Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Customers at Michelin-starred restaurant The Square in Mayfair last Friday weren’t expected to pay for their food and drinks as the restaurant was shut down by administrators mid-service.
Diners were turfed out mid-meal as suited men seized owner Marlon Abela’s assets following repeated rumours of financial difficulties within his restaurant group.
Sue Houghton, a customer who was enjoying an anniversary lunch at The Square when the bailiffs arrived, wrote on Instagram: ‘4 suited men arrived mid-meal and disappeared into a side room. Cheese is then mysteriously ‘off’ and then over coffee a very tearful Maitre D comes round all the tables and says we must please leave now as the restaurant has gone bankrupt. Staff haven’t been paid and they are all in tears and so apologetic to us. Really sad way to get a free meal. It’s been the most amazing top ten restaurant for over 20 years.’
Abela also owns private members’ club Mortons, Michelin-starred restaurants The Greenhouse and Umu and wine merchant OW Loeb. It is understood that Mortons – as well as The Square – has been forced to close its doors, but The Greenhouse and Umu are still trading as is OW Loeb, which Abela purchased in late 2014.
The news was broken on Friday by hospitality trade networking website The Staff Canteen which warned that other businesses in the Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation (MARC) group ‘could also be closed imminently’.
Loeb in danger?
As the news broke Jancis Robinson posted on Twitter: ‘Those with fond memories of OW Loeb may be interested in’ before linking to The Staff Canteen story.
Also on Twitter Greg Sherwood MW, buyer at London’s Hanford Wines, asked ‘Are OW Loeb’s days also numbered now?’
A spokesperson for OW Loeb told Decanter.com that ‘it’s business as usual for now’ but couldn’t comment further.
Speaking about the closures a spokesman for MARC said: ‘It has been a challenging time for the hospitality sector as a whole over the last few years, with rents and rates rising dramatically. Mr Abela cares deeply about the businesses and staff but, despite investing tens of millions of pounds of his own money into the businesses, was unable to save them from going into administration.’
The Caterer reports that administration follows court action from HMRC to wind up the businesses following non-payment of VAT. It says that in July last year the restaurant group reported pre-tax losses of £5.76m for the year to 31 December 2017 and at that time the company owed Abela £47.47m.