Cafe chain Benugo to take over Parliament Hill cafe and two more

A petition has been launched to keep Alberto D'Auria running the Parliament Hill Cafe

A petition has been launched to keep Alberto D'Auria running the Parliament Hill Cafe - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Catering chain Benugo has won three-year contracts to take over the much-loved Parliament Hill cafe on Hampstead Heath along with The Golders Hill Park cafe and the cafe in Highgate Wood.

Jazz musician John Etheridge who performs regularly at Parliament Hill Bandstand

Jazz musician John Etheridge who performs regularly at Parliament Hill Bandstand - Credit: Nigel Sutton

The move by the City of London Corporation to award the lease for the much-loved Heath cafe to the multi million pound company has been slammed as “as bad as if it were to become a Costa coffee.”

In contrast, the cafe inside the Parliament Hill Lido is to be taken over by local resident and Lido swimmer Tara Kingsley.

Making the decision over the Benugo bids behind closed doors the City has been accused of ignoring the unique nature of Hampstead Heath and the social needs of the community in awarding the lucrative contract to the most economically advantageous bids.

Highgate ward councillor Sally Gimson, who sits on the committee and voted against the Benugo bid, said: “It was a close vote at seven to six and some of us are really cross.

The menu at the Benugo run Regent's Bar and Kitchen in the Inner Circle.

The menu at the Benugo run Regent's Bar and Kitchen in the Inner Circle. - Credit: Archant

“Essentially the Parliament Hill Cafe has been handed to a large chain. It’s almost as bad as if it were a Costa coffee. Benugo is gradually taking over all British institutions, from Regent’s Park to major museums and galleries in London.

“The procurement department did not take into account the special nature of the Heath and the social value of having a local company run the cafe.

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“I have warned the committee there is likely to be an enormous backlash from the local community.”

The City of London Corporation announced the decision this afternoon, although we revealed exclusively last week that Savoy-trained chef Alberto d’Auria and his family who have run the Parliament Hill Cafe for the last 33 years were to be pushed out.

Cafe users have expressed fear that prices will now rise when Benugo takes over.

Jazz musician John Etheridge was having lunch in the cafe today when he heard the offical news. “It is a shame. A big chain is bad news. I can say that categorically. I have enjoyed coming here for many years. It is an old-fashioned local cafe with very good food and good prices. The pasta is good and I cannot imagine it will be as good or as cheap. Alberto and his family are a local fixture who have run this cafe for a longtime. A lot of people will be very upset.”

Alberto D’Auria was given the official news that the family had lost the cafe this morning.

He said: “I am very angry and sad at the way we have been treated after so long and that its taken six months for them to decide. We have been improving our service and keeping prices low and keeping local people happy. Our customers have all been coming in to say they don’t want us to go and are planning to start a petition.”

He will now concentrate on running the family wholesale icecream business D’Auria brothers.

Benugo won a five-year contract, said to be worth £20million to run the cafes in Regents Park for five years in 2013.

The firm also runs catering facilities in the Barbican Centre, Lincolns Inn Fields, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Heath committee member Rev Dr Martin Dudley warned during the meeting that since the Regent’s Park cafes had changed hands “some people say they will never go there again”.

Mr Dudley said today: “I am not happy with the idea of having a chain brand running three of our cafes. In my experience, they do all become just the same and I really wanted something more specific to each location.”

But committee member Michael Hudson said: “People on the Heath do need to accept that there is a need for the City to balance its books. Financial concerns do come into it.”

A City of London spokesman said: “Benugo, which runs cafes in a number of public sites in the UK, will offer locally sourced meat, fish and other produce.”

It said the chain will work with Hampstead Heath’s learning team to create a wildlife map for children to explore the Heath’snatural environment and provide free coffees for volunteers.”

At the Parliament Hill Lido, Tara Kingsley will also serve outwards to Heath users as well as to users of the swimming pool.

Sue Ireland, Director of Green Spaces at the City of London Corporation, said: “We want to make sure our visitors are getting high quality, affordable, healthy food and refreshments, with the best possible service.

“We have a duty to run our services in the most cost-effective manner as it is only by doing so that we can invest ?£5million a year into Hampstead Heath.

“We have ensured throughout this process that the winning tenders will be able to demonstrate not only high quality refreshments, but also that they can offer a service which is at the heart of the local community.”