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  1. Wealth
January 26, 2009updated 28 Jan 2016 7:57pm

In a crisis, dine out

By William Cash

To Nobu, the hedgies’ lunchtime haunt. No longer. The place was almost half empty. Not a hedgie in sight.

To Nobu on Park Lane for lunch with Nigel Massey, PR guru who knows tout London, and his glamorous colleague Julia Perowne.

I have always loved Nobu, not least for its people watching. How many times would I go and see the likes of fund manager Crispin Odey doing business over a Black Cod Kara with Spicy Ponzu Sauce, or a dark suited Arki Busson sitting in the corner either with a foxy female companion or a serious Swiss banker laughing their way through the Wagyu Tartar with Caviar.

No longer. The place was almost half empty. Not a suit or hedgie in sight. I detected a few Waspy American accents; a few ladies who lunch; a few checked shirt entrepreneur types – but no hedgies.

As we ate our way through a Nobu Bento Box – Nobu’s greatest signature hits, including Sashami Salad, Rockshrimp Tempura with Ponzu, Black Cod with Miso, Oshitashi and Sushi – all for just £28 – I reflected how civilised London had become without the sound of hedgies, their Blackberries clamped to their ear or vibrating incessantly on the tables as the sound of them baying for money became the standard background music of every decent restaurant in Mayfair.

When the hedgies ruled, you could not get a table at Nobu or Cipriani – not that I would recommend the latter anyway with its cramped, mini bucket seats and diabolically and overpriced Italian nursery food. Maitre d’s fawned over the new financial super class of hedge fund manager and super-bankers.

There is a hotel on Park Lane where Lehman brothers used to take 2000 rooms a year; that account is now closed. The other problem with the hedgie class is that they generally liked to order the most expensive wines; they would over-order endless dishes of Tempura and Teriyaki and Squid pasta Donburi; and most of the food would end up just being thrown away.

Going out in Mayfair became like going out in India where you arrive at a wealthy person’s house to find the uncorked bottles of Chateau Lafite lined up on gilt console tables to show off how much they have spent (drink tax in India is a whopping 45%) and the food is paraded in a giant buffet – not so you can enjoy eating it but so that you can show off how wealthy you are. All very medieval.

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Guests in India get to eat around 11pm and then as soon as the food finishes, everybody leaves. Mayfair became an extension of this cult of being seen and showing off to the world that you were at the very heart of the greatest city in the world – at the best table. I saw almost no wine wine being drunk today. The bar man looked underemployed.

Yet I personally think this is exactly the wrong time to be avoiding business lunches. If anything the credit crunch should be the one time when you do everything to retain your clients – if you are a fund manager or banker that means taking them out for lunch, getting to know your client and, if necessary, splurging £28 on a Nobu Bento Box.

Considering the amount of client money these so-called ‘financial services’ brigade have lost in the last six months, the very least they can do is re-assure their clients over lunch that their money is safe. But no – they won’t do this because most know, in their hearts, that they led their clients down the river and they can’t face sitting for an hour across the table making excuses for their lamentable performance.

They are ashamed to take their clients out because they don’t have real excuses. Yet, if I was a fund manager today, I would be gathering up all the credit crunch set price menus in Mayfair and going out to a different restaurant every day.

This is not the time for licking one’s wounds in the safety of the office, behind the telephone or desk. This is the one time it is vital to hang on to your clients and try to get them to think that you actually know what you are doing.

This should be the Mayfair lunch’s finest hour. Shame on the hedgies for taking the Pret a Manger option behind their desks.

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