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A short history of Mayfair – and Manthan’s place within it

February 3rd 2023

To many observers, it may feel as if Mayfair as a locale has surely always been associated with all the taste and sophistication of high society. That is not, of course, quite true; until just a few hundred years ago, the exceedingly desirable and exclusive neighbourhood we now know as Mayfair consisted of little more than unwanted muddy fields. 

That situation began to change with the act that gave Mayfair its name – King James II granting royal permission in 1686 for a fair to be held during the first two weeks in May, on the site of what is today Shepherd Market. 

From there, change began to take effect with quickening pace as the broader industrialisation of English society loomed. Over the course of the 18th century, the original “May Fair” – a boisterous event attracting drovers, animals, jugglers, and revellers – gave way to planned streets, graceful architecture, and magnificent public spaces like Grosvenor Square, Berkley Square, and Hanover Square. 

The elegant mansions and townhouses built during this time of ambitious development came to provide fitting places of residence for aristocrats who left behind their former cramped and out-of-date homes in Soho, Holborn, Whitehall, and the City. 

Mayfair’s association with individuals of “quality” was becoming ever-more prominent, and even amid ups and downs over the coming centuries, this sought-after area of London’s West End has never lost its reputation for affluence. 

The highest highs and crushing lows in a century of change 

We mentioned, of course, that there would be “ups and downs” for Mayfair – but for the next few generations of aristocracy at least, it must have seemed as if there would only ever be “ups”. 

By the middle of the 19th century, Mayfair was firmly established as London’s premier address, ahead of such locales as Belgravia and Pimlico – the latter almost merely “middle class” in its reputation. This was truly the heyday of the Mayfair aristocracy, although with the progression of the Victorian age, they were to be joined by a new category of the “super-rich” – individuals whose money derived from business, rather than land or statehood. 

As the Victorian era was replaced by the Edwardian age, the old landed gentry and aristocracy lessened in their prominence, and Mayfair came to be regarded as a “new money” address. 

Both the aristocracy and “new money” plutocrats, however, suffered heavy blows to their fortunes amid the horrors of the First World War and the Great Depression – and with the onset of the Second World War, Mayfair’s further precipitous decline as a leading residential address was set in motion. It was estimated in the late 1980s that the fall in Mayfair’s residential population since 1945 had been as high as 90%. 

An area that has long served as a paragon of excellence, even in a fast-evolving world 

The period since the 1990s has seen further sweeping change for Mayfair, even if this occurred only slowly at first. As corporations based in Mayfair gradually sought to move into newly constructed office premises in such areas as the City and Canary Wharf, many of the properties in Mayfair that they left behind were returned to residential use. 

Today, Mayfair is once again an in-demand and highly prestigious residential address, although it is also home to many of London’s finest high-end shops, hotels, and restaurants. 

Playing its own part in the evolving story of Mayfair has been Manthan. Opening its doors in 2021 on the 49 Maddox Street site previously occupied by such beloved eateries as Lucknow 49 and The Hamilton’s Café, our own Indian restaurant in Mayfair has already been firing imaginations among both locals and visitors who appreciate professionally prepared, home-style cooking. 

The gastronomy on offer from Manthan is grounded in Indian culinary tradition while embracing contemporary developments, which in many ways feels analogous to 21st-century Mayfair itself: a neighbourhood that effortlessly blends the best of old and new. 

It is even more befitting that the duo behind Manthan, Michelin-starred chef Rohit Ghai and his business partner Abhishake Sangwan, have their own rich history in Mayfair, having first worked together in this part of the capital a decade ago. 

Why not, then, make a reservation at our much-talked-about Indian restaurant in Mayfair, to learn for yourself what all the fuss is about when it comes to our delectable cuisine and elegant and rewarding dining experience? 


Discover the story behind Manthan

‘To churn and reflect’

Manthan is a reflection of chef Rohit Ghai’s life in food.

From the markets of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (where he grew up) to professional kitchens all over the world, Ghai has experienced myriad flavours and cookery techniques, all of which come together in his new Mayfair kitchen.

Discover more