James Lowe: “A strength we have is we don’t mind changing things last minute”

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

James Lowe chef Lyles ASAP Pizza London restaurant re-openings

Related tags: JKS Restaurants, Fine dining, London, Chefs, Pizza

ASAP Pizza, the takeaway pizza restaurant that is being launched today (10 June) on the ground floor of Flor in London’s Borough Market, could occupy the site long after lockdown has been lifted, according to co-owner James Lowe.

Speaking on BigHospitality​’s latest UnitedWeStand podcast, the Lyle’s and Flor co-founder says that ASAP was created because his restaurant, wine bar and bakery Flor would not be able to open with distancing measures in place.

“The issue with Flor is that it is very small so can’t work with any kind of distance restriction on it,” he says. “It is small and buzzy and what we wanted but all these types of placed are scratching their heads now on what to do.”

Lowe says that Flor has 23 seats on the first floor, which would have to be reduced to six if the two-metre rule was implemented and that the downstairs 18-cover room, which has counter seating, wouldn’t be able to serve any customers because of its size and its open kitchen.

“That takes the number of seats [at Flor] from 41 to six. We thought, ‘what are we going to do?’”

ASAP Pizza, which opens today, will be the pair’s take on pizza on sourdough pizzas made with heritage British wheat. Creative direction comes from New York-based pastry chef Pam Yung, with the menu to feature both red and white based pizzas, with options including a take on a ‘Hawaiian’ (pickled scotch bonnet, red onion, grilled pineapple, cured pig’s cheek).

“A strength we have is we don’t mind changing things last minute – I don’t see it as a failure if the first idea doesn’t work and it’s OK to admit to people that we got that wrong. If ASAP is working and we can keep giving everyone shifts and are turning over enough money then it will probably be what we would carry on with.”

However, Lowe says that even if it was a smash hit, he would still want to get Flor back up and running at the site in the future.

“Even if ASAP was a runaway success like I couldn’t imagine, I still want Flor. We can make it work. I’d still rather that site be Flor and look for another place [for ASAP].”

He adds that if he were to reopen ASAP as a more permanent restaurant in the future, it wouldn’t necessarily follow the model at Borough Market.

“ASAP is not going to be what we will do in the future when we finally get the chance - who know s when that will be now and what the property market will be like. But the style of the pizza is what we want to do in the future.”

Reopening Lyle’s

Lowe is more confident about reopening Lyle’s, which he says is much more suited to working within distancing rules because of its size and relatively small number of covers.

“Every industry person who ate with us when we first opened said we could have put more seats in, but it was not what I wanted to do. Two metres is not great, one metres is way better, but we could do over 50 seats with a skeleton team. Lyle’s is less of a stress.”

Lyle’s won’t open the day it is allowed to, but Lowe says he is working to a July schedule. A major challenge is in the kitchen, he says, with a number of the brigade back overseas, including four in Australia.

“I don’t think we necessarily need to be open on the first night we are allowed to.  But I have come to realisation that it is entirely possible that the Government will say in one briefing nest week that we can open again, and everyone will say we need more notice.”

“I’ve got to contact all these people, who are at least three weeks away from coming back. I am about to tell them to be looking for flights and travel dates.”

When it does reopen, Lyle’s will initially run to a different schedule, opening for evenings only Wednesday to Saturday and for Saturday lunch. It will also open for Sunday lunch for the first time. “That’s a service I think we can guarantee filling,” he says.

The restaurant will run the same menu alongside a smaller one to encourage more people in. “If we are going to operate with limited numbers, we have to be full - we can’t be 50% occupancy on 50% of seats, that would be a real disaster.”

“I hope the appetite is there to go out to restaurants. We’ve seen from parks and beaches that people are not scared about being in a restaurant environment. Will they want to sit down in restaurants? I think they will.”

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