A star-studded party hosted by Sir Rocco Forte and his family launched the new £3m Brasserie Prince at The Balmoral Hotel, as the hospitality magnate declared: “This hotel has a very special place in my heart.”
Around 200 people packed out the brand new venue at the Edinburgh iconic hotel last night, which has been under wraps for the last six months during a complete overhaul.
Sir Rocco’s sister, Olga Polizzi, the company’s director of design, has overseen a transformation of the space, previously occupied by Hadrian’s brasserie, along with interior designer Martin Brudnizki.
Named Brasserie Prince after the Scottish romantic hero who had close ties to France, Bonnie Prince Charlie, otherwise known as “The Young Pretender”, the new venture is a fresh collaboration between the ‘Auld Alliance’ of France and Scotland, with the famed Roux family at the heart of the dining offer.
‘Brasserie Prince by Alain Roux’ sees Alain take up the position of Signature Chef at the restaurant; he currently retains three Michelin stars at The Waterside Inn, the only restaurant in the world outside France to have kept the accolade for more than thirty years, and his seasonal menu is inspired by Scottish ingredients, whilst showcasing his heritage of bistro-style French cooking.
Sir Rocco – whose wife Aliai and TV personality daughter Lydia, who features as one of the investors in the BBC hit show Million Pound Menu, were all at the launch – said he was delighted to be bringing the two famous families together with a new concept.
In an exclusive interview with EventsBase, he said: “I’ve known the Roux family for over 35 years and I’ve always had huge respect for them. They were instrumental in changing food standards in the UK at the top level and they’ve trained so many chefs who have worked for them. They are an inspiration; they’ve done a lot for this country and so I’m really pleased to be working with them now after all this time.
“The chef they’ve put into the restaurant is someone who’s trained by them and so knows their standards, and style, and so on. And we have a very professional team at the Balmoral who have been here for a long time. Jeff Bland, who has been here for a long time and is a very good chef, so it’s a cooperation between the two.”
Sir Rocco took his first steps into building his worldwide luxury collection of hotels with the acquistion of The Balmoral in 1997; his five-star portfolio now totals 11, including Browns Hotel in London, Hotel Amigo in Brussels, Villa Kennedy in Frankfurt and The Charles Hotel in Munich. A luxury hotel in Shanghai is also due to open.
He said: “This is the first hotel I bought with my new company in March ’97, so it has a very special place in my heart; it’s the only hotel in Edinburgh where we retain real five-star standards, and that has been done throughout the difficult years. And we’ve seen the payback from that as it’s seen as the best hotel in Edinburgh. We’ve continued to invest in the hotel; we’ve done some major refurbishment in all the rooms from the castle view side and the Old Town view, so there’s a continuing process of investment.”
When asked whether he would ever consider expanding the Rocco Forte Hotel Group’s portfolio in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK, he said: “I’m not an avaricious acquirer of new hotels. I don’t have a whole pipeline of new hotels; I want to take on hotels that feel fitting to the group that I have now – hotels that feel special and that we can make into something special, even if they’re not, and make them unique and iconic in their own right. That’s what I would like to do. I would like to have more hotels than I have now but I want to do it on that basis. I don’t want to expand for the sake of expansion.”
Sir Rocco, who is now 73 and shows no signs of slowing down, said that he is proud of his children, who are all now taking an active part in the business. Eldest Lydia, 30, is Group Director of Food & Beverage, Irene is Group Project Director and son Charles is also involved in the business.
He said: “It’s great having my kids involved in the business. It’s not something I forced upon them, it’s something they really wanted to do themselves. They’re all clever, they’re all committed and they all really like the business and it’s great being able to work with them. They add something fresh and something different to the business. I’m an old man now, in many respects, and I don’t have the same outlook as they do. They bring something…the whole social media scene is not something I know anything about. It’s second nature to them and that’s a very important aspect of selling hotels and restaurants.”
As guests enjoyed champagne with the Italian apéritif, Aperol, as well as a range of canapés including osyters, langoustines, and a selection of Italian and French cold cuts, both Sir Rocco and Michel Roux Snr spoke at the event. Sir Rocco joked how his daughter Lydia, through her TV profile, is now more recognised than he is by cab drivers but said how pleased he was with the result of the refurbishment and that Hadrian’s Brasserie was one of his first projects when he took on The Balmoral 21 years ago. He said how his children and those of the Roux family had all turned out to be a ‘chip off the old block’ in continuing their long and rich tradition in the hospitality and catering industry.
And Michel Snr said how he and his son Alain are taking the challenge ‘very seriously’, but also joked how he likes to return to his restaurant creations for the purposes of “quality control”; Michel said he was enthused about the prospect of a bistro concept, which again has its roots in traditional French dining, and that the whole venture is a “family affair”.
“I love the food of a bistro, it’s where you come and relax and it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg,” he said. “You come to the bar, you have food to share, and so on and so forth. The Roux family has only one thought; what we want is for our brasserie to be among the best, and that’s what we love.”