The Michelin-starred Oxford Kitchen will close and be replaced by new concept 215, with executive chef Paul Welburn explaining that things will not be the same when restaurants are able to reopen and "everyone will need to adapt".
Welburn explained that 215 presented "a blank canvas" that can be adapted as details of operating restrictions and consumer outlooks becoming clearer, without the restrictions on both customers and the site that went with the tasting menu-only format, which was awarded a Michelin star in the 2019 guide.
He said: "We have to wait until it's safe to open – it could be three months, six months, who knows. Once we know what the outlook will be, we will develop it around what people want and what will pull people out of their homes and into restaurants and make them feel comfortable again."
The new offering will be simpler, but retain the former quality of produce and cookery, with regularly changing dishes that will appeal to returning locals as well as those from further afield.
The lunch offer will incorporate a selection of individually priced large and small dishes, while in the evening the restaurant will offer a two- or three-course, fixed-price menu that is "affordable and great value".
Welburn said that all he cares about is "great food and customers enjoying themselves", with the changes coming from a desire to remove any barriers to that. He added: "As frustrating as it is that all the hard work that went into the Oxford Kitchen, which was brilliant, stopped overnight, we've got to look at the bigger picture and come out of this bigger, stronger, better and build up again as a team. It might take another two or three years to get back to that level and confidence in dining where we can have restaurants having those identities.
"I didn't want to open with tasting menus and then find that we can't sustain that. We can always build up again, but I didn't want to have to cut things away after reopening and reduce and reduce, it's better to go the other way round."
The chef thinks that social media will be vital in the coming months to communicate with customers, introduce them to the new concept and encourage them through the door.
"I never got into this industry for accolades. I have always said if a restaurant is successful, has quality and is sustainable you'll get recognition whether from customers, business or accolades, but when something like this happens it puts everything into perspective", he added.
"This is livelihoods and lives and we can't be arrogant about it. Everyone will look at everything differently and you can't blame anyone for changing or hitting the pause button. The main thing is to get through this and look to the next stage as an industry."
Welburn believes the industry needs to show cohesion around reopening and presented a united front as it pushes for support to continue until it is genuinely feasible for restrictions to allow restaurants to operate.
He added: "If they allow us to open and stop the furlough but put restrictions in place, it will be the same as the week before they locked us down, where we were open and trying to trade but didn't know what was going to come through the door.
"We will not know who's going to change their mind last second or if they're going to feel comfortable when they arrive and that's going to be the thing that will cripple every restaurant. If we're opening, it's got to be with a model that works."
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