The Handbook
The Handbook

Hide, the now Michelin-starred, Mayfair restaurant that was the talk of the town when it opened back in 2018, is still very much one of London’s hottest tickets on the food scene.

And as the UK’s restaurants gear up to reopen after a three-month break this weekend, we met up with the brains behind it, Ollie Dabbous (socially distanced, of course), to find out what it was really like being a top London chef in these incredibly trying times.

From the heart-breaking lows; the day he had to tell his team he was closing the restaurant to the highs; sun-filled lockdown days pushing his little boy around in a wheelbarrow, to the downright strange; walking through an apocalyptic-like London in the height of crisis, we take a look back at the last three months and find out what the future holds for one of London’s most exciting restaurants.

How has lockdown been for you?

I have been working throughout, setting up and running Hide at Home, our home delivery service. That sense of purpose has been a gift at a time when, for many people, the world has stood still.

The hospitality industry has been hit really hard. How have you coped?

We are lucky to have continued to trade well with the home delivery side of the business. Mentally, it has been a strain at times, but there is a glimpse of the end of the tunnel which helps.

Has it affected the way Hide will run in the future?

Not really. My style of cooking remains unchanged, as does the level of civility and consistency and innovation I aspire to achieve on a daily basis. There has been no epiphany, as such.

There will obviously be an impact with social distancing measures, but other than that, we continue as ever: constantly trying to be better than yesterday. The biggest shift is realising how much I enjoyed my pre-lockdown life, and how as consumers, we had taken so much for granted. It is no bad thing that life’s simple pleasures have regained the sense of luxury they had previously lost.

Do you think there was enough support for small businesses, particularly restaurants?

I have been so busy with Hide and making the best of things for our business, I am unaware of the landscape out there for other restaurants. I think that rent reprieves are absolutely key – the landlords need to realise that it’s better to miss three month’s rent than not have any tenants for the foreseeable future.

I’m no legal expert, but it’s disgusting that there has been no sense of consequence for the insurance companies that pocket the premiums paid but offer absolutely nothing in return.

How are you adapting to the new social distancing measures?

We are fortunate to have a large kitchen and dining room at Hide, so we are less impacted than other smaller restaurants. The strangest thing I’ve personally found hard to adapt to is no handshakes. I ordinarily shake every chef’s hand in the morning and at night. It is a symbol of recognition and appreciation for their work and loyalty, and also as a sign of no ill-feeling if someone has had a bad day. It really encapsulates the sense of camaraderie that every brigade should have. I will miss that.

What did lockdown look like for you?

I’ll have an overarching memory of a very ghostly Central London. At times it’s been a bit like a zombie movie. I would walk through St. James’s Park into work with London seemingly all to myself. It is nice seeing the city gradually return to life.

Who did you isolate with and how did you find it?

When working at Hide, I would stay in my Central London flat on my own but on days off, I would stay with my wife and son, who have moved in with her parents in Surrey for lockdown. It has been nice spending more time with them, and the warm weather has made the lockdown more bearable.

What will you look back on with fond memories?

Seeing my son, Raf transform from a baby into little person, and walks in the countryside with my wife, especially during the lambing season.

I’ll have an overarching memory of a very ghostly Central London. At times it’s been a bit like a zombie movie. I would walk through St. James’s Park into work with London seemingly all to myself. It is nice seeing the city gradually return to life.

Have you enjoyed more time at home?

Yes, it has been nice to catch a breath so to speak, but I think we are all looking forward to socialising again.

What was the most challenging part of lockdown?

Like everyone, missing friends and human interaction has been hard. That sense of fun you get on a night out, which you don’t really have when you stay at home. It has also been frustrating reading stories of flagrant disregard for the lockdown, whilst others have been making huge sacrifices, sometimes the ultimate sacrifice. As a nation, I feel there should have been a greater sense of purpose for the greater good, and more draconian punitive measures for disregarding lockdown protocol, especially in light of the generosity of the furlough scheme, which many countries don’t have.

How have you been checking in with your team and the business?

Very simply, I work there each week, then I will email the other chefs or have a chat with them on the phone on my days off.

How did you stay calm in such strange times?

I’m always pretty calm. I’ve been doing this long enough now not to get flustered! The more organised you are, the less surprises there will be. Not much “me-time”, but there never is. Looking forward to getting back in a gym whenever that may be possible.

Let’s talk food. What have you been cooking during lockdown?

Ricotta dumplings

French toast

Tres Leches cake

Potato salads

A few BBQs

Simple stuff for home-cooking.

Best thing you ate during lockdown?

It’s hard to beat a BBQ in the sunshine.

Have you been making any at-home cocktails?
Just gin and tonics and wine. Personally, I associate cocktails with a night out rather than drinking them at home.

What did you watch, read and listen to during lockdown?

I’m currently reading The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck. I’m also addicted to Breaking Bad (finally got round to seeing it!)

What are the three things you will remember most about lockdown?

Telling all the staff individually that we would be closing the restaurant. That was a long and sad day.

Walking through a wraith-like city to work.

Pushing my son around in a wheelbarrow on days off.

What are you most looking forward to once we come out the other side?

Going out for a meal with friends.

What’s next for Hide?

We are re-opening on July 4th, and we have an amazing menu lined up. It is my favourite time of the year for produce right now. I can’t wait to see the kitchen running again, seeing all the team and a busy dining room. It will be the best feeling for staff and customers alike. A real celebration.

The Handbook has teamed up with The Grill at The Dorchester for an exclusive competition. Entrants will have the chance to win a dinner for two at The Grill at The Dorchester when it re-opens!