The chef, who is this weekend working alongside his old protégé Matt Gillan at The Pass restaurant in West Sussex, says that his next move is ‘hugely important’, following his abrupt departure from Coworth Park last year.
“I plan to have something before the end of the year, one unit in London,” Campbell told BigHospitality. “I’m also looking at a couple outside of London as fine dining restaurants.
“And then there’s’ something more focused towards social dining, near where I live. I’m looking for a pop-up pub in Marlborough. We’ll make our own ale, grow our own stuff and just take things back to the real basics.
“I’m starting to get the lion’s share in terms of sites becoming available. There might actually be something in the next week which could be the winner. The next move is hugely important for me - it has to be right, it has to feel like it’s the right thing to do.
“When that happens, we’ll sign contracts and make it work.”
Back in the kitchen
John Campbell Restaurants will see Campbell returning to the kitchen of the London site, with Olly Rouse (Campbell’s head chef at Coworth Park) and Chris Warwick (former head chef of The Barn at Coworth Park) both having an equity in the business.
According to Campbell, the new restaurants and pub will follow a simple ethos, ‘taking things back to where they were 30-40 years ago’.
“We’re custodians of nature’s larder now, we’re not magicians, we shouldn’t change what nature has given us. So the ethos will be quite simple: seasonality, provenance and giving the team the oxygen that they need to develop.
“I’ll be firmly in the kitchen, three or four days a week in the fine-dining restaurant and wherever I’m needed after that.”
The pop-up at The Pass at South Lodge Hotel sees Campbell cooking alongside Gillan and Rouse for three days and six services from 21 to 23 June. The menu for lunch and dinner varies each day and will include brand new dishes that Campbell has been creating and developing over the past 12 months.
Campbell, who earned Michelin stars at The Lords of The Manor, The Vineyard at Stockcross and Coworth Park, sees the weekend pop-up as the beginning of a new era, following what he now refers to as a ‘bruise’ on his personal life.
Had to rebuild
“Today’s really the punctuation of the leaving of Coworth and the begininng of the new era,” he added. “The time in between today and when I left, it was tough. I’ll be very honest, it was incredibly tough.
“There were things that happened there which I can’t share, things that bruised everything - my health, my confidence - I’ve had to rebuild, and it’s been a slow process.
“I had a huge adoration from the industry and from my peers and I was a two-starred Michelin chef. I was on TV, with books and life was made. Then suddenly, I wasn’t in that mix anymore. Spiritually I am, but physically I’m just not in the mix, so it’s tough. People often say that when you retire you tend to lose your passion for life - I was certainly full of that feeling.
“So I’ve just torn everything apart - why I cook what I cook, the food styles, was it right; was it from my heart? And no, it wasn’t from my heart.
“I’ve also done a lot of travelling, going to see some suppliers and looking at the bare roots of things. I recently went on a trip to Spain - to the likes of Cadiz and Jerez, to see how things could be done. Otherwise, since Coworth Park, I’ve done a lot of reading and walking and right now, I’m absolutely where I want to be.”
Alongside John Campbell Restaurants, Campbell will continue his work with contract caterer BaxterStorey. For more information on the pop-up at The Pass, visit www.southlodgehotel.co.uk.