20 August 2014

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The Playboy Club soft launches: interview with Judy Joo


Judy_Joo.jpgAfter a 30-year absence, the Playboy Club – once a destination of choice in the Swinging Sixties – returns to London on Saturday 4 June. The private members’ club will include a casino, a nightclub called the Cottontail Lounge, a cocktail bar from mixologist Salvatore Calabrese and a restaurant. In preparation for the launch, we caught up with executive chef and star of Iron Chef UK Judy Joo to talk about the food, the feel and those 'demure' Playboy bunnies.

What has been your remit when writing the menu for the new Playboy Club?
We’ve been trying very hard to stay true to the Playboy Club as it was in the 1960s, and create some nostalgia for that era both in the club and in the food. Steak is a major inclusion, then there are burgers and a main foundation of American classics: creamed corn, creamed spinach, disco fries with duck meat, then some great desserts like American sundaes, brownies, whoopee pie and blueberry pie. There are also a few dishes from my Korean heritage, things like Korean tacos. For those in the casino, there is also a gaming sandwich menu.

What will the feel of the club and The Dining Room be?
Jestico and Whiles, who designed the interiors at Hakkasan [in collaboration with Christian Liaigre] has done the design, so it is going to be very slick and very modern, with flashes of colour here and there: for example old 1960 Playboy covers lining the ceiling of the private dining room.

Will the price point put off a lot of potential customers?
It’s definitely a luxurious menu and setting, and we’re definitely hitting a higher echelon in terms of our price point.

Will the food play second fiddle to the club’s other entertainment, not to mention the Playboy bunnies?
Playboy_club_interior_bunnies.jpg The club is about the venue as a whole, it’s not just a casino or a restaurant. You can come here for a drink at Salvatore’s cocktail bar, or to get your hair done at the barber, or just for a smoke on the terrace.

Playboy has been accused by some of objectifying women over the course of its history. Was this a consideration for you when offered the job?
My first question was: ‘Is this a strip club?’. To which the answer was obviously: ‘No, it’s a casino and private members’ club’. I’m American and maybe more familiar with the brand than some Europeans. Personally, I don’t think the bunnies are that scantily clad. Compared to what you see if you turn on MTV they are tame and there is almost something demure about them.

Will it be a male-dominated environment?
Back in the 1960s, the average split was 60% men to 40% women, and that’s a statistic I’d love to bring back. I’m looking at doing some ladies' lunches and other things to bring in women. It’s really a place for everyone to enjoy. It should be easier now; back in the 1960s so many women were still housewives, and now they are high flyers and CEOs.

Have you met Hugh Hefner yet? He was at the Playboy Mansion when I flew out to interview for the job, but was being interviewed by Piers Morgan for TV. He's flying out to London, so I’ll meet him then. To make a brand this enduring and recognisable – you have to give him credit.

Playboy Club, Old Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1K 1ND, 020 7491 8586, playboyclublondon.com

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