Although less than a minute from Cannon Street station, like many of London’s 110 livery halls, the ancient guild of hoteliers and hospitality is located away from the City’s bustling streets. From its exterior, you’d never guess what’s inside. Indeed, to many outsiders, livery halls such as Innholders are discreet, secretive venues.
“The main goal when I took over in September 2012 was to give this place kudos”, Herbert Berger explains over coffee and some of his homemade biscuits. “To give it a name and create a reputation as a leading livery hall event space in the City. And that’s still the aim – it’s much nicer to dine in a place like this than an annexed private room in a restaurant or hotel. And there’s all the history behind it – it’s like a museum.”
We’re sat around an ornate table in the venue’s grand Old Court Room, surrounded by artefacts including a collection of ceremonial spoons dating back to the 1600s. Dressed in pristine, branded chef whites, Berger is explaining how, after 14 years of being chef partner at 1 Lombard Street, he came to take over the catering at this impressive venue.
“I happened to sit next to the hall’s clerk at a dinner I went to and he was saying how they were thinking of outsourcing its catering”, he says. “A lot of livery halls have outside catering companies coming in to do an event, before moving on again. They wanted to be different and to have a permanent individual”.
“I was still at Lombard Street, but I knew then that the end was brewing. I had a fantastic time there but partnerships don’t always work out. We just didn’t agree on which direction to should go in and decided to part company.”
A year later, at the same dinner, the two met again and, despite Berger’s plan to either buy a hotel in the countryside, open a new restaurant or concentrate on his hush-hush ongoing fast-food concept, this time the partnership was settled.
Since moving to England in the early 70s “because of a girlfriend, which was a good reason – at the time”, Berger has had an impressive career that includes stints at the Connaught, Claridge’s, Mirabelle and Café Royal. With Michelin stars earned from three separate restaurants, it is this experience, and the venue’s history, that Berger hopes will cement its reputation in the events industry.
So what’s Berger got his sights on next? Another livery hall, perhaps? “I’m not saying no, but that would be a very careful decision”, he muses. “It would have to be something special as I am committed to this and there’s so much potential here. Even though we’ve grown so much, I don’t want to dilute myself. A lot of this is based on my name, on me being here and of trust. For me it’s important to have that contact with the client. I don’t want to be one of those chefs where the customers come and they’re never around. It doesn’t work for me.”
Later, we’re given a tour of the venue, from the striking hall itself through to the kitchens, where the team are preparing for a Lord Mayor’s dinner that evening. Then we get the chance to have a peek inside Berger’s office. We’re greeted by a huge mounted stag skull. It’s of that deer he shot and ate. Proof, if needed, that he really doesn’t waste a thing; least of all an opportunity to impress the guests who attend his events.