Matthew Steeples reports on Philip Lawless’ remarkable career at the top of London’s restaurant industry
Though the raconteur restaurateur Philip Lawless recently sold his Belgravia dining spot Motcombs, his legacy lives on both there and at the Bow Wine Vaults, which he retains and continues to run.
Irish born Lawless moved to London in the 1950s and has been based in the City of Westminster ever since. He started his career as a kitchen porter at the St James’s Club and rose to the position of managing Scott’s in Mayfair.
A doyen in hospitality, Lawless hosted everyone from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor at Scott’s and then, after reopening the restaurant the next day after an IRA bomb in 1975, decided to go it alone and in 1983 bought a greasy spoon café in Motcomb Street, Belgravia. He transformed it into what the buzziest bar-restaurants of the next three decades and himself became one of the hospitality industry’s most renowned hosts.
Famed for a fine art collection – personally collected by Lawless with the help of the late Michael Parkin – Motcombs attracted everyone from Goldie Hawn to Margaret Thatcher. Horse racing stars such as Frankie Dettori and the football manager Terry Venables became regulars and those that flocked in came not only for not only for what the Evening Standard once termed a menu that read “like the biography of an old friend,” but also because of the buzzy brasserie, restaurant and bar’s atmosphere.
Polite yet never intrusive and aware of his customer’s needs, Lawless told The Steeple Times that as much as he loves the “theatre” of running a restaurant, times have changed. “The culture of long lunches of the 1980s has died,” he remarks, “but I was lucky to serve everyone from yuppies to legends like Sir Roger Moore. Now was the time for me to bow out at Motcombs, but I shall continue to enjoy welcoming faces old and new to the Bow Wine Vaults.”
Of Motcombs, a customer once remarked: “The best restaurant is the restaurant that knows you best and that restaurant is Motcombs” whilst of Lawless former Scott’s owner Nicky Kerman added: “Philip is a very talented and successful restaurateur who knows how to keep his customers happy. I have always enjoyed eating in his restaurants.”
Bow Wine Vaults, 10 Bow Churchyard, London, EC4M 9DQ.
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“The culture of long lunches of the 1980s has died.” Those were the days. Lunch at 12:30, carriages around 4:30, just in time to make it back to the office to check on the staff and do the best one could do to remember the details of the deal just sealed over the final bottle of Sauternes.
I like long lunches and plenty of red wine!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mr Lawless and other restauranters should be mourning their demise!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I enjoyed Motcombs – always good for a Sunday brunch and Philip Lawless was always pleasant and welcoming to everyone. Hope it doesn’t get changed as it is nice as it is.
The young ones running restaurants now (like the fools who took over Choy’s in King’s Road and went round waving a gun outside whilst drunk) would do well to read this and learn from Philip Lawless. He ran a fine ship.
My boss for 8 years, I love you big boss!!!