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    A conversation with… Rory Graham

    With the exciting news that a brand-new 7,000 sq ft restaurant and bar will be opening in the vaults of The Royal Exchange this autumn, we caught up with the head of creative development at Incipio Group to learn more about The Libertine

    Can you talk us through the general concept of The Libertine

    Put simply, The Libertine is a bar and restaurant concept opening at the start of October beneath The Royal Exchange. It will be open seven days a week, noon to late, and is essentially a great place for some after-work drinks, long lunches, and great cocktails. It’s a space for absolutely everyone.


    What’s the meaning behind the name?

    Historically, with its status at the centre of commerce in London, The Royal Exchange has attracted people from all walks of life. So, you had noblemen rubbing shoulders with simple tradesmen and silk merchants and butchers and fishmongers – there was a sort of liberty feel to it. And that coupled with the fact that the City of London was a liberty – it had its own self-governance within London itself – we felt The Libertine name was the right route, and a nice name to put on it, in the sense that we’re trying to create a very similar thing.


    Why did you choose the location of The Royal Exchange for The Libertine?

    Firstly, we were very keen to open a site in the City. In terms of its food and beverage offering, the City has come along so much in the past 10 years. A lot of top operators have gone there, such as Hawksmoor, Caravan and The Ned. We wanted to be part of that and complement the offering. When we heard about The Royal Exchange and saw the space, we were ready to sign on the dotted line immediately because it has an incredible history and the space itself is so unique. We’re very lucky to run some really interesting and fun spaces. When we walked into this one we all just thought, ‘Wow, this is it, we have to be here.’

    The ground-level entrance to The Libertine will resemble an antiques shop


    It’s quite a large space. Can you talk us through the layout?

    The entrance is on Cornhill and is styled like an antiques shop, which then takes you down into this beautiful 7,000 sq ft, 450 capacity Grade-I listed space with red brick walls and ceilings that have been there for hundreds of years. We’ve worked with a lot of listed buildings before so we’ve got experience in doing that. They do come with complications but they also come with benefits as well because you’re taking on a building that already has a lot of the design work done for you, so we are there to complement that. In terms of the space itself, there will be two bars, one 14-metre long bar, which will be great for after-work drinks, and then there’s a standalone restaurant on the other side, which can seat up to 150. We then have an open casual dining area in front of a beautiful open kitchen, and then we’ve got two private dining rooms as well. It’s a big old beast.


    What about the interior design?

    We’ve been working with an amazing interior design studio called Studio Found, who we’ve worked with on a number of projects. They’re great at high-impact design. We wanted to delve into the history of The Royal Exchange and how we could kind of layer that into the design. So, for example, The Royal Exchange burned down in the Great Fire and then later in the 19th century, so some of the woodwork is charred and charcoal like. There’s lots of different things that, to the naked eye, you might not pick up on immediately, but you might spot it the next time. The design itself is high impact with lots of personality and character. We’ve got beautiful bespoke joinery and leather banquette seating, as well as four exposed copper 1,000-litre beer tanks as well, which will be on show and have fresh beer delivered to them every morning. There’s also a six-metre bespoke whiskey display that we’re building. We’re really excited to share these great design pieces with our guests.

    Booth seating at The Libertine


    Given the “hidden” nature of The Libertine and the unusual ground floor entrance, how do you want people to feel when they enter?

    Our mission as a company has always been to take these unused spaces and turn them into big, beautiful destinations. We want to take the guest somewhere else, but we also want it to be fun and don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. We feel like, after a long day’s work in the City, we want people to come in and feel that they can enjoy themselves. The idea behind the antiques entrance was very much to connect it to the neighbourhood and to play into the idea that you’d come into the space and be taken somewhere else. There’s a sense of escapism.


    The hospitality industry was hit hard by the pandemic. How do you feel about launching at this time?

    We feel very positive about the opening. We had to postpone it by two years or so but we’re really seeing that footfall in the City steadily build. From our point of view, we very much feel like the time is now and we feel very positive about it.

    A central bar at The Libertine


    Can you talk us through the proposed menu and any standout dishes?

    Our food menu will be led by Incipio’s head of food, executive chef Nick Wyborn. Nick’s got great experience; he was former executive chef at Mac + Wild, which is a very cool Scottish-led concept. We’ll have two menus: a bar menu and our more premium sit-down restaurant menu. The bar menu is all about fast service: sharing plates, casual dining – great brioche buns, burgers, steak sandwiches, antipasti, sharing boards and sides. Then we’ve got a slightly more premium brasserie-led dining option with recognisable classics such as our Libertine fish & chips, Dover sole, lamb shanks, some fantastic vegetarian and vegan options, and then an amazing steak section as well.


    What about the drinks menu?

    We understand that the City can be quite beer-heavy, so that would be one of the reasons for having fresh beers every day in the tanks. We also understand that, in the City, fast service is everything, so all our cocktails are designed to be mixed in a maximum of 90 seconds. That’s really important to us. There’ll be 12 to 14 signature cocktails and two non-alcoholic options as well. Our wine list will be split into two. So, we will have a house list, which will be approachable, classic wines, and then we’ll have a reserve list as well which will not necessarily be more expensive, but will feature interesting vintages and new world wines that will rotate fairly regularly as well. So brilliant wines, cocktails and beers – all the things you’d expect of a City venue.


    The Libertine will be launching at The Royal Exchange this autumn. Visit for more info and stay tuned for more details being released soon.