Paramount, owner of the Chez Gerard, Livebait, Cafe Fish and Bertorelli brands, this morning reported a 9.5% increase in half year turnover to £17.5m. Like-for-like sales were up 9.4%, with like-for-likes over the Christmas trading period up 12.7%. Pre-tax profit before exceptionals dropped to £730,000, from £890,000 in 2003. The fall was attributed to costs incurred refurbishing the Chez Gerard in Covent Garden as well as pre-opening costs for the group’s two new sites in Victoria and Fenchurch Street in London. Nick Basing, group chief executive, said: "This has been another strong trading period for us. All our brands are increasingly popular shown by the strong, like-for-like comparisons. "However, there have been additional pressures on the profitability of the group in the early stages of the growth strategy."