The owner of London’s Wolseley restaurant, a favoured haunt for celebrities and power-lunching executives, has been forced into administration by its majority shareholder amid a long-running dispute over control of the company during Covid.
Minor, the Thai hotel operator, said on Tuesday that it had appointed administrators to oversee a recapitalisation of Corbin & King, owner of iconic haunts including the Delaunay and Brasserie Zedel as well as the Wolseley, a former car showroom next door to the Ritz on Piccadilly.
The move marks the latest clash in an ongoing spat between the restaurant company and its biggest financial backer that started early in the pandemic over site openings and staffing levels.
Minor said that Corbin & King had been “unable to meet its financial obligations” and that despite Minor’s “repeated proposals to recapitalise the company”, its chief executive Jeremy King and other shareholders had declined. Minor had “no other viable option than to appoint administrators”.
King, who founded Corbin & King with the purchase of the Wolseley in 2003 with his partner Chris Corbin, quoted Victorian poet William Blake when speaking to the Financial Times in response to the news: “A truth that is told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.”
“There is absolutely no need to go into administration, we are trading extremely well,” he added.
Corbin and King are renowned restaurateurs having made their name at the high-end London venues The Ivy and Le Caprice. Corbin & King restaurants have counted the pop star Victoria Beckham and actor Robert Downey Jr among their guests, while the artist Lucian Freud dined at the Wolseley most nights before his death in 2011.
A source close to the restaurateur’s management said, however, that Minor had offered cash to the company only in return for King relinquishing his board position and shareholding.
Minor said that it could not comment on King’s position but that it had offered “a number of commercially attractive expansion proposals” that King had blocked.
In a bid to oust Minor, Corbin & King has been holding talks over financing with US-based investment fund Knighthead Capital Management. The negotiations were first reported by Sky News.
FRP Advisory, the administrators appointed by Minor, were aware of Knighthead’s interest in the business, the person close to Corbin & King said.
It is the second time the group has discussed financial backing with the little-known Knighthead, which recently reaped the rewards of the car rental firm Hertz’s emergence from bankruptcy. It initially held talks with the investment firm in 2017 before Minor bought the majority shareholding from the private equity group Graphite Capital.
The appointment of administrators comes on the same day that Corbin & King was in court suing the insurer Axa to cover losses it incurred during repeated pandemic lockdowns.
The two-day case is being closely watched by other companies considering their own legal action against insurers on business interruption policies after lockdowns from March 2020 forced pubs and restaurants to close and unable to access their premises.
The High Court is being asked to examine the scope of Corbin & King’s so-called denial of access insurance cover — which compensates companies if their venues are shut by a statutory body because of a local “danger” — and whether Corbin & King’s claims are limited to just £250,000 payable by Axa in respect of all premises — or whether there is a limit of £250,000 for each set of premises, as Corbin & King contends.
Stonegate, owner of the Slug and Lettuce and Walkabout chains, is suing three insurers MS Amlin, Liberty Mutual and Zurich — for a total of £845m in a dispute over the extent of its insurance coverage for pandemic-linked losses.