Scarpetta CEO John Meadow Dishes On Opening His First International Venues—Sette + Nolita Social—In London

SettePhoto Credit: David Cleveland

This month marked a milestone for New York City’s LDV hospitality, owner of the chic modern Italian restaurant concept Scarpetta restaurants: The group opened its first-ever international venues. The location: London—specifically Knightsbridge—in the chic, 5-star Bvlgari Hotel, replacing Alain Ducasse‘s Rivea. The restaurant, Sette, is a reincarnation of Scarpetta, but does not bear the Scarpetta name for a reason. “Sette” means “seven” in Italian, which not only happens to be a lucky number, but is also apt, as it’s the group’s seventh Scarpetta location. That being said, such a big opening in an entirely new country demanded something different.

And that’s the point, according to LDV CEO John Meadow. Sette—as well as it’s accompanying bar, Nolita Social—aim to bring something to the tony neighborhood of Knightsbridge. Outside of neighboring eatery Zuma, it’s a quiet, posh spot for an upscale dining crowd (never mind the upscale daytime crowd, who head to nearby Harrods and Harvey Nichols in flocks). Meadow aims to change that, especially with Nolita Social, a true Manhattan lounge that will keep the late-night crowd in Knightsbridge with live music and DJs as well as a stellar cocktail menu, chock-full of librations named after famous songs (the best seller is projected to be “Tiny Dancer”, a heady mix of Grey Goose vodka, yuzuri, pamplemousse, lemongrass water and prosecco, a nod to British musical royalty Elton Johns 1971 hit).

While LDV focuses on the something new, Meadow assures us that the Scarpetta aesthetic that made it so popular in Miami, Las Vegas and New York, among other places, is alive and well. The London venues have been designed by Danish architect Thomas Juul-Hansen, who, having worked on the brand’s previous locations, including the most recent, NYC’s James NoMad, lends an air of familiarity to the spaces. Artist Domingo Zapata, who has created works for the aforementioned hotel, has three distinct pieces hanging in Nolita Social, and Stuart Bean of Sauce DJ’s has curated the lounge’s extensive music program. And while chef Graziano Bonacina is allowed creative license, the menu is 90 percent pure Scarpetta: simple yet refined Italian fare with New York flair (and as a major plus, you’ll be able to get Scarpetta’s famous Spaghetti, Tomato & Basil); music is curated by Stuart Bevan.

We sat down with Meadow to discuss what to expect from Sette and Nolita Social, the brand’s decision to head overseas, and why global domination is never outside the realm of possibility.  
Sette
Photo Credit: Nigel Parry

Knightsbridge is usually very quiet at night, but with your new restaurant and bar, you’re about to be bringing excitement to the area.

That’s the whole opportunity. This project has taken us two years. I go to London, I stay at the Bvlgari, I have dinner at Zuma, because it’s there, you finish dinner at 11 o’clock and what do you do? You hop in a taxi and head all the way to Mayfair. I think therein lies a very interesting opportunity to be able to stay put in Knightsbridge, which is very nice.

SettePhoto Credit: David Cleveland

You chose London as your first international destination. Why London specifically?

We have always wanted to open Scarpetta abroad, and if you look at the European brands—Cipriani, Buddha Bar, Zuma—it’s always been European brands that have done that kind of international tour, if you will, whereas the American brands largely stay put at home. We’re in eight US cities, and for a long time we’ve wanted to go abroad. I just think Brexit or not,  2019 London really is the center of the universe. I think it’s the most international, cosmopolitan city on the planet, and it’s a gateway city to not just Europe, but to the Middle East and China at this juncture. So, rather than just do the typical resort hotel licensed deal, let’s go to the middle of the action and open right in the center of London… That was the thinking.

SettePhoto Credit: David Cleveland

Why was the Bvlgari Hotel such a good fit for the LDV brand?

Bvlgari’s ethos of effortless elegance is obviously way aspirational. It is expensive and absolute luxury, but Bvlgari from the hotel perspective truly understands today’s luxury is not uptight and fussy. It’s elevated, but it’s comfortable; it’s the intimacy of home. I think that that’s totally in line with our core DNA of Scarpetta. I’ve always stayed at the Bvlgari Milan, and they have this very active kind of aperitivo happy hour of getting all the tourists and locals together. It’s always been this dynamic social identity. I think that with Scarpetta, with Sette, it’s our opportunity to activate a localized London meets the world social element. That’s who we are and what we look to achieve.

Sette
Duck & Foie Gras Ravioli

Photo Credit: John Carey

Knightsbridge as a whole is very posh and upmarket though somewhat traditional. What kind of vibe do you hope the LDV/Scarpetta team brings to the area?

The idea of this formal fine dining restaurant will always have its place, but I don’t think it’s at the forefront of our social existence. If you look at Zuma, which is arguably one of the most successful restaurants in London—it’s been open for 15 years—the servers are laid-back, they’re in T-shirts. It’s proper, it’s quality, it’s elevated, and guests are comfortable in a T-shirt and trainers or a three-piece suit. That’s London today. Yes, there’s affluence and wealth and high taste, but comfort really is at the forefront of today’s social world, and that’s our objective. Don’t get me wrong, I love the British fairytale of walking down Mount Street in Mayfair and having lunch at the bar at Scott’s. I do it every time I come to town—it’s the first thing I do when I get to London—because that’s my dream of London. We as New Yorkers can’t possibly contribute to that—that’s a proper aristocratic British institution and that’s not who we are—so we have to bring our New York high-low balance. We have to bring our swagger.

Sette
Roasted Chicken

There are some signature Scarpetta items on the menu, but how will Sette differ?

Sette stands for seven and seven is a lucky number; it’s also our seventh location. We’ve always preached that we’re not a chain restaurant, and the idea of Scarpetta launching in London as Sette felt appropriate [in order] to be able to create something that’s authentic and true. The objective wasn’t just to open another Scarpetta restaurant. The food menu is 90 percent our Scarpetta classics with the whole team training in New York. Our chef’s name is Graziano Bonacina. We’re certainly allowing him some poetic license, both in terms of the creativity of the dishes and sourcing local product. We’re relieved, happy and excited to be able to work with local produce. We have access to extraordinary Italian and French produce: the local beef, seafood and lamb has been superb quality. Sette is Scarpetta at its fundamental core, but it’s specific to London. We’re also cooking with slightly less salt [because we’ve found that] the European palette is slightly more refined. Our signature dish is spaghetti, tomato, basil. It doesn’t get any more simple, everyday pedestrian than that. But we really put forth a lot of care, effort and technique to put forth something that’s absolutely elevated.

Sette
King Diver Scallops

Photo Credit: John Carey

Regarding the interiors, how hands-on were you with the decision to change up its look? When it was Rivea, the restaurant was in the basement, and the bar upstairs, which has since changed.

The Bvlgari partnership is a dream for us in that they’ve been very specific about “This is a LDV restaurant, this is the Scarpetta brand, you guys do what you do.” We have our own entrance, we brought in our own designer, Thomas Juul-Hansen, who designed the most recent Scarpetta in New York. We shared our design and collaborated to a degree with the hotel, but the whole point is to create an honest, independent restaurant—not a hotel amenity restaurant. I will say that where it differs from New York—albeit having the same design team and effort—is that it’s slightly more refined, slightly more elevated, with a more intimate dining room that’s slightly smaller. The materials—reclaimed mid-century modern walnut wood, Calcutta gold marble for the bar and a dressed up version of industrial light fixtures—speaks the same kind of language you’ll find throughout Scarpetta restaurants. It’s that high-low balance: That’s what makes us a New York restaurant, fundamentally. [Sette] has a New York soul. It’s polished, it’s elevated, it’s refined, but it still has a little bit of grit and a little bit of character and that always holds true. It was nice for us to play dress up just a pinch for London, which felt appropriate.

Sette
Nolita Social

Photo Credit: David Cleveland

Was the idea with Nolita Social to bring some of the NYC vibe to London?

Completely. Our most recent location for Scarpetta in the NoMad district of New York is the same format, with its downstairs lounge, The Seville. What’s funny about The Seville is that we took a lot of cues from classic British furniture and put it in a New York basement. [That being said], there was no aspect of a British bar that we would ever do in London; it would be totally inappropriate to have a British Soho House aesthetic. We’ve got to go all-in on this moment of New York glamour. I named it Nolita Social [because] Nolita is my favorite neighborhood in Manhattan. There’s this wonderful downtown New York [vibe] and a feminine sensuality to the space, as well as [a stellar] music program, cocktails and service. Having Nolita Social as a social experience—I’m not in the nightlife business, I always say I’m in the social business—after Sette, with live music and DJs, that doesn’t exist in Knightsbridge. It allows one to have the evening continue. It’s not a nightclub, it’s not a club, it’s not a pub—there are all those kinds of things in London. It’s a New York City lounge, with art direction from our good friend, artist Domingo Zapata. He did a series of three paintings for us which give character and life to the space. Our musical curation for Nolita Social is a very important part of the game for us in terms of creating the right vibe. His name is Stuart Bevan; he’s always been in the London musical world. He’s very involved in curating the bands and DJs, and the live music programing of Nolita Social is fundamental to its identity.

Sette
Domingo Zapata’s artwork on proud display at Nolita Social

Photo Credit: David Cleveland

Is there a signature cocktail on the menu?

I shouldn’t say this, but the Nolita Social menu is the best cocktail menu that we’ve ever had across our establishments. I’m so proud of it. It’s elevated, but there’s nothing precious about it. It’s not outlandish. It’s not a kitchen-comes-to-the-bar-with-molecular-gastronomy concept. With all the drinks, there’s a nice mix of savory and alcohol; you have lots of options. We named all of the cocktails after songs. I had about 200 of them in the last few weeks! If you asked me the one that’s going to sell the most, it’s called the “Tiny Dancer.” My favorite is “Good Vibration”: It is Tapatio tequila, cucumber bell pepper water and a spray of absinthe. It is refreshing and bright and easy and a little dangerous. [At Nolita Social] it’s really about the cocktails as opposed to the bottle service element you’d find at a nightclub. We’re not charging a premium for bottle service [either]. We want to make happy people.

Sette
The LDV brand ethos, on site at Nolita Social

Photo Credit: David Cleveland

 Will you have a VIP area?

Definitely not. There is a door discretion and of course we will curate the room. We want to cultivate a [specific] demographic.

Sette
La Dolce Vita, one of the many custom cocktails on the menu at Nolita Social

Photo Credit: David Cleveland

 Now that you’ve opened one international destination, are you eyeing others?

We had made the strategic decision to focus our Scarpetta growth abroad, starting with London. It’s the same thing that happened for us in the States: We opened in NYC in 2008 and were a successful restaurant with critical acclaim. We were then able to open in Las Vegas and Miami, and the rest was kind of history for us. We can’t go on and just sign up the deals that present themselves. We’ve already said no to plenty of international opportunities, because first we have to prove ourselves in London; we have to become part of the food community in London. Hopefully, when successful with that, of course I have dreams [of expansion]. I’m dying to open in Japan. I’d love to open in Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Milan or Rome. We’re in plenty of discussions, and we do expect that growth to happen, but right now it has to be all about London and achieving our potential in London prior to worrying about growth.

Sette
Bvlgari London

Photo Credit: Bvlgari London

What one aesthetic or thread binds all of your properties together in a celebration of “La Dolce Vita?”

La Dolce Vita—”the good life,” for me—is about everyday indulgence. It’s a community-centric approach: It’s not the most exclusive, private, dinner party for 10 people. You would do that in your home. Experiencing the good life in the public form that is a restaurant is about a bunch of people coming together and having a convivial, communal, engaged social experience with quality food and heartfelt service, even if they never speak with each other. There’s something aspirational and special about Nolita Social, Scarpetta and Sette; it’s not precious. Therein lies the beauty of human imperfection. We’re not chasing awards. It’s nice to get good reviews, but I don’t want to be part of the international fine dining community. That’s not the point. I want to be a part of people’s social existence, the place that they go and come back to. There has to be something inviting and comfortable about our restaurants and bars. My version of “la dolce vita” is a mix of people coming together and coming back together. It’s not an anniversary dinner or a once-in-a-lifetime extravaganza. We like when people celebrate special moments with us, but we like it even more when you get to know our maître d, get to know our bartenders, and it becomes home.

 Sette and Nolita Social are located at Bvlgari Hotel London, 4 Knightsbridge Green  London, SW1X 7QA, UK , +44 (0) 207 151 10 25

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