WESTMINSTER PEOPLE: Murad Magden, Covent Garden’s Sarastro restaurant boss
It's like stepping into Alice in Wonderland, says owner
21 July, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya
AS you walk through the flower covered door of Sarastro restaurant in Covent Garden, you enter a glittering place filled from top to bottom with theatrical props – from ballet shoes, to puppets.
“It is not just a restaurant for people to come and dine,” says Murad Magden, who has run Sarastro since 2009. “When people come through the door you see the wow factor in their eyes. They say it’s crazy, bonkers.
“Some say it looks like Alice in Wonderland. Some see it as a ship, though I can’t really see that myself.
“Everyone has different descriptions. Everyone comes here for a special reason so they come here in the mood to have a good time. It’s a place for special occasions.”
The restaurant in the heart of Theatreland was established in 1996 by Richard Niazi.
“He was known as the king of Covent Garden,” Murad says. “He was a personality, a big character, he knew a lot of people. He also helped the homeless a lot. He was very generous.”
Richard owned several restaurants, which previously included Topkapi in Marylebone High Street.
Murad’s father became a manager there in the late 1970s. “I was studying in Turkey at the time and every summer I would come here,” he says. “I got my first job as a kitchen porter at Topkapi, helping out.
“Restaurants have always been in the family, my mum and dad were waiters and waitresses. It was always in our lifestyle.” Over the years, Murad split his time between England and Turkey, working in various roles across Richard’s restaurants here, and for the British Oxygen Company in Turkey.
But when Richard died in 2009 – his passing mourned by a procession of 300 people filling Drury Lane – Murad took over the running of the restaurant full time, along with Richard’s daughter Sibel. Sarastro is treasure trove of theatrical goodies.
Diners can sit in a “Royal Balcony” looking out over the restaurant’s many props and decorations that fill the place, from paintings and sparkling wall hangings to the somewhat scary skeletons and dolls.
It all acts as a backdrop for the regular, live, entertainment that takes place during many an evening. Asked where the idea for the Sarastro theme came from, Murad says: “You have to know Richard to understand this. He loved opera, he loved music, he loved food and drink.
“His flat was decorated as the restaurant, he had the same theme in his flat. He enjoyed life as much as he could, that was Richard. And Sarastro reflects him.”
“When we used to live together in New Cross Road in the early 1990s, in those days, he was collecting as if he had an idea for this years ago. The bannisters that you see here, some of them are from the theatres and the Royal Opera House. When they were being refurbished, Richard took them and put them in here. “It built up gradually. First it was the ground floor, then one balcony, then another. He kept adding pieces. Still today we go shopping, we change bits and pieces.”
While the restaurant’s vibe and décor have mainly stayed the same, Murad has added a new range of Turkish dishes and introduced new entertainment.
“It was known as an opera restaurant before, we had opera every Sunday and Monday. I introduced Motown on Thursday, Latin music on Friday and 70s and 80s on Saturday,” he says. It was known as the show after the show – we’ve made it even more of a show.
“That corner there is John and Betty’s corner – they are two of my very good friends. They always used to sit in that corner. Betty, an artist drew the picture there. Up in the Royal Box, there is a mould of Betty’s boobs. She made them and put them there.”
Murad, who also lives in Covent Garden, says the area is changing, and becoming more “upper class”.
“There used to be a Disney shop, toy shops, chocolate shops, now there are loads of high- end stores. Now Robert De Niro is opening a hotel on the corner. There is a significant change in Covent Garden.
“Properties around here are never empty, but the turnover is high. Plenty of restaurants come and go, there is plenty of competition. Restaurants open, they go
for a couple of months and then they go and some- body else comes in. Everybody is giving it a try, some work some don’t.”
Murad adds: “We have been here for 21 years. We are a family business. Out of the customers that come to Sarastro, I know a lot of them and they know me, it’s a closer relationship and we try to keep it that way. I think that makes a big difference.”