Congratulations to Eyre Brothers on reaching 15, did you expect to be trading that long?
There is that statistic that half of all restaurants fail in the first three years, so once we got over that hurdle, I suppose I wasn't surprised. Parts it have been long, hard and slow and we had two mucky years after 2008, but we seem to be OK now.
We last spoke when Eyre Brothers turned 10, what has changed, if anything in that time?
What I felt for a long time is that people don’t do three course dinners and lunches anymore, so we've restructured the menu. It looks like it’s twice the size, but we've just added tapas into the menu that used to be only served in the bar. Now people can graze off a number of small plates and then might have something to share. People are eating more intimately than they used to.
We still have our lovely old red-faced city gents who want three courses and that’s fine, but we’re now a bit more inclusive to all types of eating.
I think I have also become more luddite in my attitude to making sure our food is authentic and not some fevered imagining of a chef. I like to think that Eyre brothers doesn’t do restaurant food we do food I like to cook. If we could hire old Portuguese and Spanish women dressed in black my kitchen would be full of them.
Are you still behind the stove every day?
Yes. It’s what I do and I do have a view that if your name’s on the restaurant you’ve got to be there really. An awful lot of chefs put their names across the door and I suspect that some haven’t visited it let alone cooked there. I’m 55 and I can’t imagine I’ll still be cooking like I do now in five years, but it’s what I do and I love it. I also cook at home every day. Cooking without having to make a buck out of it is what keeps me sane.
Do Brits understand Portuguese food any better?
In the last five years everyone knows that Lisbon is a groovy destination but I still don’t think people have any idea what Portuguese food is other than a grilled sardine or chicken piri piri, which isn’t really Portuguese, it’s Angolan or Mozambiquan. It has helped that Lisbon has become a destination as people try salt cod for the first time in their lives and come back looking for it, but people still have a greater understanding of what Spanish food is.
Shoreditch has become a mecca for new restaurant concepts, what impact have all the openings had on your business in the last five years?
We’re on the city side in South Shoreditch, which is the quiet bit out of the melee of Shoreditch central. The silicon nerdy people don’t have lunch – I don’t think they get up until 11 - and trade from the city has diminished since 2000, meaning there are few business lunches going on. We still have the creatives – advertising and marketing people - coming out for lunch, but the hip and trendy bearded wonders don’t come too much towards us, so developments haven’t helped us much.
I think five years is a long time in London fashionability. When we moved 15 years ago there were one or two places you’d want to go out to and now there are lots, like Lyle’s and The Clove Club. I like to think we’re a reassuring stalwart rather than something new.
Are you doing anything special to mark 15 years of trade?
We're doing a few things. We've just started opening for Saturday and Sunday lunches, but we haven't really promoted it yet. We'll be doing different promotions through the summer, such as a £15 deal for four tapas and one of our long-standing dishes from the beginning will be on the menu for July at £15 instead of £20. We're also looking at running some events on Saturdays in conjunction with our producers. We might get a ham and sherry producer together so anyone who walks in gets sherry and slice of ham for example.
What do the next 15 years hold?
I’m not going to be here in 15 years that's for sure. Brexit permitting I’d love to go and live in Portugal, but it depends on making the money.
It’s very fun developing a restaurant, but it's hard to make money. We’re successful, but it’s tough, so what I'd love before I finish is for us to do another 25 to 30 per cent trade. It would be good if there was a divvy at the end of the year, rather than us just covering costs.