Wiltons | 20y

Brighton-born Michael was the archetypal wandering star and followed his sister into catering. He saw an advert in The Caterer for a head waiter job at Wiltons in which he’d earn more than the assistant manager position he held at the time in Brighton. 20 years later he’s still there as the house manager of one of London’s most respected and historic restaurants.

Wiltons started life as an oyster stall at Haymarket in 1742, passed through several iterations and settled into its present-day location on Jermyn Street in 1984.

Over Michael’s time there, he’s brought down the average customer age by around ten years to the mid-forties, but has noticed the view of the waiting industry change from one of service to one of servility. He was the youngest member of staff when he started and is now the oldest. He learned real skills during his training, from actual cooking and understanding of the ingredients used, to knowing how to peel an orange without touching it.

He tells me Wiltons is almost a second home to many of its international customers, and several classic dishes were there when he arrived and will remain long after he leaves, such as the smoked salmon and dover sole.

When he first arrived, an older lady worked there who had a habit of using the next best thing when she couldn’t find the appropriate item. One evening she couldn’t find a teacup for a diner and so instead served him tea in a consommé cup with two handles. On seeing the customer’s puzzled reaction to the cup, the head waiter at the time rushed over and said ‘I’m sorry, sir: she didn’t know if you were left or right-handed!’.