Chefs Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing have been jointly served with a writ fromA-Z Restaurants claiming an estimated £1m damages.
The claim, which both chefs say will be vigorously contested, comes as a result of their acrimonious departure from Lon-don restaurants Aubergine andL'Oranger last summer.
The two chefs are going to defend the case jointly and Ramsay said this week that a counter-claim for libel would be issued.
The A-Z writ comes six months after both Ramsay and Wareing left the group. They took most of the staff of Aubergine and L'Oranger with them, forcing both restaurants to close for several weeks. The damages claimed by A-Z include lost earnings during those weeks and for alleged damage to electrical equipment in L'Oranger. It is also alleged that pages were torn from the reservations book and those on it subsequently contacted and encouraged to eat at Ramsay's new restaurant in Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea.
Ramsay said the writ was unexpected. He has consistently claimed that he resigned because Wareing was sacked for not signing a four-year deal which was "totally ridiculous". Wareing said that the allegations in the writ were "pure fabrication".
Since the row broke out, A-Z Restaurants has refused to comment on the dispute. But Giuliano Lotto, whose family trust holds the 67% majority shareholding in A-Z, broke this silence last week and said that his first priority had been to get Aubergine and L'Oranger operating successfully again.
Lotto admitted that the dispute had become "partly emotional" for him, but added A-Z would not have issued the writ if it was not confident it could win. He added that the company was not taking undue commercial risk in the action because lawyers had agreed to special arrangements on fees.
Lotto said that the reason Wareing had been asked to sign a long-term contract was thatA-Z was considering going public or encouraging a major investment from another group - Belgo was one of three candidates - and therefore needed to have key staff under contract.
Wareing is taking A-Z to industrial tribunal for unfair dismissal, but the case has now been put back pending the outcome of the court action.
by David Harris