those sorts of examples of traditional British foods that had become sullied through poor execution. We just wanted to do some of those simpler things, how they were intended to be in the first place.
I have this scrapbook of food photographs that I keep, and every time we get a new chef, I drag it out and I show it to them. Quite a lot of the images are of white food on white plates. For me that’s luxury: a simple dining table, a pressed white linen napkin and a perfectly fresh piece of white fish, just grilled, or steamed, or poached lightly. A little bit of lemon, a little bit of salt and pepper and a beautiful bottle of white burgundy.
When it comes to clothes, I look for restraint on the design, timelessness, proportion, clean lines. Something that I’ll still be proud to have and wear in 3 years, 5 years, whatever… I wear a lot of British brands, which, in a very subtle way, I’ve come to associate with craft, heritage, history, quality and materials. Combining design with manufacture is important, so many brands will only do one of those two.
I have shopped at Sunspel ever since you first opened on Redchurch street. In that very first week, I came in, bought a load of Boxer Shorts and since then, I haven’t worn any other brand, on any other day. I can guarantee, that is the absolute truth.