Le Gavroche, one of Britain’s most celebrated restaurants, is to close down, Michel Roux has announced.
In an interview with The Times, the chef revealed that the Mayfair restaurant — London’s last bastion of classic French haute cuisine — would close permanently early next year.
Citing the stress of running a two Michelin-starred restaurant, Roux, 63, said: “I’m genuinely tired. Being in the restaurant almost every day has taken its toll and I have got to the stage where I’m not enjoying it as much as I used to. It is a very high-pressure job and I want a better work-life balance.”
The closure will coincide with the end of the restaurant’s lease, but Roux said that has not had any bearing on his decision and negotiations had been continuing amicably. “Financially we are in a very good place. We are full every day,” he said.
Earlier this month, Roux broke the news to his 43 staff at Le Gavroche, which has been a byword for fine dining since Roux’s late father, Albert, and uncle, Michel, opened the restaurant on Lower Sloane Street in 1967.
Until then, London had been a culinary desert and the French brothers changed the face of British dining. It was the first restaurant in the country to be awarded one, two and, in 1982, a third Michelin star and has honed the skills of some of the country’s best known chefs, including Pierre Koffmann, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Monica Galetti.
“I have very complicated feelings about it,” Roux said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I’ve been at the helm for 34 years, which is longer even than my dad. It’s not been my job, it’s been my life, [but] the pressure to be able to deliver the high quality that everyone dining at Le Gavroche expects is just so wearing. It is not just every day and every service, but every plate.”
His daughter, Emily, who runs a restaurant in Notting Hill with Diego Ferrari, her husband who is also a chef, decided against taking up the reins. “We had several conversations and they wanted to do their own thing, which is fine and I absolutely understand that. I sometimes wonder if I had said that to my dad how things would have turned out.”
Roux will continue to oversee his other ventures, including his restaurants at the Langham Hotel in London and at Crossbasket Castle near Glasgow, and his TV, consultancy and catering businesses. He will also keep control of the Le Gavroche name, opening the possibility of future pop-ups or residencies.
“I’ve been at the helm for 34 years, which is longer even than my dad.”
“I will be able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. Over the years I’ve been offered silly money for the business, but it wouldn’t be right having someone else in charge. The name is sacrosanct,” he said.
He said he considered closing the restaurant during the pandemic but was determined to fight on for the sake of his staff, many of whom he has grown up alongside. Joao, his Madeiran pot-washer, has been with him for 36 years, and his executive chef Rachel Humphrey for more than 25. Those who want to continue working for him will be found positions elsewhere in his business.
“The day-to-day pressure of running a restaurant is not getting any easier,” he said. “Living through and coming back from the pandemic didn’t do my mental health any good. I feel for any young independent restaurateur opening up now. Brexit has put a huge spanner in the works in terms of supplies, staffing and costs.”
He is busy planning a series of events running until the end of January to mark six decades of fine dining and to give diners a final taste of such acclaimed dishes as coquilles St Jacques, soufflé Suissesse and poached lobster. “We’ve got all the menus dating back to the Sixties so it will be easy to replicate. I’m putting in an extra order of cream and butter for my father’s era,” he joked. He also intends to host heavily discounted dinners for young chefs.
“I’ve had many, many sleepless nights worrying about the business, and then tossing and turning thinking about the ramifications of my decision. It’s going to be a huge, huge wrench and I don’t know how I’m going to face the last service. I will probably be a gibbering wreck but I won’t be the only one, that’s for sure.”
Michel Roux is known within the industry as an especially hardworking chef, often putting in 70-hour weeks in the kitchen at an age when most of his peers have long hung up their aprons. At 63, he has earned the right to take a step back.
It is not only the physical strain of being on your feet for long hours that takes the toll, but also the mental pressure of maintaining the highest standards while knowing you will be judged on every plate of food. Add to this the financial stress of running a business with notoriously tight margins, a responsibility for the livelihoods of dozens of staff and the need to carve out the time and space to innovate, and it is easy to understand why so many chefs crumble under the pressure.
Michel Roux is known within the industry as an especially hardworking chef, often putting in 70-hour weeks in the kitchen.
The pandemic and the cost of living crisis have only added to the strains. René Redzepi, considered by many the best chef in the world, was 45 when he announced this year that his restaurant Noma would close. He blamed the “unsustainable economics” of top-end gastronomy but admitted that he had struggled to control his rage, “screaming and shouting” at his staff constantly during an 80-hour week.
Heston Blumenthal, who has maintained three Michelin stars at the Fat Duck in Bray for 19 years, manages his restaurant now at arm’s length. His move to France in 2018 at the age of 52 was prompted by a breakdown. “I had to keep on, keep on, keep on,” he told The Times. “I was unconsciously building a monster that I had to hang on to. Whether it was the third Michelin star, the best restaurant in the world, the best chef in the world, the best book in the world, it just went on … enough was never enough.”
Marco Pierre White was 33 when he became the youngest chef to win three Michelin stars in 1995, but just four years later he announced his retirement from the kitchen. Tom Kerridge no longer drinks but said he downed 15 pints a night during his pursuit of Michelin stars. Phil Howard, who used to run the two-starred The Square, has spoken openly about how he went from taking cocaine to smoking crack while running his kitchen, working 16-hour days six days a week, with four hours of sleep a night, for 15 years.
Tony Turnbull is the food editor at The Times of London and The Sunday Times. He is also the author of several cookbooks, including The Only Recipes You’ll Ever Need