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The corridors of power ...

What is it about the restaurant trade? When it comes to power struggles and rivalries, few corners of corporate Britain come close.

Take those rakish characters Hugh Osmond and Luke Johnson. The pair were friends at Oxford and started a nightclub business before hitting the big time with Pizza Express. Known as the ‘Hughie and Louie’ show, they subsequently fell out over rival bids for Whitbread’s pubs estate.

Osmond is now trying to buy back into Pizza Express, pitting himself against Johnson, whose Signature Restaurants owns the rival Strada pizza chain along with The Ivy and La Caprice.

Johnson has enough on his plate as it is. His bid to take Signature private has run into opposition from Giuliano Lotto, owner of Aubergine and L’Orangerie.

A third restaurant battle is being waged over Groupe Chez Gerard, the steak-frites chain that owns Bertorelli and Livebait.

Neville Abraham, chairman, is on the receiving end of a #21m takeover bid from Guy Naggar, a City financier.

Restaurants were hit hard by foot-and-mouth and September 11, leaving them vulnerable to such overtures, and as if all this isn’t enough, the ultimate establishment dining venue, the Savoy Grill, is to receive a makeover.

The restaurant, fondly referred to as ‘the Canteen’ by City regulars, is to be stripped of its lace curtains and given a lighter feel.

It’s a bit like taking your granny and dressing her up like Goldilocks.

The last attempt at reforming the Savoy Grill didn’t come to much. One of the regulars, Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, was partial to bangers and mash – so much so that the chef put a ‘Jeffrey Archer’ vegetarian sausage on the menu.

Unfortunately, no one but Archer would touch the dish and it was swiftly withdrawn.

  • Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.

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