Business Irish

Saturday 23 September 2017

Samantha McCaughren: McCann takes the knife to Marco Pierre White eatery

Celebrity chef Marco Pierre White
Celebrity chef Marco Pierre White
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

Celebrity chef Marco Pierre White isn't feeling the love from Ireland at the moment. Last weekend, critic Tom Doorley announced that he was leaving TV3's show The Restaurant as he could no longer work with White. "On the first night of shooting, he was so unbearable - contradicting, making lofty pronouncements, talking over the rest of us and never shutting up," he said, claiming that the programme had become the Marco Pierre White Show.

I can reveal that another slight came from corporate Ireland a few days later. Dalata boss Pat McCann, always a straight talker, had little good to say about White's restaurant in an analysts' conference call.

In July, the hotel group acquired Hotel La Tour in Birmingham for £31m (€34m). The four-star premises boasted one of the chef's many restaurant brands, Mr White's English Chophouse, serving dishes such as Marco's classic chicken Kiev and Mr White's fish curry, with mango and coriander.

However, the chophouse is for the chop.

McCann said there was "a lot of opportunity" to cut costs at the four-year-old, standalone hotel.

Notice to quit has already been served to the restaurant, with McCann telling analysts that he was not impressed with it, adding that "in our view, it doesn't deliver, quite frankly, and is very costly". Efforts to contact the ever-busy White were unsuccessful.

‘Dublin’s pin-up’ Mandelson supporting Team Ireland

It’s gala dinner season again and former Northern secretary and EU commissioner Peter Mandelson was in town last week to address the British Irish Chamber of Commerce’s annual black tie shindig.

There was also a pre-recorded message from UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, which Mandelson described as a “British double whammy”. He quipped that speeches from the two men on the same evening would be enough to make Theresa May’s blood go cold, pointing out that Hammond may not be her favourite cabinet colleague. Rumours May would have fired him had she enjoyed a better election persist.

Mandelson added that he regretted the Brexit vote, but was flying the Irish flag in these challenging times.“I hope you will regard me as not just an honorary, but as a fully paid-up member of Team Ireland,” he said. “I know I wasn’t always Dublin’s pin-up, but we got there in the end.”

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Another British Irish event last week was the  British ambassador’s annual garden party. Always one of the highlights of the Irish business community’s social calendar, it was even more jam-packed than usual in these uncertain times.

Some of the biggest names from Irish business popped into the ambassador’s residence in Sandyford.  Greencore boss Patrick Coveney was in attendance — not only is the company a significant employer in the UK, it was one of the main sponsors of the event.

Frank Murphy, of currency conversion business Monex, was there, as well as ESB chief executive Pat O’Doherty

and Goldman Sachs’ Irish boss Hugo MacNeill.

Ambassador Robin Barnett tried his hand at the ‘cupla focail’ before giving way to former Tanaiste Dick Spring, who was plugging Ireland’s Rugby World Cup bid.

All in all, a terribly civilised affair that would make you forget Anglo-Irish relations are fairly tense at the moment. With some tricky negotiations ahead, let’s hope next year’s event is just as civil.

Bright future for Riviera despite damning review from Jordan

Big budget show Riviera caused quite a bit of drama itself over the summer, with film-maker Neil Jordan disowning the series. Dubbed by Sky as “an intoxicating thriller set in the sun-drenched south of France, the opulent playground of the world’s filthy rich”, the idea came from ex-U2 manager Paul McGuinness.

Jordan and Booker prize-winner John Banville also came on board, but despite a credit on the show starring Julia Stiles, it emerged in June that Jordan had withdrawn from the production. “All I can say is, good luck to them,” he said in an interview. “I can’t claim it’s mine. If I had been in control of the thing, it would have been quite different.

“There were various sexual scenes introduced and a lot of very expository dialogue. I objected in the strongest terms possible.”

 Jordan may have been unimpressed by the show, but it broke Sky’s downloading records — and I understand the series has been recommissioned. Let’s see who makes it to the closing credits.

* * *

What a difference three years has made for C&C, the cider-maker which owns Bulmers in Ireland and Magners in the UK. In October 2014, the company alarmed shareholders by tabling a €1bn bid for the Spirit pub company in the UK. Spirit, with its 1,200 bars, would have secured a customer base for the Irish business, but at too high a cost.

Some institutional investors took the rare step of publicly criticising the approach, before it was quietly dropped.

C&C’s ambitions have been reined in since then. It last week agreed to buy a 47pc stake in Admiral Pubs, which operates 845 pubs in the UK, for £37m (€40.2m).

C&C will have a new customer base and hopes its craft beers in particular will prosper as a result. But is buying customers really a solution for a cider company operating in an ever more competitive market? And what for Ireland, where sales are being squeezed? The pub trade is very different here, and unfortunately for C&C, buying customers will not be an option.

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