Monthly Archives: January 2007

Relocation: I'm an Executive, Get me Out of Here [Financial Times]


Financial Times, March 4, 2006

Last summer I cleared my house out until all that was left were bare floorboards and dustballs and I moved, with my family, to California. I thought I had covered all the bases, as far as you can when you are starting a new life on the other side of the world. We found a family naive enough to want to rent our house and embark on the wretched experience that is school selection in inner London. The possessions that remained after the big cull – 109 boxes of books principally – left Tilbury Docks on a ship bound for the US. We found somewhere to live and a school for the children and, within a few weeks, had settled into the American way of life.

The important things went right. But, of course, there were hitches. No move is without them. The removal company held on to our possessions until we agreed to pay a substantial supplementary bill. They said we had underestimated the volume of the consignment. US Customs refused to release our container because the paperwork wasn’t in order. When the goods were eventually released, my computer’s hard drive had died. A small-print clause I had failed to spot in our insurance meant that we were not covered. With no financial rating in the US, I was denied a credit card, and my US bank froze my account several times, ominously citing anti-terrorism legislation. Oh, and my application for health insurance was turned down.

There were no such irritations for Ian McGeechan, who recently took up the post of director of rugby at UK Premiership champions London Wasps. This involved a move from Scotland, where he was director of rugby for the Scottish RFU, to somewhere within a commutable distance from London. McGeechan handed over the logistics of the move to the Relocation Bureau, a small UK-based company whose clients include Logitech,, Volvo and Cancer Research UK.

The timing of McGeechan’s move south was awkward in that it coincided with him having to be in New Zealand for the 2005 Lions Tour. “As I was 12,000 miles away from my wife, it was comforting for her to know that somebody was responsible for the move,” he says. “The Relocation Bureau co-ordinated everything. They scouted out areas for us to live and narrowed down a selection of houses. They got a good feel of what my wife wanted in a house and, once we had chosen one, they co-ordinated solicitors, builders and so on. They always kept us informed and dealt with all the details – even organising for a new fence to be built around the house before we moved in. I couldn’t have done any of that so it was good to feel the process was under control.”

McGeechan’s move was relatively straightforward, and domestic. But relocation companies really come into their own for globetrotters such as Nico Kelling, a senior manager at Infineon, the German semiconductor specialist. When Kelling moved from his home in Munich to Indiana for the company in 1998 he managed the relocation himself. “I spoke English and it was a short-term post so I just needed to find a furnished apartment to rent, which was easy,” he says. But in December 2005, when Infineon assigned Kelling to Tokyo, they offered him the services of a specialist, Going-There Destination Services. “They carried out a home search and handled all the red tape such as alien registration with local authorities and setting up a bank account. They organised an initial orientation tour of the city and helped with questions I had over a driver’s licence and phone service,” says Kelling.

“The biggest challenge in Tokyo is the language barrier, so it was time-saving to have help, particularly on the negotiations relating to my rental contract, which would have been more difficult to do alone.” He adds that he suspects having a Japanese-speaking expert on hand probably also widened his choice of places to live. “My options would have been limited to apartments with landlords who spoke English had I been looking on my own,” he says.

Linda Behnke, a partner at Golding Capital Partners, is a serial globetrotter. She relocated four times in 10 years for a previous employer, flitting between Munich, New York and San Francisco. Each move was managed by Mobility Services International, a company that claims to “demystify relocation”.

“They handled all aspects of the physical move,” she says. “I was very happy with them so used them every time.” Nevertheless she says each move was progressively more difficult. “This is partly because you amass more.” But the more angst-inducing aspects were out of her – and the relocators’ – control. “Every time we moved, the removal company underestimated the fee. I think it’s because they are aware that there are other [higher] bids and they figure they can’t lose as they will just change the price later,” she says.

Linda says each move has resulted in breakages, although they have all been covered by insurance. She also underwent the heart- stopping experience of $50,000 “going missing” as it was being transferred between her European and US bank accounts. Only dogged persistence on her part in getting the banks to tackle the problem – and the paper (and e-mail) trail she had kept of all her correspondence on the matter – resulted in her funds reappearing five weeks later. Her advice now: find a bank that is accustomed to dealing with ex-pats and clients on the move.

Having learned the hard way, Linda has two more tips for those relocating: “The move will always cost 20 per cent to 25 per cent more than you think it will and the consignment will always arrive later than promised,” she says.

These days, in a pressure-cooker global career market where a senior executive might be assigned a new post with as little as a week’s notice, corporations routinely offer the services of a relocation company along with the transfer orders. Big multinationals move between 1 per cent and 4 per cent of their employees around the world every year and turn to relocation specialists such as Cendant, Prudential, Sirva and Weichert to help them do it. Many of the these behemoths include removal companies and real-estate networks in their corporate portfolios.

The benefits offered in a relocation package differ from one company to the next, and are negotiable depending on the seniority of the employee, the degree to which the corporation wants to retain him or her, and the perceived “hardship” factor of the move. Along with the task of physically moving a household and its contents, services may include assistance with selling an existing home, identifying suitable neighbourhoods and schools, as well as financing a home purchase in the new location. Orientation services may include guidance on setting up bank accounts and getting connected with local ISPs, access to on-the-ground agents with local expertise, as well as “spouse support”, which might include information on local job resources or educational courses.

Companies engage relocators with one main objective: to move an employee swiftly and with the minimum amount of upheaval, so that they are at their desk and functional as soon as possible. “From a company viewpoint, the employee is at work working rather than house hunting, school hunting, or putting up pictures,” says Craig Vassie, a partner at The Relocation Bureau. Or, as John Arcario, executive vice-president at Cendant Mobility, puts it: “If somebody is moved without a relocation expert it’s the employer that suffers because you end up with a distracted employee and a potentially unsuccessful move.”

Chuck Stewart, client services director at Going-There, says cost- cutting has had an effect on the nature of the perks offered by corporate relocation. Increasingly, advantages such as the employer buying and selling-on a home, bridging loans and compensation for a spouse’s lost earnings are reserved for the “top brass”, he says. And some companies are choosing the self-help option. “There’s a trend for companies to give employees a lump sum and tell them to manage the move themselves,” he says.

There is no average cost for a relocation. Variables such as the value of an employee’s home and his or her seniority all play a part. The Relocation Bureau charges about £5,000 to relocate what it terms an “executive family”. At the other end of the scale Arcario estimates that the outlay for a multinational moving a senior executive with expensive housing requirements from New York to London would be well in excess of the value of his or her annual salary.

It is not just the corporate world that hires relocation companies. Two years ago the University of Southampton introduced relocation services as part of its staff recruitment policy. “We wanted to attract the best staff from wherever they were based geographically,” says Zelda Franklin-Hills, the university’s head of staff diversity. “It is stressful moving to a new job and it makes sense to offer support to ease those pressures so new staff can settle in and contribute to the university quickly.” Franklin- Hills has also observed how an offer of help with relocation can make the difference between a faculty member accepting a post at the university or elsewhere. “It can be the deciding factor between one job and another,” she says.

Although it is difficult to see how having expert guidance cannot be beneficial for people on the move, there are times when relocation companies can be more of a hindrance than a help. This proved the case for one family who moved within the US last year. The non-profit organisation for which the husband is a director selected a relocation agent, ostensibly to work on the family’s behalf. The agent was to sell the family’s existing home and help them find a new one in the city they were moving to, as well as manage the bridging loan provided by the husband’s employer and oversee the transportation of their goods. However, because the agent was overseeing the financial side of the move, which directly implicated the employer, the family didn’t feel their interests were being best served.

The relocator also appointed a real-estate agent based in a town 20 miles from where the family wanted to live. Feeling he lacked the local knowledge they needed, the family had to negotiate to select their own realtor. “There were times when we seriously thought about getting shot of the relocator,” says the mother of the family, who would rather not be identified, “even if that meant sacrificing the benefits that were being offered, such as the loan to buy a new home.”

In the end, though, a good experience with a relocation company can mean the difference between a successful move and one that flounders or fails. Had I been forewarned about consignment size, credit ratings and how to fill in a health insurance application, I may have avoided some of the headaches of my move.

The value of having someone on hand with local expertise is also repeatedly cited by relocation companies and those who have used them as being critical to a smooth transition. “You might be moving to the Bay Area in California, but do you know which neighbourhoods have the right schools for your children, employment possibilities for your spouse and like-minded communities to live in?” says Arcario at Cendant Mobility.

Meanwhile Vassie at The Relocation Bureau recalls a case of an American executive who was moving to the UK for her first overseas posting for a large multinational. “She was being helped by US ‘counsellors’ based in Connecticut,” he says. “As she needed to be within reach of Heathrow and a factory in Peterborough she was advised to live in King’s Cross.” It was a few years before the current regeneration scheme, and “it took us a while to persuade her that living next door to pimps and drug addicts wasn’t exactly a good idea.”

Reviewed: Tapas Brindisa, London [Bankside Book]

From the book “Bankside”

Tapas Brindisa
18-20 Southwark Street
Borough Market
London SE1 1TJ
Tel: 020 7357 8880
Monday to Saturday, 11am-11pm Friday and Saturday, Spanish breakfast 9am-11am
No bookings

brindisa-2.jpg brindisa-1.jpg

For anyone with more than a passing interest in good food, there can be few more pleasurable experiences than taking breakfast at Tapas Brindisa in the heart of London‘s foodie destination of choice: Borough Market.

Friday or Saturday mornings is the time to catch this relatively new, but already immensely popular, Spanish eaterie at its quietest. Order a dish of grilled Leon chorizo, eggs and potatoes to have with your coffee, or nibble on a slice of Catalan Llesca (country toast) with lavender honey. The mood is mellow as the market slowly begins to hum into life around you.

Brindisa and Borough go together like a plate of their Villarejo Manchego cheese and its accompanying quince paste. The Brindisa market stall has been at Borough for more than seven years, selling everything from Spanish smoked paprika to giant paella pans. On Saturdays there is always a long, snaking queue for its fresh chorizo, rocket and optional piquillo pepper rolls, the spicy sausages cooked on a huge open grill.

Tapas Brindisa chef José Manuel Pizarro, formerly at Gaudi and The Eyre Brothers, says he appreciates having suppliers a stone’s throw from his kitchen. “I can select ingredients personally and see what is good on the day,” he says.

The restaurant is on a corner site and what it lacks in space is made up for in its warm, inviting décor. Borough-based architects Greig and Stephenson, who planned the recent, dramatic refurbishment of the entire covered market, designed the restaurant with its iroko and black walnut wood banquettes and striking combination of tomato red and creamy beige walls. The traditional ham box is integral to the design. Succulent sides of ham are visible through its plate glass window and entice customers in from Southwark Street.

Pizarro hails from Cáceres in south-west Spain, but prepares dishes from across the country using a variety of regional products. The seasonal menu is divided into cold and hot tapas. Charcuterie, cured fish and speciality cheeses dominate the former and are available throughout the day. A selection of acorn-fed Ibérico cured meats washed down with a glass of La Gitana, a dry, straw-coloured sherry from San Lucar de Barreneda, makes a perfect marriage.

Other choices include La Peral blue cheese with prunes or some cured Cantabrian anchovies from Ortiz. Alternatively, you could perch on a stool at one of the tall tables and have a glass of Rioja with a snack of salted Marcona almonds or hot pickled chillies.

Tapas Brindisa’s commitment to the quality of its cured meats is such that it employs a ‘cortador’, or professional ham carver. In Spain master carvers are integral to the Spanish way of life. Now, in a snug restaurant under south London’s railway lines, the impressive figure of José Daniel “Chuse” from Aragón demonstrates to Brindisa staff, as well as curious customers, this traditional skill, honed over the centuries.

Those who drop by for lunch or in the evenings can choose from a selection of hot tapas that includes deep-fried Monte Enebro cheese with orange blossom honey, Pardina lentil and Alejandro chorizo stew and Catalan spinach with pinenuts and raisins. Or they may opt for a simple fillet steak or potato omelet.

The wine list is small but perfectly formed. One of the restaurant’s favorite suppliers is Telmo Rodriguez, a dynamic young Basque winemaker whose family has had an estate in Rioja for years. Rodriguez has made a name for himself revitalizing ailing vineyards across Spain. His Basa 2004, Verdejo Rueda, a fresh, grassy white, is a favorite among regulars.

The restaurant’s clientèle reflects its neighborhood, being a mix of ‘suits’ holding impromptu meetings over tapas, locals and market-goers, including at the weekends visitors from abroad and families.

What sets Brindisa apart from the capital’s other tapas bars is its emphasis on provenance. Owner Monika Linton began her business importing Spanish cheeses in 1988 and has forged strong relationships with Spanish suppliers ever since. She travels the country sourcing only what she deems to be the best of the best.
This is reflected in the restaurant’s menu where suppliers’ names are always cited: from the Joselito cured meats to Ramon Peña’s Galician squid.

Thus, the beautifully packaged 70% solid chocolate made by renowned Barcelona chocolatier Enric Rovira may seem a little pricey – and it is arguably a tad too sophisticated for the children – but it makes a fine cup of dark hot chocolate to sip on a chilly morning before launching oneself into London’s foodie heaven.

Review: Delfina Studio Café, London [Bankside Book]

From the book “Bankside”

Delfina Studio Café
50 Bermondsey Street
Tel: 020 7357 0244
Open daily for lunch, Friday dinner

delfina-3.jpg delfina.jpg delfina-2.jpg

The Romans beat leather on Bermondsey Street and it was not that long ago that the last tannery, specializing in exotic hides such as ostrich and boa constrictor, moved out of the area. But when entrepreneur Digby Squires bought the former chocolate factory that houses Delfina Studio Café in 1994, the neighborhood was little more than a run-down assortment of derelict warehouses and workshops. However, the vast open spaces and hive of outbuildings that once churned out sugar-plum chocolate and popping candy were the perfect home for his charity, the Delfina Studio Trust, an organization that helps young visual artists.

Today its three gallery spaces and 35 studios contribute to a thriving heritage conservation area that has attracted a vibrant mix of small, craft-based businesses, restaurants and boutiques.

Not only are the resident artists given the chance to develop their work without commercial pressure, they are also lucky enough to be able to have a permanent table reserved for them in the sleek Delfina Studio Café, which has evolved considerably since its days as an in-house canteen.

The restaurant, with its airy, open-plan space, scrubbed floor and whitewashed walls, is like a vast blank canvas. In that way it is the perfect match for head chef Maria Elia who brings to the kitchen a rich palette of experience and influences. This is someone who has worked on a luxury private yacht, sourcing produce at markets and fish on the docks of Greece, Turkey and Cuba. Headhunted to be chef of a country club in Dorset, she was asked on her first day to design a kitchen in a squash court.

In Phoenix, Arizona she learned the cooking of the deep south and how to make Tortilla soup. She revitalized the menu at a health spa near Montepulciano in Italy and is still so passionate about her craft that she spends her holidays on cookery courses in India and Thailand, or in the kitchens of restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne. Her conventional apprenticeship includes spells at London’s Coast restaurant and at Ferran Adrià’s renowned El Bulli near Barcelona, recently voted the best restaurant in the world.

The result, she insists, is not “fusion”, rather using the best ingredients in less obvious ways. This might translate as a starter of pan-fried squid with zhoug-dressed butternut squash and a main course of Miso-marinated perch with pickled cabbage and beansprout salad; or roast rabbit with artichoke skordalia, shaved fennel and crispy potatoes. “Taste, texture and presentation” is Elia’s mantra and there is clearly no rule-book. “Why does a meringue have to be in the shape of a nest? Why not a square or a triangle?” she asks.

Such adventurism is in safe hands, however, as the dishes, while always inventive, are also delicious. The menu changes every three weeks and there is always a special of the day as well as a staple dish of Australian fish. This always popular choice came about as the result of a good relationship with an Australian seafood supplier – it is also a deliberate attempt to avoid using species of fish that are suffering depleted stocks. Elia sees it as a chef’s duty to “give those fish a break” and allow restocking for future generations.

So, one might find Barramundi on the menu, or Dhufish, Albacore, Spangled Emperor, Leather Jacket or Sweet Lips. Although the names may be unfamiliar, albeit colorful, all the fish are meaty and dense and served simply chargrilled with a big wedge of lemon and some organic leaves.

The atmosphere at Delfina is relaxed and the décor soothing: touches of pale green and navy blue accent the white backdrop and there is space to breathe. All reasons the restaurant attracts a mélange of artistic types and local crafts people, as well as staff from the nearby Financial Times and City workers. Some simply drop in for coffee and to view the studio’s permanent exhibition, which is owner Digby’s Squire’s personal collection built up over many years.

And there is always the permanent table of resident artists for added color. What is certain is that the artists that have moved on from Bermondsey Street – and the list comprises a stellar collection of Turner Prize nominees including Keith Tyson, Mark Wallinger and the Wilson Twins – will be missing those lunches.

Review: The Anchor & Hope, London [Bankside Book]

From the book “Bankside”

The Anchor & Hope
36 The Cut

Tel: 020 7928 9898
Monday to Saturday, lunch and dinner
No bookings

ah-1.jpg ah-2.jpg

When celebrity chef and original enfant terrible of the gastro world Marco Pierre White recently handed back his Michelin stars and extolled the virtues of simple food, you knew there must be something going on. And that something appears to be, in London at least, a return to good, wholesome, unpretentious food. Even, dare one say it, a renewed appreciation of traditional English cooking – a concept that the Anchor & Hope, a down-to-earth pub near Waterloo station, embraces to the full.

From the outside, the place is unprepossessing: a no-frills corner pub, painted gun-metal grey, sited under a dreary red-brick council block. Step inside and there are no great revelations: the latest owners took just one month to redesign the interior. Much of this time was spent stripping out existing fittings to create a pared-down, open-plan space with scratched floorboards, a bar and adjoining dining room and a tiny open kitchen. The walls are Roast Beef red and the ceiling is Nicotine Yellow (actually a rather pleasing shade of cream). More shabby than chic.

If it’s just a drink you’re after, the pub has Bombardier and Eagle on tap. There’s a commendably priced wine list that is firmly rooted in the Old World with French varieties in the ascendant. Or you might choose a crisp, dry sherry to whet your appetite, served in a plain ice-frosted tumbler. Ask for a dish of croutons with rabbit rillettes or brandade to accompany your drink.

The menu is deliberately ‘deconstructed’ which means you pick whatever takes your fancy with many dishes lending themselves to being starters or main courses. That said, hearty eaters will relish the selection. Begin perhaps with potato soup and foie gras, smoked herring and lentils, whole crab and mayonnaise, or a plate of winkles. Follow this with smoked Old Pot chop and prunes, or fennel and Berkswell gratin, braised venison and red cabbage or devilled kidneys and potato cake.

The emphasis is on seasonal dishes, the kitchen champions the less commonly used meat cuts, such as mutton and duck’s heart (prepared in a risotto) and many of the raw ingredients are sourced at nearby Borough Market.

The pub has become known for its big, often slow-cooked, dishes, which are delivered to the table in steaming earthenware pots to be shared with friends. There is shoulder of lamb with gratin dauphinois (“for 5-ish” suggests the menu), duck stuffed with faggots with turnips and beans, or pheasant with red cabbage and quince. This is sociable, democratic eating at its best.

Desserts may include panna cotta and rhubarb, lemon tart or chocolate and hazelnut cake with vanilla ice cream.

Like the wine list – a subjective selection for which manager Robert Shaw makes no apologies (“we prefer the subtleties of the traditional wine countries”) – the Anchor & Hope is a very personal venture. Shaw says the owners – himself and the two chefs – wanted to create the sort of place they themselves would want to go to: “Somewhere you could meet your friends and chat over a drink and then, after a while, have supper.”

When it opened, the capital’s chattering classes, and its restaurant critics, flocked to the Anchor & Hope and were fulsome in their praise. Giles Coren in the Times described it as “properly good”. “And,” he added, “of properly good restaurants in London, we have but a handful. Barely a clutch.” In the Sunday Times, A.A. Gill wrote: “The Anchor & Hope looks like a crap pub. It’s a brilliant restaurant. It’s what we’ve been waiting for.”

Such approbation drew the crowds, and for a while the Anchor & Hope was a victim of its own success and there just weren’t enough tables to go around. The pub has settled into a more accommodating rhythm now, however, and – as long as you are comfortable with the idea of a relaxed pre-dinner drink at the bar with a few mouth-watering nibbles – a table will be forthcoming. Tripe and chips anyone?