PRESS UPDATE : THE TELEGRAPH NOVEMBER 28TH 2015 ..
The return of 80s celebrity hangout, San Lorenzo...
MARINA BERNI IN HER RESTAURANT SAN LORENZO, IN KNIGHTSBRIDGE.CREDIT: GEOFF PUGH
Christmas is coming early this year for London’s rich, famous and infamous. Royals, Hollywood stars, oil billionaires, and a vast assortment of gilded youth will all breathe a collective sigh of relief tomorrow when their restaurant of choice, Knightbridge’s San Lorenzo, reopens after months of being closed for renovations. At a celebrity-laden evening in aid of RAFT, a new charity for breast cancer survivors, San Lorenzo will be reborn once more in all its star-studded glory.
A whistle stop tour of its illustrious “clientele,” as they were always dubbed by the restaurant’s legendary owner, Mara Berni, features practically every starry name under the sun. Perhaps chief among them is Princess Diana, who used to bring William when he was a child, and famously used to tryst there with James Hewitt, James Gilbey and other paramours.
Sophia Loren was one of the first celebrities to dine at San Lorenzo, accompanied by an entourage of no less than 12 men. There followed in her wake everyone from the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton to Ivana Trump, Joan Collins and Jack Nicholson.
But the story of the restaurant begins in 1960 with Lorenzo Berni, a former partisan turned ship captain of a Norwegian line who was stranded in London after his ship sank. There, he opened a tavern on Westbourne Grove and when sultry Maria Theresa Lasilier, as she was then called, walked into the restaurant one night, passion flared and they married less than a year later.
In 1963, the couple opened a nine-seat restaurant in the then unfashionable Beauchamp Place. In those days, supper at San Lorenzo cost less than a pound and Lorenzo and Mara wore butcher’s aprons to serve their classic Tuscan and Pietmontese food, which was based on traditional recipes handed down from their respective families.
The restaurant was run as if it were their second home, decorated with their own personal memorabilia – including a family photograph of a young Mara and a tall and handsome Lorenzo with their three children, Paulo, Gigio and Marina. It is Marina who has inherited the restaurant since her mother’s death in 2012. (The youngest daughter refuses to divulge her age because “Mummy asked me to promise never to reveal her age or mine to anyone; she believed in discretion and mystery”.)
“As far back as I can remember, the restaurant was my second home home,” she says. “When my mother was pregnant with me, her waters broke here, in the restaurant, and when I was a child, I used to skate all over the floor.”
These days, Marina, a diminutive blonde with a low key but determined manner, rules the roost with a velvet glove and a sharp intelligence, just like her mother. There is one difference, though. “With Mara you weren’t sure if she would smile or growl at you. If she didn’t like you, she let you know it,” socialite Liz Brewer, a San Lorenzo regular for many years, observes. “But these days, Marina wouldn’t get away with behaving that way because times have changed.”
"Our clients order far fewer desserts, and if they do, they tend to share. They rarely ask for butter, and they definitely drink less"
Marina, too, is well aware of the changing times. “In the sixties, Italian food was a rarity and people thought it was exotic,” she says. “But now, of course, Italian food is everywhere. Our clients order far fewer desserts, and if they do, they tend to share. They rarely ask for butter, and they definitely drink less.”
Prosecco, she says, is ordered far more often then champagne, “and we get a great many orders for red wine, as it is considered far more healthy than red,” she adds. “People don’t care any more about the old rules that you should drink white with fish and red with meat. A lot of our clients drink red with everything, simply because it is so healthy.
“Another difference between now and when my parents first opened the restaurant is that, because there is more competition, we have fewer bookings and more walk-ins.”
“The children of the clients who used to come here in the sixties come here regularly to eat the dishes they remember from when their parents brought them here when they were young,” she says, circumspectly.
Remembering her own mother, whom she clearly still misses, her eyes well up. “We still have her ashes in a box at home because my father just doesn’t want to let her go,” she says. “Right up until the end, she sat in the window of the restaurant, watching the clients and loving it.”