Turning up the heat at the home of rugby
Former England and Lions International Simon Shaw is the Ambassador at the new M Bar & Grill in Twickenham. Here, RiverTribe Editor Linda Duberley meets the rugby legend and finds out more about this latest addition to his outstanding career.
It is difficult to imagine how a 6’8” tall rugby England and Lions international, with hands the size of dinner plates, and a voice as resonant as Big Ben manages to come across as unassuming but somehow Simon Shaw manages this tricky combination.
His achievements on the pitch are legendary and his business acumen is well known. Even his artistic sensibilities draw praiseworthy comments, yet he is the kind of man who instantly puts everyone he meets at ease.
Which is just as well because his new role in life needs all of the above and possibly a serving of his legendary hospitality and warmth as well.
Simon Shaw is an investor and Ambassador for M Bar & Grill Twickenham, the latest restaurant to open along our stretch of the Thames. He is, in all respects, the ideal choice. People really like him but more importantly they respect him.
I’ve been fortunate enough to interview some incredible people from actors to singers, artists, politicians and other sportsmen and women, but this is the only time my brother has felt the need to down tools from a fairly busy job at The Hague and phone in a couple of questions for someone I am about to meet.
Indeed, other friends who play or support rugby are similarly fascinated in Simon Shaw; a man they regard as an accessible icon who has successfully built a reputation in the wider game of commerce with his Hospitality & events business, Set Piece Events.
Indeed, the transfer from pitch to profit margins in a sector notoriously difficult to master seems an unlikely one but the idea took root at least fifteen years ago. Shaw can remember the exact moment it happened. He was in a lift in South Africa, where he was due to play in an international, when one of the rugby correspondents asked him what he wanted to do when he left the game.
“I said I wouldn’t mind going into the hospitality business. I had some of the business qualifications and I learned to cook when I was in my gap year in New Zealand. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it,” he said.
To be clear Shaw was well accustomed to the world of business. His father managed tea plantations in Kenya, where Shaw was born. The family moved to Madrid and then the UK. At the time Shaw played basketball, tennis and soccer. He did not play rugby until he joined Godalming College, in Surrey. His sports teacher thought that a physically fit 16-year-old weighing 20 stone would be a useful addition to the first 16.
He ended up a year later in New Zealand on a rugby scholarship. Playing in a country where the sport is a religion added the finishing touches to his earlier potential.
“It was all completely new to me. It was the early 1990s and I left home with very few practical skills. I ended up in a flat on the South Island with a whole lamb and a very small oven. It was trial and error for a while but by the time I went to university I was a decent chef,” he told me.
What he describes as “some business qualification” is, in fact, the degree in International Business which he studied in the Spanish language at the University of West England, the part of the UK where his sports career began.
Shaw played for Bristol. He won his first England cap in 1996 and transferred to Wasps in 1997. For the next 15 seasons he represented both club and country with distinction, winning practically every medal on offer including a 2003 World Cup winners medal, 4 premiership titles and 3 Heineken cup winners medals.
Shaw became the first player to compete in 200 Premiership matches and the following year he was selected for his 3rd British and Irish Lions tour. His selection for the 2009 tour of South Africa and man of the match performance in the 2nd Test made him a fan favourite. In 2011, he made the decision to end his career at the French club Toulon where he lives with his wife and four children, two of whom may play rugby since they are following a similar growth trajectory to him.
It comes as no surprise that while all this was going on Shaw found the time to acquire Twickenham’s Royal Oak Pub or under its new title, Stokes & Moncreiff, which became a landmark destination, particularly for rugby supporters.
The move from Pub landlord to restauranteur shows a maturing attitude in the still relatively young man. The opportunity to partner with friend and mentor Martin Williams was too good an opportunity to be missed.
He met Martin Williams, the founder of the M Restaurant group at a charity dinner in London. The pair hit it off immediately, sharing the same business outlook and attention to detail. They both have a fine eye for ambiance and Williams has an acute ability to hire excellent staff. Executive chef Michael Reid at M Bar & Grill Twickenham is one example.
The restaurant is smart and deliberately aimed not just at the rugby crowd but at those people who want a quality restaurant which does not mean a trip into town and then a long journey home.
The triumvirate look certain to make the restaurant a success. All the ingredients are there.
And if anyone is interested in the two questions I had from my brother, they are “What is your top career moment,” and who is top of your players’ list.
The answers are the Euro 2004 Heineken Rugby Final and Fraser Waters.