Alexander Shihwarg obituary

Other lives: One of the great characters of bohemian London in the 1950s and 60s who invested in popular restaurants

My friend Alexander Shihwarg, who has died aged 95, invested in, and helped to create, restaurants in London such as the Golden Duck, Nikita’s and the Ebury Wine Bar.

Shura, as he was widely known, used his talents as a storyteller and bon vivant to create a welcoming atmosphere at those establishments, but also to become a well-loved character in the bohemian London of the 1950s and 60s. He kept Cyril Connolly and Dylan Thomas amused in places such as the French House in Soho and, with his wife, the novelist Joan Wyndham, entertained artists and free spirits at his home in Chelsea.

Born in Harbin, Manchuria, Shura grew up speaking Russian and Mandarin before becoming fluent in English and French. At 18 he decided to study medicine in Hong Kong, but in 1941, on his way to college, he saw Japanese war planes bombing the airport and decided immediately to join the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, swearing an oath of allegiance to the British crown. After 18 days of fighting, the Hong Kong governor surrendered and Shura became a prisoner of war.

He was liberated three years later and subsequently flew to the UK, landing in Southampton in 1946. He then took a place at Wadham College, Oxford, to study philosophy, politics and economics. After graduating he was offered a job as a journalist on the Times, but due to the cold war and his Russian status was unable to accept the position. He was also refused travel documents to see his dying father in Australia.

In 1951 he moved to London, where he became Joan’s lodger and, eventually, in 1963, her husband. Initially Shura’s entrepreneurial spirit led him into setting up his own public relations business, but his love of entertaining soon moved him also into the restaurant sector as co-founder of the Golden Duck and Nikita’s – both in Chelsea.

Reflecting his background, the former served Chinese food and the latter Russian dishes. Other ventures followed, including interests in the Paper Tiger restaurant in South Kensington, the Ebury Wine Bar in Belgravia and, in partnership with the photographer Patrick Lichfield, Tai-Pan in Knightsbridge.

A character of many contradictions, some probably born out of his appalling experiences as a PoW, Shura displayed conflicting attitudes that were reflected in his recent book of verse, Mirror, Mirror. Witty and possessed of an irresistibly roguish charm, he was also a gentleman who had respect and sympathy for the misfortunes of others.

Joan died in 2007. He is survived by their daughter, Camilla, and by Joan’s daughter, Clare, from her previous marriage, to the writer and historian Maurice Rowdon.

Susannah Macmillan

The GuardianTramp

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