[note: I realize some of this may make us sound shallow, bourgeois, or self-centered; however, my goal is just to put down my experience in writing. Obviously, in the current economic climate, not everyone can enjoy expensive dinners at restaurants like The Ledbury, but at the same time, this was a special occasion, and certainly, an evening at a restaurant at this price level is not an extravagance that we can enjoy on a frequent basis, nor is a 200 GBP + meal an insignificant expense to us. I am, of course, not oblivious to the irony of the situation, and I also realize that we came out of this situation much better off than many people.]
On the evening of Aug 8, Louise and I were enjoying the tasting menu (a vegan version for me) at The Ledbury in London’s Notting Hill area. While Louise had seen some of the news about the riots, I was completely unaware, so I was very surprised when, around the 6th course, we heard some loud noises — not as loud as gunshots, but noticeable. The staff seemed worried, but it seemed as if it was something they knew about, like an unruly intruder. They had us get towards the inside wall, away from the windows, and get down towards the floor. Then there was a tremendous crash, and the glass front door, which the staff had apparently barred, came crashing in. A group of young guys, maybe late teens or early 20s, came running in. I think they were mostly, though possibly not exclusively, black, and some had their faces covered, perhaps with nylon stockings or masks. They had sticks and other improvised weapons. Despite reports in the foreign press of as many as 40 intruders, I don’t think there were more than 10 who actually came into the restaurant – probably closer to 6.
They told us to get down, and immediately started going around to each person, in a sort of clockwise rotation, asking for our watches. One of the intruders, I don’t recall what he looked like, came to me, with a fairly threatening manner, and asked for my watch; I said I didn’t have one, and he made me show him my wrists (I was trying to curl the finger with my wedding band so that it wasn’t as visible, but he didn’t actually seem that interested). He also didn’t ask me for a wallet (I had none anyway), phone, or cash (I had a little in the inside pocket of my coat).
At the time, it seemed like they were mostly interested in getting our valuables quickly and getting out, not destroying things. If not professional, it at least seemed like they had a good idea of what to get, and knew that they needed to move quickly. The intruders didn’t seem that interested in breaking anything, stealing alcohol, or setting anything on fire. Since there were no guns, and since people seemed to be complying with their demands, I wasn’t that frightened, especially since I was so unaware of the broader context of the riots.
Some time around this point, the kitchen staff came up from the basement kitchen armed with weapons of their own. Contrary to some reports, I don’t remember seeing any chef’s knives in hand, but I did see some rolling pins, and, later on, even noticed a chef brandishing a deep-fryer basket. I think by this point, the looters had gotten most of our valuables, and they ran out, as quickly as they came.
After they left, the staff started to clean up, and I assumed that service would eventually resume. The patrons were reacting in different ways – some seemed calm, but others were quite anxious, or were even crying. Many were on their mobile phones, contacting loved ones, trying to get a cab, texting, checking the news, or, perhaps, updating their status on social networking sites. Most of the staff seemed calm, but many of the front of house staff had also been robbed, and some of them seemed quite shaken as well. I asked Louise if she was Ok, and she told me that her wedding and engagement rings had been taken, but not her passport, purse, or camera. I picked up my glass of wine from our table, and had a few sips. At the time, I was still thinking that this was an isolated incident, and that service would resume — one of the women who was crying was at our table; at the risk of sounding like a food-obsessed yuppie, I will admit that I asked one of the waiters if we could switch to a nearby empty two-top.
The staff was starting to clean up the broken glass. They tried calling cabs for some patrons, and were told that no cabs would come to the area at that time. At some point, maybe 15-20 minutes later, someone said “they’re coming back” (there was still no visible police presence near the restaurant at this point; presumably they had bigger things to deal with), and the staff urged us to head down to the basement, where the kitchen and bathrooms of the restaurant area. We started filing into the restrooms, automatically splitting up by gender, which meant Louise and I were separated.
I ended up a bit behind the other guys, in the outer area of the men’s bathroom, with the stall locked. No one responded to my knocks at first, but eventually, the guys inside responded to me and asked if I wanted to come inside (I did). There were maybe 6 or 7 of us in the locked inner bathroom. We were mostly trying to stay quiet, although one man kept talking, and was repeatedly shushed by the rest of us. By this point, I regretted splitting up with Louise, and was a bit worried for her safety – I didn’t know where she was or who else was with her.
After another 5-10 minutes, the staff came and told us that we should come to the wine cellar, through the kitchen, but it was full, so those of us remaining were hanging out in the kitchen area, right outside the wine cellar. Some chocolate desserts came out, and a few espressos (for which someone had actually bothered to put in a ticket!!). Shortly after, we were told that it was safe to go upstairs. Some more taxis showed up, as well as the police. We were still uncertain whether it was safe to head to our hotel, so we hung out for a bit longer. When we mentioned our regret at not being able to finish the meal, one of the chefs insisted, despite our protests that it was unnecessary, on having some petit fours brought to us, still served in their cute little toffee box, set into cocoa nibs. Eventually, a mini-cab was called to take us back to the hotel.
After watching TV coverage back at the hotel, and getting a night’s sleep, the full impact of the evening’s events sunk in a bit more; I did feel somewhat anxious and cautious through the next day of our trip, but also relieved that we hadn’t ended up in a more serious situation. We spent the day shopping, and taking the Fuller’s brewery tour in Chiswick. When we arrived back to the hotel, it became clear that Louise’s 15 minutes of fame had arrived – not only were there numerous comments on her blog post, but there were requests for interviews from various media outlets.
Will wanted to give his version of what happened and here it is below: