[Skip to main content]

My L’Escargot Roots - Part One of Two

Posted on Monday, July 4th, 2011

My L’Escargot Roots - Part One of Two

At the age of seventeen I took my first steps in the restaurant business and began working part-time behind the bar of a local restaurant in North London, called L’Escargot. The restaurant was owned by John Moretti, a flamboyant English-Italian bon-viveur and entrepreneur who happened to be married to my mother’s best friend. Gina was petite, elegant, feisty, entertaining and quintessentially Italian. In the dreary suburbs of North London, Gina seemed to me about as glamorous as Sophia Loren with her extravagant, hand-painted silk dresses, designer shoes from Cortina d’Ampezzo and West End coiffure. The restaurant occupied a prominent corner position on a crossroads in a quiet backwater close to London’s northern border with Hertfordshire. It was not, at first sight, perhaps the most obvious spot in which to open a smart French restaurant but the location turned out to be absolutely perfect: it was a short drive from residential areas that had become colonized by professional footballers from First Division (now Premiership) London clubs such as Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur and by other nouveaux riches who could afford the big house prices and the golf club memberships. Gina and John became an instant hit with this affluent crowd who greatly enjoyed their hospitality and style and regularly came back for more. L’Escargot was a restaurant full of regular customers. It was indicative of John’s nature that he had named the restaurant in honour of the horse that won the Grand National that year and not, as many people believed, after the famous Soho landmark restaurant with the huge snail above it’s door (our snail was a small bronze sculpture and occupied a prominent position above the bar). John was a keen gambler and liked to tell his friends that he had only been able to afford the restaurant lease after backing the famous horse at Aintree that summer. Having got to know him better, I now suspect that this was all made up but, at the time, everyone believed it to be true.

John was a self-made man who had traveled abroad more than most people he mixed with. As a result he had acquired a more than convincing veneer of sophistication and, in my adolescent view, John embodied the epitome of male chic. He smoked big, fat Romeo y Julieta cigars, padded around in hand-made, Italian calf-skin loafers, drank only the best wines and drove a vintage Mercedes sports coupe. Whatever John lacked in formal education he made up for in style. I mention this because he was always telling people what a bright boy I was (something my father would never do) and how I was getting a much better education than he had ever been permitted to have. He never wore socks beneath his loafers but always kept a spare pair in his brown leather attaché case – “in case I have to see the bank manager” – where they would keep happy company with fat rolls of cash and at least two day’s supply of Havana’s best cigars.

John’s greatest talent was for making people feel special. He would let customers into “secrets”, taking them into a corner to whisper conspiratorially in their ear, and he was always generous with racing tips, even sharing them with me when he felt strongly about a particular horse or greyhound. He was a font of privileged information about shares, currency movements, fine wines and horses. John recognized that people were looking for fantasy and glamour when they dined at L’Escargot and he understood precisely what his and Gloria’s contribution should be. He knew how to flatter people and how to make them laugh; he created an incredible buzz in the seventy cover bistro with its red check tablecloths and improvised liqueur-bottle candle holders covered in thick layers of multi-coloured wax. He could make special occasions all the more special by donning whites and going in to the kitchen himself to create a special dish for a customer whose birthday it was. Later, he might call Gina to come down and share a crepe suzette with these favoured guests. People loved to see John and Gina dining in the restaurant.

I got on very well with John and I must say I liked and admired him enormously. He ran the restaurant mostly hands-on - unless he was away on one of his and Gloria’s frequent trips to Italy - and with its successful combination of popular French bistro food, soft lighting, well-chosen background music and excellent hospitality, L’Escargot was a truly wonderful neighborhood restaurant. I watched John carefully and learned a great deal from him of the art of the restaurateur although I had not the slightest inclination that I might follow him into the trade; I had already set my sights on a Law degree and was preparing for my university entrance exams.

One of the first things he told me when I started at L’Escargot was that we were permanently on show from the moment we entered the building – John never failing to tell me off for biting my nails behind the bar when I wasn’t busy, reminding me that I was in the spotlight and now “public property”, as he liked to say. He showed me how to taste wine correctly, how to handle and cut expensive cigars, the basics of ‘reading’ customers and how to differentiate between those you could be yourself with and those you had to “handle with care”. He adored good food and said that life was too short for drinking bad wine. “But you don’t want to open a restaurant my boy… There are easier ways to make money for a boy with brains like you. People think that what I do is easy and that I make loads of money but, let me tell you, as soon as you hit a quiet patch it’s easy to lose everything you made on the busy days. No, you go to university and become a big-shot lawyer. Now there’s an easy way to make money!”

Stay tuned for Part Two...

164 Comments

Comments

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment form

Hey there! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from an established blog. Is it hard to set up your own blog? I'm not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I'm thinking about creating my own but I'm not sure where to start. Do you have any tips or suggestions? Thanks
nike air max 90 negozio http://www.air90scarpeit.com/

nike air max 90 negozio 1 year ago → Respond

Hi outstanding blog! Does running a blog such as this require a great deal of work? I've absolutely no expertise in coding however I had been hoping to start my own blog soon. Anyhow, if you have any recommendations or techniques for new blog owners please share. I know this is off topic however I simply wanted to ask. Appreciate it!
schuhe für schweiz http://www.schuhedamen2015ch.com/

schuhe für schweiz 1 year ago → Respond

Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn't show up. Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say superb blog!
pas cher nike vente http://www.fr-pascherchaussures.com/

pas cher nike vente 1 year ago → Respond

Have you ever considered about including a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is important and everything. Nevertheless just imagine if you added some great visuals or video clips to give your posts more, "pop"! Your content is excellent but with images and video clips, this website could undeniably be one of the very best in its field. Awesome blog!
2015 converse outlet http://www.allstar2015baratases.com/

2015 converse outlet 1 year ago → Respond

Howdy are using Wordpress for your site platform? I'm new to the blog world but I'm trying to get started and set up my own. Do you require any coding expertise to make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!
Free 5.0 V4 Pink Womens Running Is On Sale. http://www.itsafricansunset.co.uk/Womens-Nike-Free-5.0-V4--Running-Pink-t-1497_364.html

Free 5.0 V4 Pink Womens Running Is On Sale. 1 year ago → Respond

I'm curious to find out what blog platform you're working with? I'm having some small security issues with my latest site and I'd like to find something more risk-free. Do you have any suggestions?
nike en ligne vente http://www.fr-pascherchaussures.com/

nike en ligne vente 1 year ago → Respond

Throughout this great scheme of things you'll secure a B+ with regard to effort. Exactly where you actually confused everybody was first on your specifics. You know, they say, details make or break the argument.. And that couldn't be more correct right here. Having said that, let me reveal to you precisely what did do the job. The authoring is definitely incredibly persuasive which is most likely why I am making an effort in order to comment. I do not make it a regular habit of doing that. Second, despite the fact that I can notice the jumps in logic you come up with, I am definitely not convinced of exactly how you seem to connect your ideas which inturn produce your conclusion. For now I will subscribe to your issue but trust in the future you actually connect your dots much better.
nike free 5.0 for womens & http://www.maxtrainerscheap.co.uk/

nike free 5.0 for womens & 2 years ago → Respond

Hi there! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!
Buy Air Max LTD 2 White Mens http://www.proweigh.co.uk/images/config.php?Nike-Air-Max-LTD-2-Running--Mens-White-t-1523_700.html

Buy Air Max LTD 2 White Mens 2 years ago → Respond

With havin so much content and articles do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright infringement? My website has a lot of exclusive content I've either written myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my agreement. Do you know any solutions to help prevent content from being stolen? I'd really appreciate it.
Our Nike Air Max 91 http://www.petitesvoix.co.uk/images/config.php?Mens-Nike-Air-Max-91--Running-Gray-Black-t-1259_798.html

Our Nike Air Max 91 2 years ago → Respond

Cool blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog jump out. Please let me know where you got your design. Bless you
Mens Nike Air Max Humara Black White Running Can Suit Everyone http://www.fairhurst-stone.co.uk/images/acdeopvxHINPYZ0.php?Mens-Nike-Air-Max-Humara-Running--Black-White-t-353_802.html

Mens Nike Air Max Humara Black White Running Can Suit Everyone 2 years ago → Respond

[Go back to the top of the page]