In its 12th month, the Cube & Star has taken something of a change in direction. Within the last couple of weeks it's gone from being a restaurant and lounge bar to a lounge bar and club.
Changes were made at the end of last year when head chef Gustavo Agreda was replaced by Arnaud Stevens and the menu swapped its Nuevo Latino dishes for contemporary European cuisine with a Latin twist. But this still hasn't pulled in enough of the discerning City diners owner Mark Turner was hoping to attract, and both he and Stevens became increasingly frustrated at the level of food sales.
"Despite having built up a decent following for the restaurant side of the business it wasn't enough to justify the cost of the amount of space it was taking up," says Turner. The 40-seat restaurant occupied two-thirds of the ground floor; the business plan projection was that it should turn over £40,000-£50,000 a month and account for 59.4% of sales. In reality, food sales stood at £10,000 a month, accounting for just 20% of sales. So although the ground floor was actually licensed for 200 people, the most it saw was 50-60 on Friday and Saturday nights.
Turner insists it's not a reflection on the food offering but a symptom of the venue's location in Hoxton Square. "This area of London lends itself to a drinking environment rather than food, so the demand is much more for drink," he says. "The concept of a restaurant and bar together is difficult in this area, and although there are some successful stand-alone restaurants such as the Hoxton Apprentice, our competitors with successful bar businesses are selling dishes at £4-£5. We had to decide to go fully down the route of being a restaurant or a bar, and the figures told us to follow the bar route."
So having made the decision, Turner got rid of the dining tables and chairs in favour of lounge furniture and high pedestal bar tables and bar stools. He and Stevens then set about devising a funky bar food menu offering dishes that are "tidy, tasty and value for money". Everything is designed to be eaten by hand and the menu will change seasonally.
Presently there are about eight main courses priced at around £5 to £6 such as mini beef Wellington, salmon fishcakes, duck confit wraps, bruschetta with sirloin and a chicken and bacon pie in a terracotta pot with pastry fingers on the side to dip. Snacks such as marinated olives are available and there's also a small selection of desserts.
Turner has also challenged Stevens to come up with a recipe for the best burger in the area priced at £5 with a GP of 70%. The new bar menu has been well received, with sales doing particularly well at the weekend and 60 covers on the first Saturday night. Drinks sales have been very encouraging too, and the GP there is 75-85%. Turner has been selling off bin ends to reduce the wine stock and the plan is to offer five reds, five whites and two rosés, all available by the glass and priced at not more than £25 a bottle.
Inevitably, the operational changes have meant staff changes too. Staff costs currently run at 35%, with a target of 22% within six months. The number of full-time bar staff has increased to four and Turner himself plans to take on the role of head bartender. With the simplified food offering, the kitchen brigade is down to two chefs and a kitchen porter.
Stevens is staying on as part-time consultant to tweak the menu while also doing consultancy work in Devon. However, the Turner-Stevens partnership is far from over. The pair are looking for a West End site for a dedicated restaurant.
BOXTEXT: cube & star
BOXTEXT: Address 39a Hoxton Square, London N1 6SU
Owner Mark Turner
Opened May 2005
Food GP 70%
Drinks GP 75-85%
Staff costs 35%