Without good reviews, without glamor and without a credit card, this restaurant became the refuge of the biggest stars

“What a disappointment! The food wasn’t much better than a McDonald’s hamburger, the cocktails were bland, the arugula salad only had rocket leaves, there is no background music and the atmosphere is boring. The site needs someone to take over as soon as possible.” The Italian restaurant that this user refers to with his criticism, published on a famous review web portal a few days after the pandemic began, is the same one that sophia loren went to dinner while filming in London The Countess of Hong Kong (1967). Twiggy celebrated his 21st birthday there. Fellini Y Antonioni They had a reserved table. valentine (the designer) would throw huge dinners with guests like Hugh Grant and it was easy for the British aristocracy and magazine models Playboy coincided at lunchtime on any given Tuesday. All this happened inside the San Lorenzo, which has closed after almost 60 years.

Alexis Parr remembers. She has been covering the most elite parties in London for decades for the English newspaper Daily Mail: “When you entered there was a small bar where you could have a peach bellini while you watched celebrities doing their typical gesture of air kissing [beso al aire]”. Today it is difficult for those kisses to be repeated: the Italian lowered the blinds in March 2020 and, although some thought that it would open again after successive confinements, its final closure was announced last June. The explanation that has been given is that the premises could not cope with the pandemic, largely due to its location in the Knightsbridge neighborhood, a few meters from the large Harrods department storeone of the most expensive areas of the English capital.

Sharon Stone leaving the San Lorenzo restaurant in London in the winter of 1996.Dave Bennett (Getty Images)
The late Patrick Swayze and his wife Lisa Niemi leave the San Lorenzo restaurant in the spring of 1995.
The late Patrick Swayze and his wife Lisa Niemi leave the San Lorenzo restaurant in the spring of 1995.Dave Bennett (Getty Images)
Brooke Shields and Andre Agassi after a summer dinner at the San Lorenzo in 1995.
Brooke Shields and Andre Agassi after a summer dinner at the San Lorenzo in 1995.Tom Wargacki (WireImage)

That’s what the owner family says. But behind the closure there are problems that started much earlier. In 2008, the newspaper Guardian made a selection of the most scathing restaurant reviews – the section is titled Better serve me cold– and one of them, from 1998, was about the San Lorenzo: “They serve a horrible meal, reluctantly, in a dining room that is more like a museum dedicated to the taste of Italian waiters of the seventies.” For others, like design critic Stephen Bayley, a contributor to ICON Designthe thing was not so bad: “Let’s see, the Bagna Cauda It wasn’t bad, and the retractable roof was always the talk of the town grissini. San Lorenzo was an Italian of the old school, he was not so Nonna’s kitchen [cocina de la abuela] What all’italian english cuisine [cocina inglesa a la americana]. He never pretended to authenticity or perfect execution, but it doesn’t matter. Most of the people who went there weren’t interested in eating.”

Many visited the restaurant simply because it was the place to be in the city to rub shoulders with Mick Jagger, Margaret Thatcher, Joan Collins, the Beckhams, Johnny Depp and Kate Moss or Prince Andrew. “Did you want to see what Elton John ate? In San Lorenzo you could ”, recalls Bayley. According to Parr, what was happening inside was from another world: “The actress and former Bond girl Marilyn Galsworthy, who was one of my best friends at the time, had a shop across the street. She was very funny. One day, after downing three bottles of pinot wine and God only knows how many limoncellos, she walked out of the restaurant and, in her own window display, in front of passers-by she began to pretend that she was masturbating.”

Al Pacino leaves the San Lorenzo restaurant in November 1994.
Al Pacino leaves the San Lorenzo restaurant in November 1994.Tom Wargacki (WireImage)
James Gilbey, lover of Princess Diana, protects himself from the paparazzi as he exits the San Lorenzo.
James Gilbey, lover of Princess Diana, protects himself from the paparazzi as he exits the San Lorenzo.DAVE BENETT-GLOBE PHOTOS (Getty Images)
John Travolta leaves the San Lorenzo restaurant in 2005.
John Travolta leaves the San Lorenzo restaurant in 2005.Niki Nikolova (FilmMagic)

But what brought so many celebrities to a site that originally had nothing special to offer? That’s where Mara Berni comes into play, the Italian who set up the place in 1963 together with her husband Lorenzo; she was the character who greeted clients with a hug and two kisses, making them feel like they were in a private club for which no membership fee was required. Mara made friends with many. He sent Sofia Loren loaves of bread with the letters SL engraved on the dough, without her knowing that all the bread in the house was signed like this: the actress thought they were referring to the initials of her name and surnames, not the initials. of the restaurant. Mara was also called the Rolling Stones in the wee hours of the morning, several times as well, asking him to please prepare dinner for them after a long day recording in the studio.

“Mara became a cult figure for many rich people who were lonely. They trusted her.” The Daily Mail. It refers especially to Lady Di. “She was also one of those who only ate crudités,” she adds. There are few articles on the Internet about San Lorenzo that do not mention the name by which Diana of Wales called the owner. She nicknamed her Mother Confessor because she predicted how unhappy she would be with Charles of England, as Madonna informed her in 2000 that she was pregnant, without the singer knowing it yet. A few months later their son was born. Rocco Richie.

Chris Hemsworth leaving San Lorenzo in 2019.
Chris Hemsworth leaving San Lorenzo in 2019.GORC (GC Images)
The late Michael Hutchence and his then partner, model Helena Christensen, leave the San Lorenzo restaurant in London in February 1995.
The late Michael Hutchence and his then partner, model Helena Christensen, leave the San Lorenzo restaurant in London in February 1995.Dave Bennett (Getty Images)
Joan Collins poses for photographers in 2002 outside the San Lorenzo restaurant.
Joan Collins poses for photographers in 2002 outside the San Lorenzo restaurant.Sion Touhig (Getty Images)

Week after week, at the door of the Italian the paparazzi waiting for the princess to arrive with her two children, and in fact, his relationship with Mara was so close that he summoned her to the Squidgygate, a torrid telephone conversation that came to light between Lady Di and her lover James Gilbey – with him she also went to taste crudités – on New Year’s Eve 1989. “It would be a mistake to say that the San Lorenzo was her dining room,” Bayley points out, “But it was his living room. And now it’s gone like all the fever dreams and fairy dust of Diana’s London.” Many say that the site lost its cache the day Mara died in 2012. In Parr’s words, however, the fall had been taking place since the charismatic manager Lucio Altana left in the early 2000s, later opening in the neighborhood. of Chelsea his own restaurant, still in operation: “Lucio took a lot of famous clientele, and in his place you could pay by card”.

Interior of the San Lorenzo restaurant in a promotional image of the restaurant, which closed last June.
Interior of the San Lorenzo restaurant in a promotional image of the restaurant, which closed last June.

There is a key fact with which the journalist concludes. The premises never had a dataphone, not even in recent years, when the San Lorenzo was already in the hands of the children of the original owners. They didn’t have a corporate email but a Gmail account, their Instagram profile (still open) indicated that the account could be run by anyone on the team, perhaps the same one who served the cocktails, and the dining room, despite having been renovated, looked like something out of a banquet hall for weddings and communions. It was difficult for someone to dare to share the experience of eating there on networks, and it was even more difficult for a restaurant to survive in the epicenter of a big city, sustaining itself only by nostalgia for a series of glories that had either already passed away. or they no longer mean anything to those who today, leaving Harrods loaded with bags and accompanied by their chauffeur, can afford to dine in London with tablecloths and cloth napkins.

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Without good reviews, without glamor and without a credit card, this restaurant became the refuge of the biggest stars


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