Just as the coronavirus shit hit the fan, I was told by my business partner that the company was going into administration. All the restaurants would go, and the 130 staff were left high and dry with no furlough and no redundancy.
I was devastated. It was a surreal moment, realising that all these people I’ve worked with would be unemployed, and these restaurants I’d poured so much into over the years would just disappear, another footnote in the history of the London food scene.
So as I was cracking open a bottle of wine and trying to stay positive, I turned to one of my guilty pleasures: eBay. I browsed around a bit and hit upon an idea: a food truck. Maybe amid all the carnage of the administrators I could find an opportunity here, too. I’d been planning to break away and open up on the coast, maybe this was an act of cod, a chance to start up on my own with no business partners and no board meetings.
There were all sorts of trucks listed on eBay but the one that caught my eye was a big black Chevrolet that was, in a past life, an American ambulance. It had been completely refitted with stainless steel units, fridges and a hob. It was ready to go. I bid half the asking price, which was miraculously accepted, and my brain started working overtime. After much brainstorming I thought I’d start selling fresh fish direct from the Lyme Bay Reserve fishermen.
So I went from these huge restaurants filled with Damien Hirsts and Tracy Emins to this little van, and just started flogging fish. It’s working a treat and I now have a permanent pitch outside Felicity’s farm shop in Morcombelake. I smoke my own salmon in a shed in my garden and it’s practically flying out of the van. I sold 16 sides last week. Lobster sliders are on the menu now as a permanent fixture, too.
I also managed to get back the site of the old Hix Oyster and Fish House in Lyme Regis, although I no longer own my own name so I’ve had to drop that. Everything Hix-related is now owned by the administrators, unfortunately; what a strange world we live in.
My old friend Soren Jessen, who opened 1 Lombard street 21 years ago, also took the opportunity to get me on board as food and drinks director, which gives me a presence in London again.
I’m now a week into opening and things are a bit quiet in the City: after four months of furlough everyone’s now gone on holiday. In the basement we’re planning a secret project that’s sure to piss off my former Soho landlord, who decided to double my rent to £500,000 a year.
That nasty piece of business has bitten him on the arse as the site is now sitting empty. Greedy landlords need to have a good rethink in the current environment and consider partnering with their tenants instead of trying to squeeze them dry – rent based on a percentage of turnover might work – otherwise there’s going to be an awful lot of empty lots in central London.
For those of you who have been to Hix restaurants in the past, you will see a few familiar dishes and classic cocktails at 1 Lombard to revive you after a hard day in the office. Some of my art collection is on the walls – the usual suspects, including Harry Jones who’s been refurbishing Lombard street for us. Let’s hope the next six months will be better for the City than the previous six!