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The long road back
The long road back Chef Mark Hix’s journey from restaurant empire to fish truck (and back again)
Chef Mark Hix is starting over
It can feel at times, in the pub and Fish House, as if we are on the front line of a vast social experiment that has come with the ending of lockdown. Since what some rashly called ‘freedom day’, it has been down to those who run hospitality businesses to decide policy on wearing masks. Government messaging hasn’t exactly given a clear lead.
The line we are taking in all of this confusion – guided by our front-ofhouse staff, many of whom are young and still haven’t been double-vaccinated – is that they will continue to wear masks. But we are also leaving it up to customers to decide whether or not to follow suit.
The result of this approach, I can report on a completely unscientific basis, is as confusing as the official advice. In The Fox Inn at Corscombe, the majority of those who come to eat and drink are not wearing masks. But a few miles south on the Dorset coast at the Fish House in Lyme, the opposite is true. The vast majority put on a mask to move around the restaurant, and only take it off when they are sitting at their table.
How to fathom the logic of these two different reactions? Perhaps it is because we’ve finally got some decent summer weather, for now at least, meaning most customers at The Fox sit outdoors, where the scientists tell us the risk of infection is greatly reduced and masks are arguably less necessary.
At the Fish House, numbers are more evenly split between indoors and out, while around the town in general, all of the local shops are still insisting on masks. So people there may just have got used to wearing them every time they go indoors in public.
Nothing, though, is clear. On the whole fiasco about workers being pinged and required to isolate, I feel more confident in expressing a view. So far only two members of our staff have been contacted. Their absence has caused issues, inevitably, when we remain as shorthanded as we have been since lockdown began to lift back in the spring. Like many other places, we are now closed on Sunday evenings and Mondays to avoid completely exhausting our team.
Yet compared with quite a few pubs and hotels down here we have so far got off lightly. Some have had to close down altogether because they have so many staff required to stay at home. I can only sympathise and imagine their frustration at this state of affairs, particularly after the 18 months they have endured, and with the summer staycation season underway.
And it is getting really, really busy in Dorset at the moment, now that the school summer break has started. It’s hardly surprising that so many people are choosing to holiday in Britain, I remember thinking, when I was coming back from my three days in green-listed Iceland earlier in the summer. I ended up having to wait for over an hour to get through passport control at Heathrow (less than many others, I know), with all of us mixed in with returnees from amber- and redlisted countries. Who in their right mind wants to risk the chaos at our airports, however tempting an overseas break sounds?
So it is in full swing here, but there is still anxiety in the air, including the occasional niggly customer, who allows that general sense of unease about the state of play with the pandemic to affect how they treat our staff. Thankfully such individuals remain in the minority.
There seem to have been a lot of people passing through our doors in recent weeks who were at school with me in Bridport. We are talking 40 years ago and sometimes, at least initially, the face doesn’t quite ring a bell when they greet me like a longlost friend, but it quickly all comes back – yet another benefit of being back in Dorset.
And then there are the letters I have been receiving from satisfied customers. You always get one or two of these in this business, but there have been many more over the past two or three months, another consequence, I believe, of the unprecedented times we are living through. I can’t tell you how much they are appreciated when we are working at full tilt.
We are now closed on Sunday evenings and Mondays to avoid exhausting our team