Eater London has learnt of yet another Soho restaurant closure. Fernandez & Wells — the Lexington Street wine and tapas bar, sandwich shop, and deli — has recently vacated the premises at number 43. It will make way for an Oliver Peoples eyewear boutique.
The restaurant, the owners Rick Wells and Jorge Fernandez’s first site, opened in January 2007. It did so at a time when the Spanish and French hams hanging in the window were among its many draws. It was, by most definitions a Spanish tapas bar, but very little actual cooking took place on the shop floor. The owners instead chose to describe it as something between a European wine bar and Continental market stall. Each day, advertising executives and actors’ agents would queue up out of the door for the peerless, fully-filled, freshly made sandwiches that stacked high on the counter. At night, the lights would dim low; guests would choose from either two reds, or two whites, served by the glass and a menu comprising fine charcuterie, cheese, and tinned seafood.
The two had met at Monmouth Coffee in Borough Market, a shop that Fernandez managed. Wells, then the Africa correspondent for the BBC World Service was a regular customer.
The duo’s style, in part borrowed from the industrial, old English aesthetic of both Neal’s Yard Dairy and Monmouth itself, was key to the brand’s signature identity. But with some of the finest jamon Iberico in town, 36-month cured comte in sandwiches, and bin end vintages from Bordeaux, the like of which then unavailable anywhere else in town, meant that its style was always matched by its substance. The aesthetic of the shops would go on to become the template for so many speciality coffee shops, cafes, and modern British restaurants in London.
Wells called it the end of an era and said it was symptomatic of the changing face of Soho.
Yes, it’s true, Lex is closed. End of an era. It is sad of course but we have plenty of happy memories and Soho tales to savour...(not least your bold dash to rescue a runaway jason!)
It is ultimately the story of London and the changing face of Soho. What we brought in raised the bar and now that’s come full circle, with the arrival of the Ivy ‘chain’, beauty products and designer clothes brands. Rents and rates have shot up while many of our core customer base, the creatives have headed east or elsewhere.
Fernandez, who left the company last year to open Fortitude Bakehouse in Bloomsbury with Fernandez and Wells’ former head chef and baker, Dee Rettali, did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
Last month, when Eater reported that Vinoteca on Beak Street had closed, for reasons relating to a prohibitive license, restaurant man about town and analyst Adam Hyman said “Soho is starting to be a victim its own success. The early adopters who helped landlords ‘place-make’ now get penalised for doing just that.”
The owners of Fernandez and Wells were forced to close its second site — one of London’s first speciality coffee shops, also on Beak Street — in 2017. It had been open for 10 years; it is thought that following a rent review, which tend to take place every five years, the owners deemed it unsustainable. When only Monmouth and Flat White — then embryonic and the city’s only purveyors of Antipodean-style coffee — Fernandez oversaw a programme that not only used the first imported Synesso machine from Seattle, but pulled treacle-thick espressos that were anything but the norm in London in 2007.
Notable closures in Soho in the past 12 months included Balls and Company, the Gay Hussar, Cinnamon Soho, Hummus Bros., Bibigo; it remains unclear whether Flavour Bastard on Greek Street has reopened.
Fernandez and Wells is left with three remaining sites: on Museum Street in South Kensington, at Somerset House, and on Denmark Street, east of Soho.