Closing Evelyn’s Table so soon after opening must have been painful...
Yes. We officially launched on 3 November but had to close two days later. It’s a bit frustrating. But what can you do? We’re trying to stay positive and focus on the fact we were very happy with how the various friends and family tastings went and that bookings for November sold out in 36 hours. It’s another pause but we’re now ready to go. It’s deeply annoying but to get upset about it is much like raging at the moon. You’ve just got to get on with it.
How is Luke (Selby, the chef patron) taking it?
He’s been with us since Christmas last year so he’s a bit frustrated too. But he’s very focused and calm, especially for a chef. Despite the challenges he remains upbeat about the project. Evelyn’s Table (which is beneath Layo and Zoe Paskin’s The Blue Posts pub on the Chinatown end of Rupert Street) is a space that allows you to do whatever you want to do because the audience is so small. It means Luke and his brothers can use the tiniest of suppliers and really talk to the guests. It’s probably something you’d want to do for two or three years of your career rather than 10. He’s young and he wants to break the mould. Most chefs of his level would end up in a hotel. What he’s doing is a bit more New York in attitude.
Your venues are all quite small and geared towards close quarters social interaction - has physical distancing been challenging?
When they were talking two metres we just could not have opened, it would have been hopeless. Two metres for most restaurants in the centres of historic cities is unworkable. When it went down to a metre we measured up and found we’d lost 25 - 30% of seats at our venues. It wasn’t an option to wait it out so we came up with a plan that would allow us to survive and keep our people employed. We lived in the moment and dealt with each set of challenges as they arose. 99% of our customers were very relaxed, but I would say that our restaurants aren’t the place for those that are super nervous about going out.
How difficult have the closures been financially?
We have a good relationship with out landlord (Shaftesbury) because our places have done well and attracted other people. So that’s a good starting point. We’re still fighting for our insurance money. We’re involved in the group action brought by the lawyer from Black & White Hospitality, part of which is now with the Supreme Court. If we are successful it will not mitigate the losses but it will cushion them. It’s a horrible feeling to be haemorrhaging money. It’s just my sister and I and the margins for restaurants aren’t great on the sunniest of days. It was very scary. The only thing that makes it less scary is that you knew the whole world was facing the same thing.
Are you taking booking for early December?
Not yet. We’re looking carefully at the number of cases. If it continues to drop we will open bookings. We’re in good position because we do fill our restaurants quite quickly. But we don’t want to rebook people that had their bookings cancelled in November only to cancel them again in December. I’m uneasy. We have a very unimpressive cabinet at the moment and each are coming out with their own announcements. It would be much more helpful if just the Prime Minister spoke. It’s amateur hour in terms of running a country.
How’s the retail offer at The Barbary going?
It’s going really well. We were aiming to have it up and running for Christmas but when the second lockdown hit we brought it forward by a month. It’s a delicatessen. All the food is prepared in the restaurant kitchen; we have three middle eastern breads, lots of dips, lots of slow-cooked dishes that can be easily reheated and pastries. Next year, we’re going to move into The Barbary Next Door space and serve some food to eat-in alongside drinks from a list put together by our sommelier Honey Spencer.