You’ve taken 50 years to decide to venture out of the UK. What made you launch Maritime by San Lorenzo in Mumbai, at the Taj Land’s End?
I came to India on a holiday in 2006 and someone suggested that I open a restaurant here. Nothing came of it then, but last year, mutual friends introduced me to officials at the Taj hotel and the idea appealed to me. It has then taken a year of fine-tuning negotiations to ensure that Maritime by San Lorenzo opened its doors to Mumbai in San Lorenzo’s 50th anniversary year.
Your USP is home-style Italian fare. Is the Indian market ready for it?
Oh yes. The food on offer is simple, home-cooked Italian fare, with a few unusual vegan alternatives, like minestrone. Indians have an adventurous palate and the market here is ever-evolving. We have tweaked our British ingredients only a little to prepare the menu here. It will evolve as we move ahead, to keep in sync with any specific requirements of Mumbaikars. Two San Lorenzo-trained Italian chefs will remain in Mumbai to ensure the authenticity of the dishes. My daughter Marina, who helps me with the business now, and I will keep returning too.
You say that India has a special place in your heart?
Yes, I have a special connect with India. My first date with Mara (his late wife) was at an Indian restaurant in London; my family has always loved Indian food. I even have a photo of the Royal Bengal tiger and one of Gautam Buddha on the walls of San Lorenzo. It seems like I was destined to come here.
Your Knightsbridge and Wimbledon restaurants have always attracted celebrities. Which are your favourite memories?
German tennis champion Boris Becker came in for a meal when he was 16-and-a-half, the same year (1985) he won the Wimbledon. He sat at table 22 and ordered the steak and had ice-cream for dessert. I never forget the table numbers where guests sit, though I may forget a few other things these days.
Since Mara and I opened San Lorenzo in 1963, patrons have included Princess Diana, Mick Jagger, The Beatles, Sofia Loren and Peter Sellers and sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar. Some have even come knocking late at night, demanding a simple meal from Mara.