Flavio Briatore has never stood still. From Formula One racing, to a nightclub empire, to high-end restaurants, he has transformed all the industries he has been involved with. At the heart of all his work is glamour and luxury, and his latest dining offering, Maia in the heart of London’s Knightsbridge, takes this to a new level. Kristina Spencer investigates
Adrenaline, excitement, adventure – these have been a part of Flavio Briatore’s life since the early days. Born in 1950, the Italian tycoon worked as a ski instructor and a door-to-door insurance salesman before meeting Luciano Benetton, founder of the eponymous clothing company. Known for his business wit and endless charm, Briatore was soon appointed Benetton’s director of American operations and went over to the US to open more than 800 stores during the 1980s.
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In 1988 in Australia Briatore saw his first grand prix and a year later was named commercial director of Benetton’s Formula One team. The Italian understood that, for the audience, racing was less about the mechanics behind the operation and more about the spectacle and the excitement. Formula One had never seen anything like him before – Briatore transformed the sport into one of the most glamorous on the planet, and made a fortune along the way.
It was Briatore’s ground-breaking vision that made Benetton a winning team within five seasons. Demonstrating his skill as a talent spotter, in 1991 he signed the driver Michael Schumacher, who won his first titles in 1994 and 1995. In 2000, after Renault bought Benetton’s team, Briatore signed a contract with Fernando Alonso, who was 18 at the time. Five years later Alonso won his first World Drivers’ Championship.
Briatore’s vision was one of success, and he loved what came with it. He dated models Naomi Campbell and Heidi Klum, launched a luxury clothing brand and eventually entered the luxury hospitality industry. Why? “My whole life has been about luxury. It’s where I feel most at home, and I wouldn’t do anything else,” he declares.
The businessman owns a Spa resort in Kenya and nightclub-restaurants in Monte-Carlo, Tuscany, Dubai and London. His most recent addition is Maia, on Hans Crescent in the heart of Knightsbridge, offering both traditional Italian dishes and plant-based choices. With Maia, Briatore wanted to create an “around-the-clock venue,” where you could spend anywhere from an hour to the entire day. “You can have a business lunch or an early evening aperitivo and carry on through to dinner. Maia is dynamic and adapts to the time of the day with a different atmosphere and offerings.”
Maia is open all week for breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between. Its mission is to bring the soul back into the neighbourhood and create a go-to place for the locals, be it for a laid-back afternoon aperitivo or a family celebration. “Many Knightsbridge residents are already regulars,” says Briatore. “They come back because the staff know them by name and they feel they are taken care of.”
The menu has an array of contemporary versions of Italian classics, with vegetarian and vegan options. But can Italian food really be healthy? “Italian food is so versatile,” laughs Briatore. “Beyond the clichés, you will find a choice of fresh, seasonal dishes,” created by Michelin-trained Head Chef, Mauro di Leo. There are the usual suspects: cacio e pepe, veal Milanese and white fish ceviche with veggie crisps. But there is also a detox Maia salad (chopped kale, broccoli, cauliflower, parsley, carrots, sunflower seeds and lemon-ginger dressing) and an abundance of avocado on the menu. Maia might be onto something.
Health and wellness have been buzzwords for some time, but over the past couple of years they have changed the food industry. Rather than simply a trend, wellness has become an ongoing commitment, especially amongst millennials and Gen-Zs who deeply care about having a healthier lifestyle; and although it comes at a premium, they are ready to pay.
Which is where Maia comes in. “All around us, we are being given more and more opportunities to eat a plant-based diet; it’s good for us and good for the planet so I can’t see that going away,” says Briatore. “Being Italian, this trend is actually what our food culture is based upon, and not that different from what our parents and grandparents put on the dinner table every day.”
The restaurant offers a healthy and nutritional menu from its in-residence wellness advocate Francesca Giacomini of ‘Francesca The Method’ fitness and nutrition plans. But Maia shouldn’t be mistaken for a health parlour: the afternoon tea is a treat with freshly baked cakes and pastries, and if you are after something stronger, Richard Woods, the award-winning mixologist, will mix you a drink.
Maia’s interior is subtle, referencing the 1960s with comfortable chairs and soft furnishings in dark leather around dark, glass-topped tables. Come evening, the curtains are drawn over floor-to-ceiling windows and the lights go down. It is important not to distract from the atmosphere, according to Briatore, as “the guests are at the heart of the restaurant – clients are the best decor we can get”.
The restaurant may be the newest addition to the Billionaire Group, yet it is certainly not the last one – early in 2020, Briatore will be opening a Crazy Pizza in Monaco, following its success in London, and Billionaire Riyadh will be launched. Briatore’s ambition is to continue to grow his empire – he brings a lifetime of experience with him . “I believe in calculated risk” he says “and I have learned you can’t always win but it sure feels great when you do!”
Find out more: maiamood.com
This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.