Theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber has tapped London restaurant impresario Richard Caring to run a West End restaurant and bar at the soon-to-be restored Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Lloyd Webber described Caring as “a brilliant restauranteur [sic] and showman, both of which are essential to ensuring the theatre will continue to be a vibrant part of Covent Garden life.”
Details on the restaurant are light, but Webber — whose company has invested £60 million pounds into restoring the theatre — is not going to have chosen Caring for his restraint and low-key approach. While the opening of The Ivy Asia in St. Paul’s, whose iridescent green floor and cynical approach to the entire continent of Asia represents a peak for Caring’s monied, cherrypicking maximalism in the restaurant world, the chance to make a statement in the culinarily drab world of commercial theatre is another tantalising opportunity, for a restaurateur that fits Webber’s West End brand of maximalism to a tee.
While London’s art galleries and museums have long interacted with the restaurant world, commercial theatre has remained siloed, with two exceptions: St. John’s restaurant at The Bridge Theatre, run by former National Theatre artistic director and executive director Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr; and Lloyd Webber’s own The Other Palace, which houses acclaimed neighbourhood wine bar offshoot The Other Naughty Piglet. The latter makes this appointment both understandable and curious: Caring’s extravagant showmanship is to West End tickets running 100 pounds and up as The Other Naughty Piglet’s industry repute is to The Other Palace’s commitment to more contemporary, adventurous theatre. It’s an audience fit.
West End ticket pricing means its theatregoers continue to fit a disappointingly homogenous profile, and one that is a captive culinary audience, in a sector whose approach to dining is yet to really take off. In this respect, Caring is a concession to the status quo, an appointment which suggests little in the way of genuine newness and change in favour of the ritzy, but safe. Jesus Christ: couldn’t a man behind some of the most famous musicals — and downright weird film adaptations — of the century picked a more interesting restaurant superstar?