The Corbin and King restaurant saga appears to have reached its sad conclusion, as shareholder Minor International buys out the entire group — and with it the control of co-founder Jeremy King. The restaurateur that launched the Wolseley, the Delaunay, Colbert, Fischer’s, Soutine, and Bellanger with Chris Corbin, and in doing so created one of the most beloved, respected, and consistent low-key luxury restaurant groups in the city, is no longer at the wheel.
Minor paid over £60 million in an auction early Friday morning, 1 April, organised by the administrators it appointed in January as part of an ongoing financial dispute over the future of Corbin and King. U.S. investment firm Knighthead, which Minor had unsuccessfully attempted to block from supporting Corbin and King financially, was the other main bidder for the group.
Writing in his frequent newsletter to diners at the restaurants, King said:
We took part in the auction to try and buy the business and assets of Corbin & King that we didn’t already own, including of course all the restaurants. Regrettably, that attempt failed and Minor Hotel Group was the successful bidder, buying the entire business.
As a result, I no longer have any equity interest in the business although for the time being, I remain an employee. I assume Minor will take immediate control of the restaurants.
Minor International said it will “focus on growing the business in the UK and internationally without the involvement of Messrs Corbin and King.”
It might not find that so easy without its employees on side. In the hours following the announcement of the deal, every restaurant in the portfolio has posted a photo of Jeremy King and Chris Corbin to Instagram, with the caption “THIS is Corbin & King.”
Minor had first aggravated the dispute financially in January, claiming that a £30 million loan it had provided Corbin and King going unpaid was cause to seize control over “financial mismanagement.” It then attempted to block Knighthead from refinancing that loan on Corbin and King’s behalf, tacitly showing that it wasn’t really about money at all.
Throughout the protracted legal battle, the dispute between Corbin and King and Minor has really revolved around expansion, and this new, significant development could put some of its current projects on shaky ground. In November 2021, King provided an update on Manzi’s, the long-awaited seafood palace set to open in the heart of Soho, saying that disagreements over the future of dining in the city in the shadow of COVID-19 were proving difficult to resolve:
“The problem there was a differing view between us during the pandemic of the best way forward and what the outlook for London would be ... We therefore agreed to stall the development until greater certainty achieved.”
King and Corbin have previously alluded to Minor’s broad focus on international markets as reasons for its dispute. While managing director Zuleika Fennell told a conference that it wants to “put The Wolseley restaurant and hotel in every major capital city around the world,” Minor’s broader plans — including expanding other existing and new brands internationally— were less palatable to King and Corbin, who have long had a second Wolseley, in the City, and another restaurant in Notting Hill in the pipeline. London was their focus.
It is a focus that has served them well over 40 years of building a group which, at its core, offered a joyously sophisticated approach to dining. Having overseen first Le Caprice, and then the restoration of Covent Garden seafood institution J Sheekey, what would be the duo’s crowning glory came with the opening of the Wolseley in 2003. The Delaunay, Brasserie Zédel, Colbert, Fischer’s, Bellanger, and Soutine followed, and what unites the Piccadilly grandeur and high ceilings of the Wolseley with the neighbourhood feel of Soutine in St. John’s Wood, 16 years apart, is a total mastery of low-key luxury.
Now, as Minor has painstakingly confirmed throughout, the restaurants will remain open; as King has painstakingly confirmed throughout, they are busy and full.
Many London diners, however, will now find them to be more empty than ever before.