Sam and Jacqui

Okay, so like I said, I’ve been rewatching The Restaurant.

I freely admit to being obsessed with the show. At the time, friends and I would merrily chat away about it in the office, or pub, or over dinner. Months later, we might still pass a little time by trying to list all the establishments across the three series (“The Treacle Well, Sorbet and Seasons … Nel’s”). Years on, though, I’m still devoted.

Why? Those first two runs were beautifully made, ambitiously staged productions. The third, less so.  Plus, there was something satisfying about the scheduling (a ‘regular’ episode followed the next day by ‘The Challenge’ – a real treat) and the fact the couples featured in the programme were mostly likeable.1 The drama didn’t lie in skewering people (although, see footnote). It was in the rigors of running an actual restaurant in a competition overseen with smiles and benevolence by Raymond Blanc.

And then there was the title sequence. Series one’s is replete with pleasing, resonant soundbites: “To start a business with someone you don’t bloody know – it’s a bit daunting!”… “They really, really have to sort that kitchen out”… “Where’s 6, guys? Come on!”… “If I feel I’m having to fight you as well!”/”You’re being so stubborn”.

I’m up to episode four at the moment. I’d say  to this point it’s all been about  Sam and Jacqui and their ambition to mash “hospitality and humour” at The Ostrich. I’d love to know where their story went after this. She, the likeable but wired American front-of-house, he, the pouting jazz drummer, forever going AWOL from the kitchen and messing about with those sodding drums.

I’ve condensed their time in the show into a little under three minutes. I think it gets all the salient points.

Love the “Woo” at 1 min 41 secs.


  1. Chris and Jade, excepted, perhaps – when their restaurant is closed in episode two, the show very deliberately and brutally makes time to point out that, as Laura says, there isn’t anything about them anyone will miss.

The Restaurant
What have I been doing since I mothballed the original version of this website back in 2010? I’ve been doing a lot of freeze-framing and Google Mapping to identify the locations of all the eateries featured in the first two series of BBC2’s Raymond Blanc-helmed The Restaurant

View The Restaurant’s restaurants in a larger map

Look how close Studio New York (series 1) was to The Blue Goose (series 2) – and how the M40 is a kind of Route 66 through ex-Blanc establishments…

The Restaurant ran for three series over 2007 and 2009 – the first two being perhaps the most sublime British example of the reality show genre. By the third, the programme had relocated to Bristol, with fewer actual restaurants opening, the separate ‘Challenge’ episode  ditched and Raymond ultimately going into business with the culinary-clueless barmen JJ and James. It made for comparatively unsatisfying television, but one can perhaps respect M. Blanc’s reasoning for his decision. Which goes like this…

I had a bunch of people that the BBC found for me, who were pretty useless. Pretty dismal. What was missing? Love! What was missing? Interest! Curiosity! Basic ability to cook! Knowledge of produce! A lot was missing. And I was looking at a bunch of misfits and thinking, “Oh my God, I’m going to lose another £200,000!” And then I looked at the CVs and there were two boys called JJ and James. One kept winking at me, and the other kept flicking his hair back all the time, thinking he was Apollo. But on their CV: the best mixologist in Great Britain. That changed everything. So instead of doing a restaurant with them, we did a cocktail bar. Now JJ and James are opening their third cocktail bar in London. They’re hard working, they’ve stopped winking at me… they may not be able to cook, but my God, they can do the greatest cocktails.

For the umpteenth time, I’m rewatching the series and, oh look, in episode one, there’s Nigel Leck (the project manager in BBC2’s The Million Pound Property Experiment, 2003) having a bad time in Studio New York…

Nigel Leck in The Restaurant

“..the chips were just frozen chips; not very well cooked. And the bun was burnt.”


Nice beveling, Andy!

Nice beveling, Andy!

I’ve been watching Changing Rooms.

A whole internet of TV to choose from, and I choose Changing Rooms. Episodes back-to-back. In this hot weather, with the windows open, one imagines my neighbours thinking, “No, that can’t be…” as they catch snatches of Phil Burns’ 1 urgently upbeat theme tune tootling through the haze.

It’s strange revisiting a once-TV phenomenon like this. Something that came along in 1996, perkily changed lifestyle programming forever – and neighbours’ homes less permanently – then DIY’d a sudden death in 2004 and was never spoken of again.

The several or so episodes I watched were spread across the series’ lifespan, opening with decoupage in Woolton Village, Liverpool, and a cream and biscuit colour scheme from Graham Wynne. Decoupage. Graham Wynne. I’m certain no-one’s typed either phrase for 10 years.

"Here's a handy tip to age it - teabags!"

“Here’s a handy tip to age it – teabags!”

"I'm *really* happy with it, Carol"

“I’m *really* happy with it, Carol”

Watching the show feels like attending a party where everyone’s there under sufferance, but keen to jolly things along. There’s a tinge of desperation to each exchange, as people who aren’t necessarily witty look for humour – “Ah! Mr Kane! How are you getting on with that fretwork?”/”I’ll give you fretwork in a minute, gal! ” And interjecting regularly are those shrill musical stings, as if anxiously shuffling guests from buffet to bar area.

I kept watching.

"Oh you!"

“Oh you!”

Quintessential shot of LLB essaying his bold paint choice to this week's possibly LGB couple

Quintessential shot of LLB essaying his bold paint choice to this week’s possibly LGB couple

By the time I got to the 1998 episodes 2 we have the Changing Rooms leitmotif captured in the opening titles – Graham’s tart “oh you!” expression as he busily exits a room. There are other things going on too. Linda Barker brings out a big stencil, but insists it need not be naff; the show now aware of its own cliches. And there are same-sex couples joining in the fun but it’s never a thing, which is quietly impressive.

As I continue, a second generation of designers arrive. The Tank Girl-esque Laura McCree who’s desperate to ‘do’ the banter but can’t quite put it together. Oliver Heath unpacks technical drawings and scaffold poles and then there’s Michael Jewitt. I refuse to pop a grab of him onto the site, because I got a real thrill from not only realising that’s a name I’d comprehensively forgotten, but also a face too. Michael Jewitt, eh? Used to watch him on Wednesday nights. There’s also an evolution within the old guard. By 2002 Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen had (PVC) trousered a more grown-up gig on BBC2 with Home Front: Inside Out, and it’s notable that here he begins to refer to his design ideas a little loftily as “the scheme”.

I actually think LLB has been ill-served by television, because he’s a natural and effortless educator. A Johnny Ball in a massive shirt. But it’s he who quickly sinks Changing Rooms when Carol Smiley exits in 2003.

Captured here is the moment the leak is sprung. It’s all about to happen in Conisborough on Changing Rooms

It’s wrong, isn’t it? That level of self-awareness. Sure, you could argue it’s prescient – this we-know-we’re-a-bit-crap-really style of presentation has become the standard mode of address for some of the BBC’s more arch entertainment shows. But on Changing Rooms? You’ve got to be in the moment, not outside it, smirking. As a result, the feeling of urgency goes 3 and the programme brought down the (distressed in wax) shutters the following year.

We didn’t want our show trying to be clever. We wanted a clutch of good-hearted, resoundingly average folk coming together to make a nice thing within a spuriously prescribed time-frame. We wanted medium-density fun.


  1. Of course he has a website
  2. The point at which the show transferred from BBC2 to BBC1
  3. …along with those bluebottle-esque musical stings