Chelsea’s reputation as a playground for the super-rich may be partly true, but landlord Cadogan is keen to stress you don’t have to be a Russian oligarch to eat and shop there. Chief executive Hugh Seaborn talks to Finn Scott-Delany about curating an F&B mix for the well-heeled local community, finding a balance between premium and good value, and reconnecting the area to the bohemian swinging 1960s.
With a resident’s list which reads more like the Sunday Times Rich List – think Sir Charles Dunstone, Sir Richard Branson, Sir James Dyson, not to mention Earl Cadogan – the stereotype of Chelsea as home to the uber-rich is not unfounded.
The spending power of its residents, as well the attraction of the area to outsiders as a luxury destination, is certainly reflected in its retail and F&B mix, Hugh Seaborn, chief executive of major Chelsea and Knightsbridge landlord the Cadogan Estates admits.
Though if it was all about sweating each asset for all it was worth, he suggests SW3 might be nothing but high-end women’s fashion boutqiue’s, the large A1 units which command the highest rents.
Much more important to the appeal of the area, according to Cadogan, is having a differentiated, balanced mix of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, which sometimes means subsidising smaller independents for the greater good of the area.
It is this fairly unique long-term interest in the area which allows Cadogan to take in the bigger picture, Seaborn points out.
“Because we’re a family owned business, who’s owners live and work in the area, we are able to take the sort of decisions that other shorter term businesses would find more difficult, and do things to improve the long term vitality of the area”, he says. ”We are not just looking for short term returns – and that applies to food and drink.”
It may take a long view, but Cadogan takes a contemporary approach to its curation of food and drink.
Eye-catching concepts in the estate include Granger & Co, ETM’s The Botanist and Harry’s Dolce Vita, which was developed by Caprice especially for the site and location.
Wulf & Lamb and Hans Bar & Grill are in the recently renovated Pavilion Road scheme, which Cadogan consulted residents on, asking what businesses they would like to see in the mews.
Cadogan’s current pipeline includes eight new restaurants, plus a number of a1 coffee shops.
These include Duke of York Restaurant, a new strikingly modern site with curved glass walls; Durley House, Georgian Town Houses with consent for a restaurant with rooms; and The Cadogan Arms on Kings Road, which has been restored and extended.
“Food and beverage is really important to us”, Seaborn says. “We want to contribute to a strong and dynamic community in the area, which is important with all the changes London is going though
“Getting the combination of food right makes Chelsea a more attractive place to live. People find emotional connection with the places they eat, and food has an important role to play in making that connection to people.”
With retail making up around 50% of the estate, F&B is an important complement to the shopping offer.
Caprice are set to deliver their second site in the area, Sloane Street Deli, similar to the group’s Mount Street Deli, with a wine bar, deli and 70 cover restaurant for weary shoppers.
“We look for restaurants and cafes which are different to what we’ve got, so we widen the choice”, Seaborn says.
“Also we are looking for operators with pride in what they do, who can demonstrate provenance and integrity, and give Chelsea a point of difference. We don’t tend to go for chains, though we have well regarded restaurateurs like Bill Granger. Ideally we are looking for something original for the area.”
As well as premium offers for the affluent residents, there are more value-led propositions, such as Comptoir Libanais and Polpo.
“Like any part of London there’s all sorts of socioeconomic groups living here, and we have a lot of visitors to the area. Our aim is to have a wide diversity of types of restaurant, plus a variety of price points. It’s not all about the top end – though one does always want that premium offer as well.”
With Chelsea once better known as a haven for artists and bohemians, that is an area Cadogan aims to pay homage to in its curation, by keeping former artists’ studios open.
“Chelsea was the creative hub of yesteryear - that maverick unconventional sense has contributed to the character of Chelsea. It’s evolved into a very affluent neighbourhood, but we aim to support its pedigree when we can.
“The same goes for food – we’re not aiming preserve things in aspic and having this historic pastiche, we’re supporting evolution as it modernises, but keeping some of that core DNA.”
While Cadogan is looking for operators with a certain longevity, there is no reticence about making changes where necessary.
“A certain amount of activity is useful, it keeps the area refreshed”, Seaborn adds. “It’s important that businesses are thriving. If each business is thriving than the whole area is successful.
“When businesses have lost their edge, and are not innovating, than they’re not contributing to the area. You always need to be looking to the future and responding to change, and if you’re not, there will come a time when you need to move on.
“Generally we want operators to stay, and we’re very lucky to have great restaurants.”