'I don't have to be all things to all people anymore'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Michelin-starred chef Dom Robinson is set to close his restaurant of five years, The Blackbird, and reopen another: Renaissant. 

Speaking to The Staff Canteen, the chef explained how he had come to the conclusion that running a pub wasn't for him, but that by keeping the casual dining offering he and his team launched in lockdown, Pizza Paloma, they could refine the restaurant offering and keep a broad customer base happy.

A fresh start

"I'm feeling good about it," he said. "It wasn't a big decision in the end, it just feels like the right thing to do." 

"I just wanted to do what I want to do - which is not cooking in a pub."

With the Pizza Paloma component outside year-round, where, he said, "margins are better and the wage cost is more favourable," "I can concentrate on what I actually want to do in the restaurant. I don't have to be all things to all people anymore." 

Working with his whole team - and having thankfully dodged the bullet when it comes to staffing issues many are facing - it's a case of getting the ball rolling. 

With a launch date set for September 22nd, the chef is set for "three months of painting, decorating and opening the new restaurant," all the while keeping revenue flowing.

"My aim is to get that comfort level up - new chairs, tablecloths, slightly different artwork on the walls, new painting," he said.

Back on track

As for the food, it will follow neatly on the offering at The Blackbird when it reopened last year. 

"We did simplify the food a little bit," he explained, setting the price point lower, which, he said, "worked out well for us." 

Whilst the menu isn't going to change radically, not having the pub dimension to oversee will give the chef more leeway for development. 

The change will also allow the chef to balance out his professional and personal life, as he won't need to be stuck in the pub cooking roast dinners every Sunday. 

"If I've learned anything about this whole process of opening a restaurant, getting a star and almost losing everything," he said, "it's that I do need to have a little bit of balance in my life." 

"Pizza Paloma will be open on Sundays, so I can close the restaurant," and instead open Wednesday to Saturday, meaning he might even aspire to spend some quality time with his wife and children.

"My headspace now allows me to take a step back and look at things objectively and respond to situations in a measured way rather than doing it under a cloud of insanity," he said. 

Not about Michelin, but a bit about TripAdvisor

Knowing that he is likely to at least temporarily lose a spot in the Michelin Guide this year, the chef isn't aggrieved by the prospect. 

"The Michelin Guide is the be all and end all of guides, it's the only guide and the only rating and the only accolade that matters," he conceded, "but I'm opening this to cook delicious food that looks beautiful." 

"Obviously I do want to get a star again, but I never sat down and planned how to get one, I just tried to cook food that tasted nice and kept improving it, that's what we did and it just so happened that Michelin decided that it was worthy of a star." 

"So I'll just do the same again." 

The past year has shown that Michelin can deploy its inspectors to make sure they get to the places they need to, so there's no saying they won't have Renaissant on their radar.

Regardless, Dom said, "no matter what timeframe - if it does happen - is entirely up to whether the food is good enough to warrant being in the guide." 

"So if I produce what they're looking for, that's brilliant," but, he said, "I'm certainly not going to sit down and have team briefings on how to do it, I'm just going to cook and see what happens." 

There is some relief in turning over a new leaf as well, partly because of the baggage that goes with having an online presence for The Blackbird, even though it has been closed for the best part of the pandemic.

"The final nail in the coffin," he said, was a recent two-star review on TripAdvisor, which they had taken down because the pub wasn't even open, but re-appeared as a one-star review the following week, "saying, 'pub closed when it should be open.'" 

"That was it for me," he said, as it showed him that "I can reopen The Blackbird, do the food that I want to do and take away the pub element, but I'm still going to get naysayers." 

"The only way for me to navigate all of that was just to start again with a new name." 

"I want to give people what they want - and there are loads of walkers around here," he said, "but obviously I need to respect the people that come to a nice dinner," as there is still a public perception of Michelin-starred restaurants needing to have the allures of something more upmarket than a pub. 

"The only way that I could take that out of the equation was by providing something for the walkers, the cyclists and something for the locals to come in and drink - in the sunshine and in the winter, because now I know that we can make that work -  and then for the people who want to come for a nice lunch or a nice dinner and eat our food." 

"Rather than be all things to all people in one venue, I'm doing one thing in one and another in the other. It just seems to make more sense."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 11th June 2021

'I don't have to be all things to all people anymore'