On the basis everyone wants an ‘experience’ these days, every drink away from home should either be an occasion or, at the very least, at an event. Ideally both. The days of going out for a mug of insipid tea or instant coffee and a stale sandwich served by uncaring, supercilious staff, are fading into the past – or should be.
But who fixes these occasions, creates the events and ensures we all have a positive experience? Well, you would think any idiot could switch the tea from standard own-label to Twinings or slam loads of ice and lemon into a tumbler to transform a gin and tonic. Sadly that still isn’t always the case.
Robbie Bargh is the 44-year-old founder and creative director of the Gorgeous Group. This is a man who positively drips with ideas. It’s the job of his 14 colleagues to mop up these ideas and make them happen. He has two fellow directors – Julian Shaw and Katherine Arnold, the former MD of the upmarket Corney & Barrow wine bar chain.
“I have the big ideas,” says the Mancunian, “I’ve know Julian for 22 years. Julian has to deliver them and Katherine manages the commercial side. She is the heartbeat of the business.
“We are a small team and clients need a lot of attention. Everyone (in the team) is an expert – drinks, food, bar legends, uniforms.”
We meet in Dishoon in Upper St Martins Lane, on the edge of London’s Covent Garden. Instead of a croissant or a bacon sandwich, they do a bacon naan roll. Bargh flew out to Mumbai to research the Bombay Café concept.
Bargh lives in Brixton, south London. The scene of some terrible riots in the early 1980s, it was, and some might say, still is blighted by the memory. But the area has been transformed by the sort of people Bargh communes with. What used to be a tatty indoor market is now ‘Brixton Village’, replete with cutting edge bars and eateries. For those of us who grew up in the area and witnessed the burgeoning West Indian community there, the positive transformation is little short of stunning.
Bargh is also a keen cyclist. So again, very ‘en place’.
Trying to reproduce Bargh’s breathless style of speaking severely tests one’s abilities with the English language, apropos punctuation. People talk about ‘being ahead of the curve’. Well Bargh appears so far ahead of it that he is round the corner and out of sight. That is what Gorgeous Group clients pay for.
So, what’s next? Bargh had mentioned a “chicken project in Ghana”. An African spin on KFC? Bargh says cagily: “A bit more special than that.” No more details forthcoming. Earlier he had mentioned that he was spending “every other week in Paris”. He pauses and opens up: “It is a Californian bistro in Paris, in a beautiful hotel right next to the Eiffel Tower.” But isn’t bistro an essentially French concept? “Clistro is about contemporary gastronomy,” he explains. “High quality, casual, less restrictive form of eating. French food is quite rigid. Southern California has different cuisines – bit of Spanish, bit of French. We are looking at LA and Palm Springs for a fresh, democratic, unfussy style of eating.”