Cambio de Tercio is a Spanish restaurant in London. To be precise, it is a Spanish restaurant on the Old Brompton Road in South Kensington. I must make it clear that I am not a restaurant critic (although I would dearly love to be!!), and as such, this blog is not intended to be a ‘review’ of Cambio de Tercio. What I do intend is to use this amazing eatery as an example of how to deliver a customer experience that will ensure customer retention for many years.
Like many British nationals, I first visited Spain in my early youth. The Canary Islands and the Costas have always been popular holiday destinations for British families looking for good value fun in the sun. When I was younger, I never really appreciated the wonders of Spanish food. I remember the hotels I went to, and the swimming pools, but do not have much recollection of the food. That all changed when I met my wife, Naomi, 19 years ago. Naomi loves Spain – in fact she positively adores the country. From the people, to the language, to the varieties of culture and landscape, Naomi has always wanted to move there permanently – she will undoubtedly get her way eventually!
It is Naomi who opened my eyes to the culinary delights Spain has to offer. You just have to visit a Spanish supermarket to get an idea of what I am talking about. Fresh fruit and vegetables in Spain make our British offerings look pitiful by comparison. Spanish markets are array with colours and smells that we just do not seem able to replicate. I will never forget the first time Naomi took me to Barcelona. La Boqueria is perhaps one of the most famous markets in Spain, located on Las Ramblas. What amazing sights, sounds and smells we experienced.
So it is no surprise that when making a decision as to where to eat on a night out in Britain, we always tend to look for restaurants that specialise in our favourite cuisine. We have eaten in many Spanish restaurants in England. We spent many years visiting a restaurant called Meson Bilbao in Maida Vale. With rather brusque service and an old fashioned setting, Meson Bilbao would not be to everyones taste. However, what you could guarantee was that Jose, the owner of the restaurant, would serve up authentic Spanish dishes with ingredients sourced from Spanish suppliers. The food was wonderful, and we built up a great relationship with Jose. The ‘experience’ though was always slightly flawed by very ‘hit and miss’ service. Online reviews of the restaurant suggest we were not alone in forming this view. Here is one example:
Very disappointing restaurant unfortunately. I had high hopes for this place after reading the reviews but it really is not very good. We order 5 tapas dishes to start with, they arrived at different stages which was annoying as I wanted to combine what I had ordered together, not one by one. The Prawns in garlic were brilliant but everything else wasn�t. My husband wanted T bone steak but that�s was off, then he ordered the Cod but that was off too, so we settled for a chicken and sea food paella for 2. Big mistake, Paella is my favourite Spanish dish and what arrived was defiantly not Paella, firstly it was long grain rice, secondly, no smoked paprika or red peppers had ever been introduced to this poor soulless dish. The prawns looked ill and the chicken was pointless. We took one bit and decided we had to say something. We called the lady over and said we were not happy with the dish, she understood and we paid for our tapas and wine and left, she charged me for an extra tapas dish ( the bread they bought over to us at the start of our meal) but I just wanted to get out of there so I did not question it. If your not someone who goes by reviews please believe we when I say I have NEVER written one before about anywhere but I feel strongly about this place enough to do one now.
When anyone chooses to visit a restaurant, it is obviously the product that is primary in the decision making process. Shall we eat Indian, Chinese, Pizza, Pasta is always the first thing to be discussed. Once that decision has been made, other factors come in to play. If the food is brilliant, but the service is flawed, the fact the food is so good will potentially become an irrelevance. About ten years ago, Naomi and I decided that we wanted to eat Spanish – but we wanted to eat somewhere other than Meson Bilbao. It was then that we were fortunate to find Cambio de Tercio.
Cambio de Tercio is quite simply a gem (described in my best food critic language!). As soon as you walk through the door you are in literally in Spain. I was always told that you can tell a good restaurant by the people that are eating in it. If you are in a Chinese restaurant, and most of the customers are from China, that is a good sign. On our first visit to Cambio de Tercio, you could not help but notice how many Spanish nationals were in there. From the engaging welcome to the warm décor, it felt like a place that you wanted to be in. The service was incredible – friendly, helpful, and wonderfully Spanish. The food also did not disappoint – it was amazing. Cambio de Tercio was destined to become a regular destination for us – it enabled us to indulge in a little bit of Spain whenever we wanted (or could afford!!).
In 2005, we relocated from London to Chester. Undeniably a beautiful part of the country, Chester has one big problem – its restaurants. There are a small number of excellent places to eat, but we had not thought about how to maintain our Spanish ‘fix’ when making the decision to move the family. We have been literally pining for Cambio de Tercio ever since – always saying that we would go back whenever we had the chance.
So when I started planning a trip to London to celebrate Naomi’s 40th birthday, it was a very simple decision to arrange a trip to our favourite Spanish restaurant. Our memories from 7 years earlier had not faded – the experiences we had always had meant that we would always go back – the ultimate test of loyalty. Cambio de Tercio means something to us on an emotional level – something that any organisation should try and achieve to drive customer loyalty.
As we got out of our taxi, it was though we had never been away. However, things had changed. Not only had the restaurant expanded (taking over the shop next door), they had also opened a new establishment. The success of Cambio de Tercio meant that they had not just expanded the existing restaurant, but had also opened more. It was now possible to enjoy Tapas over the road in Tendido Cero. If you wanted something lighter and more bar like, you could spend the evening in Capote y Toros, a Ham and Sherry bard two doors down from Cambio de Tercio. They had also opened a restaurant in New Kings Road called Tendido Cuatro.
At a time when the restaurant trade, like many others, is feeling the effects of our struggling economy, this Spanish phenomenon was growing rapidly. It is no surprise. As we walked in to the restaurant, we were greeted like old friends by Abel, the restaurant owner. Whether he remembered us or not – he made us feel as though he did. I will not go in detail about the service or food – suffice to say it was everything we expected and more – yet another beautiful memory to go with all the others.
After our meal we had a drink in the Ham and Sherry bar – whilst we were there, the Spanish Ambassador came in for a drink and some Tapas. The Beckhams’ visited the restaurant in New Kings Road last week as well apparently. We have now been visiting Cambio de Tercio for more than ten years – punctuated by a seven year gap. In that seven years we never forgot how good the place was. It is still that good. What Cambio de Tercio demonstrate is that by having consistently great product and service, you can ensure that your customers will keep coming back time and time again, year after year.
Will we go back again – you bet we will – and if you love Spanish food, make sure you book a table the next time you are in London – you will not be disappointed.
As always, I welcome your comments on any of my blogs.