Surviving a restaurant refurbishment: Four in Hand gets the upper hand

Four in Hand in Paddington after the refurbishment. Image Alana Dimou

Tackling a restaurant refurbishment is a daunting task – as Mitchell Waugh knows all too well. After taking over Paddington institution Four in Hand in early 2016, the Public House Management Group founder and managing director recently embarked on a three-week renovation of the restaurant and hotel.

Four in Hand after the renovation. Image Alana Dimou

“A refurbishment of both the pub and dining room was on the cards from when we purchased the Four in Hand, we just wanted to spend a bit of time with the property before making any decisions on what direction we would take,” he says.

“Turning around a refresh in such a short space of time whilst trying to operate during the evenings was the biggest challenge by far. We got very close to relaunching The Grill without the grill. There was a delay at customs which meant that we only had a small window to install and test the new grill.”

The grill he’s referring to is a charcoal-operated cooker that was imported from South America, which is a central feature of the new-look noshery. Previously The Four in Hand by Guillaume, the name was changed to The Grill at the Four Dining Room to reflect the new menu, which has a strong focus on meat.

Waugh and his team realised early on that customers were looking for a more casual dining experience. He says the space is now less stuffy and formal and more relaxed and welcoming.

Four in Hand in Paddington after the refurbishment. Image Alana Dimou

“Our regulars and locals want a premium dining experience from the dining room that they can enjoy weekly and not just on special occasions,” he says. “They need to be able to enjoy the same experience with their mates and their families.

“It’s a combination of factors from lifestyle choices and the rising cost of living to a new generation coming through who are seeking experiences based around social engagement with great quality food… Our focus is to make sure that every guest leaves feeling like they’ve just eaten the best piece of meat. The menu offering now is still premium but with more of a focus on championing core ingredients than intricately plated dishes, and feedback from our diners tells us this was a great move to make.”

Dishes from Four in Hand in Paddington. Image Alana Dimou

When it came to design, Waugh and his team wanted something that integrated the existing classic elements of the heritage-listed pub with more contemporary fixtures. Designer Amandine Odouard, who also revamped Bar Moncur and Bistro Moncur, was chosen for the task. The back room in the pub, which was favoured by groups, now has soft leather booths, wood panels, tartan carpet and a restored fireplace. A big screen above the mantel makes it a great place to watch sport and enjoy a dish from the classic bar menu.

In the dining room, rich timbers and quilted leather panelling on the walls have been introduced along with imported European light fittings and enhanced brass detailing to create a warm and cosy space for just 40 people. Upstairs, two private function spaces allow guests to enjoy intimate dinners, cocktail parties and long lunches with a private bar. 

The bar at Four in Hand. Image Alana Dimou

“We wanted to make sure that the locals felt comfortable in the new space,” Waugh says. “The community is at the heart of what we do, and if they don’t enjoy spending time in the venue then we don’t have a business.”

The dining room was closed for three weeks during the refurbishment and the pub was closed during the day, but opened at night.

Word of mouth was a big part of communicating plans of the redevelopment with customers, as well as sending updates about the relaunch via their database.

Four in Hand in Paddington post relaunch. Alana Dimou

“We are thrilled with the new-look Four in Hand,” Waugh says. “The refurbishment has reinvigorated the venue and we’ve seen a huge increase in bookings. We’ve been very well received in the community and patrons have been very forthcoming with their glowing reviews.”