One of the best known names in the restaurant industry, Robert Walton MBE has been a loyal supporter of the spice restaurant scene, as a past owner of a curry restaurant and a long term member of the Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs. He has also been one of the judges at the British Curry Awards giving the event the benefit of his many years of experience in the hospitality industry.
Spice Business recently caught up with Robert and asked him how he thinks the business will change post-Covid. As ever upbeat and optimistic, Robert says, “I think there’s lots of new opportunities after Covid, and restaurateurs, chefs and owners have been very creative through this period. The pandemic has given us time to reflect on where our businesses were and where they will go in the future and that has to be a good thing.”
He also highlights the availability of some good property deals. “Rents are good and rates are good,”he points out. “There is a desire for people to eat out but the most important thing is great service and great quality of products. If you get that right the opportunities are endless.”
Nonetheless, challenges remain and in particular staffing is a big problem area. Robert says, “With the assistance of the government, customer demand is there, but at the moment the issue is staffing in all areas of hospitality.”
Robert has always loved South Asian food and says he has really enjoyed judging the British Curry Awards which he describes as “an absolute phenomenon.” He adds, “My love for food is based on all cuisines. When I had my own curry restaurant, it was always a great experience and also a great addition to my culinary development.”
Hospitality is in Robert Walton’s blood, having been brought up in a pub in Berkshire. However, it was his love of people that led him to a career in hospitality as his first job was working in a London restaurant as a trainee manager.
Shortly afterwards, he enrolled at Ealing College under Victor Ceserani to study cooking and hospitality which was when he went into the kitchen for the first time. Robert’s passion for food was ignited and after working in The Savoy in London, he moved to Bedford for a role as a Sous Chef when he was just 19 years old. After a stint there, he moved again to a restaurant in Scotland where he continued his hospitality journey by working to manage the kitchen aged just 21. After a successful time in Scotland, Robert returned to London as the chef in a restaurant beneath a casino where he started to build an incredible network of influential people.
Robert’s stellar contact book laid the foundations for his very first restaurant when he was 24 years old. Named Petit Village in Caversham, he served dinner to celebrities including George Melley, Sheena Easton and David Jacobs. His next establishment was Pinscent Manor in Reading, a nine bedroom hotel with tennis courts and a swimming pool which he opened at age 27. Robert converted Pinscent Manor into a restaurant which attracted celebrity customers including Frank Bruno, Sheila Ferguson and Barbara Woodhouse.
It was when Robert was 33 years old that he purchased Trunkwell House in Reading, a beautiful Victorian venue in 34 acres of countryside. This venture was the busiest wedding venue in Berkshire with two marquees permanently set up in the grounds and 8,000 people through the doors on average over the Christmas period.
Robert joined the Restaurant Association in 1992 where he met incredible chefs, friends and mentors including Richard Shepherd and Brian Turner CBE. He was appointed Vice Chairman and Chairman before finally becoming the President of the Restaurant Association in 2008. Robert is now the longest serving President of the organisation.
In 2007, Robert received an MBE in the Queen’s New Year honours list for services to the hospitality industry. He attended the ceremony with his two children and shared the day with fellow celebrities including Kylie Minogue and Jo Malone, who received an OBE and MBE respectively.
The Nth Degree Club was founded by Robert in 2013 with a view to connecting members through the joy of fine dining. In 2019 he launched The Nth Degree Global which has added some high profile industry events to the hospitality calendar, including the Restaurant Association’s 50th Anniversary with a guest list of industry greats including Prue Leith CBE and Anthony Worrell-Thompson. In 2019, The Nth Degree hosted a special star-studded Restaurant Association Gala Dinner at The Savoy where Albert Roux OBE, Michel Roux Jr. and Emily Roux were presented with the Restaurant Association Award for Services to Hospitality, which was designed and sponsored by Faberge. In 2020, James Martin presented Brian Turner CBE with the same award again at The Savoy.