The Great Restaurant Rip Off; Benny Peverelli (ex head chef of Leon) and Spencer Skinner (co-chairman of Deliverance) give us their opinions...

With the average meal for two totalling around £120, no wonder more Londoners are staying in! The capital is, however, renowned for its exquisite international cuisine which brings tourists flocking from far and wide. Today The GWG has the honour of talking to Benny Paverelli; former Head Chef of Leon and Spencer Skinner, executive chairman of Deliverance, which continues to have growing success at keeping London habitants fed and cocooned. They give us their insights into the status of London’s restaurant scene, their top tips for dining out and the etiquette behind sending that starter back to the kitchen!

Benny and Spencer, is there a way (bar boycotting restaurants) that we as consumers can stop prices rising?

Benny: I don’t think you need necessarily need to boycott restaurants, I think you probably need to look at where you are getting your experiences. Vary where you are going and the type of price you’re paying. Be a bit more scrupulous and don’t just call up your local Indian if you don’t think they are up to scratch. Find the operators who are giving you the whole package.

Spencer: You’ve got more choice than ever (in London), so there are more operators with different propositions and different price points; there really is something out there for everybody.

If you experience bad service in a restaurant, what is the best way to approach the situation – etiquette wise?

Benny: I think it’s best to approach it calmly - you’re giving feedback. In this country we aren’t very good at complaining and if we are then we get so worked up that it can seem very angry and that can get a reaction from the server or the restaurateur, you’re not necessarily looking for your money back but if you do love a place then you want to enhance that experience. You want them to develop as a business, so it’s just saying, ‘I might have slightly changed this’ or ‘if I had it next time...’ You never know they might really welcome your experience. If a company is forward thinking enough they might invite you for tastings or they might use you as a sort of Voxpop forum (the voice of the people – from the Latin Vox Populi).

It’s an interesting question - because it’s almost something we feel isn’t polite to complain...

Benny: I think the more forward thinking are actually welcoming it. If you get a bad reaction then maybe that restaurant isn’t worth your custom.

Spencer: You’ve certainly got more and more cases of restaurant groups being led by the feedback from their customers. People should be encouraged to give feedback, assuming they can give it in a polite and positive way.

Why do you think restaurant prices have become so inflated?

Spencer: I think there are lots of restaurants out there still providing value for money. Certainly all food service groups have had to cater for rapidly increasing food prices, so the ingredients they are buying have been going up substantially over the last few years...

What do you think will be the biggest challenge for restaurants dealing with the influx of people during the Olympics?

Benny: First and foremost understanding how you are going to get your deliveries into sites. Because obviously there’s huge restrictions, most of it has to be done overnight so you’ve got to put a lot of planning in, more so than you ever would have normally.

Spencer: Deliverance is used to having to serve unexpected levels of demand. It’s what we do every day and every night. I think for some restaurants that’s going to be more of a challenge and they’re going to reach capacity. Some groups are looking to take more space outside and hopefully the weather will support that.

Benny: Brushing up on your communication. So if you do want to go and eat somewhere as long as they say ‘It’s going to be 40 minute wait, we’re really busy’ - keep them (the customer) updated, don’t shrink into the kitchen and not give any information out.

How have your experiences as consumers informed your choices in business?

Spencer: I personally always try and get involved with brands I like, that are creating innovative products and services, that are looking to change markets that are looking to respond to customers’ needs.

Benny: I just like to get involved with businesses that want to do good but want to serve good food. Businesses that have a desire within their price point to find the best ingredients and develop their teams to make it an enjoyable experience for everybody. So they like coming to work, it’s not just a chore.

Benny, with your history at Leon, what is the first suggestion you would give to someone who wants to eat more ethically?

Benny: I think you’d have to do your research really, certain restaurants like Leon would have all that information on their website. It’s more sustainability; it’s making sure you know where your meat, fish and vegetables are coming from. The Sustainable Restaurant Association is a good reference point; they’ve got a lot more members now so they’ll have a lot of info on the restaurants. It’s talking to the operators themselves, talking to the servers, and the people in your community really.

What are your favourite food websites and food apps?

Benny: A website I use when looking for recipes is Epicurean or even The BBC and Waitrose as large resources - they have a good archive of recipes. I use Wikipedia quite a lot when trying to get to the route of a dish and where it’s actually from, what makes it authentic etc.

Do you use any food trends? Or do you use market research?

Within the industry there are websites like Big Hospitality and Caterer. 

Spencer: The M&C Report.

Do you both have a favourite Deliverance dish?

Benny: My favourite when I first joined a year ago was the Nasi Goreng, because it’s very exciting, very hot. I might have put too much blue tongue on it because it did blow my mind. We’re about to launch the new pizza range and I think my favourite is the Salmon Florentine which has to be tasted to be believed, it’s like eggs Benedict on a pizza. Amazing, crème fresh, smoked salmon, dill and there’s a cracked egg on there for a little bit of indulgence.

Spencer: My favourites would include certainly our Piri Piri Chicken which is always a full, hearty, tasty dish, and any of our puddings are quite delicious.

And finally what would both of your death row last meals consist of – Deliverance or not!

Spencer: Well assuming I was hungry I’d like to work my way steadily through the range before being carted off!

Benny: If my death row was in the catchment area it would probably have to be the Peri PeriChicken Burger but if they weren’t delivering, it would be steak, chips and béarnaise sauce.

18th April 2012.