One of central London’s most iconic restaurants will double in size in 2023, when Quo Vadis undergoes a renovation to return it some way to its former capacity.
Coming off the back of a successful release for gregarious head chef and Soho celebrity Jeremy Lee with Cooking: Simply and Well, for One Or Many, Quo Vadis is aiming to begin the new year on the front foot, increasing capacity to try to increase profitability in what is set to be a challenging start to 2023, with extortionate energy bills and a cost-of-living crisis impacting demand across the city.
A statement released by the restaurant says the a refurbishment in January will double the number of covers to 40, “in what will be a grander and more spacious public restaurant.”
The restaurant, which is known for Lee’s hearty, British, seasonal cuisine — eel sandwiches, British pies, seasonal salads, and proper puddings — calls itself the “Great Dame of Dean Street”; a historic space which was once a brothel and whose upstairs was the home of Karl Marx. The restaurant was once helmed by chef Marco Pierre White.
While much effort will be made to retain the site’s unique character and idiosyncrasies, Quo Vadis’s famous revolving door will go; it will be replaced with a door painted “Red Stallion II” and feature “a large brass knocker.” Its seemingly antique (but actually not that old) stained glass windows will be largely preserved.
While the reasons for this work are designed to meet the needs of the business in 2023, the origins of the plans can be traced back to 2016, when Quo Vadis was halved in size to accommodate and relocate the Michelin-starred tapas bar Barrafina from Frith Street to Dean Street.
“In 2016 we were faced with a big problem when our landlord gave us notice on the Barrafina Frith Street site,” co-owner James Hart, who is overseeing the works, told Eater London via email. “We were looking at having no home for our original, Michelin-starred, and very rooted-in-Soho Barrafina. At the time, Quo Vadis was adored but also not very profitable or always full, and so in an imperfect but seemingly killing-two-birds manoeuvre, we took half of Quo Vadis’ public restaurant and moved Barrafina Soho to Dean Street.”
Hart said that this was a solution to both issues, but “came with significant downsides for Quo Vadis ... whose public restaurant became diminished.”
“If we’re honest, we weren’t delighted either as the small restaurant space did not feel worthy of the standard of cooking being produced by [Lee.]”
In 2017, 2018, and 2019, the business’s vision and commercial priorities shifted to other brands and emerging locations, with the opening of taco restaurant El Pastor in Borough Market, and a suite of restaurants including Parrillan in Coal Drops Yard.
“Then Covid,” Hart said. “But there had always been a nagging feeling that this great big imposing reception and tiny bar-café like Quo Vadis restaurant was not right. Now with a little capacity to do so, huge demand — now contrarily healthy at a time where every cover and pound counts — we’re putting this right.”
“For sure, this is partly spurred on by a need for all restaurants to maximise covers as ingredient costs are soaring, labour is a greater percentage of turnover and rent is high,” Hart added. “But that’s not all of it. Jeremy and his chefs, waiters, and Quo Vadis’s fans and customers deserve a space that fits the quality of cooking and service. At a fundamental level, it’s by doing everything you can to offer the greatest dining experience possible that means restaurants can thrive in tough times.”
Quo Vadis will close between 2 January and 7 February, and will reopen to the public on 8 February.