The group behind a Michelin-starred Soho tapas bar and a portfolio of Mexican-inspired taquerias has announced it will open a huge new restaurant on the site of a seminal Soho brasserie and cocktail bar of the 2000s. Harts Group, which runs Barrafina, Quo Vadis, and El Pastor, will open its latest branch of El Pastor on the former Hix site at 66 - 70 Brewer Street in June this year.
“Finding a Soho site for their small group of Mexican taquerias has been a long-held goal for Sam and James Hart and Crispin Somerville. They had originally looked at Soho before settling on Stoney St, London Bridge for the first El Pastor, which launched in 2016,” the company said today.
A new restaurant opening in Soho indicates a number of things: One — it is a throwback to the pre-pandemic days of a new Soho restaurant opening every day (give-or-take); two — that the roadmap, the budget, and the charge towards a spring/summer reopening is seemingly inexorably irreversible. But, three — there will be sites. There will be money. And there are those who smell blood.
Harts, like JKS, is a among a class of restaurant group in London that could be classified now as the “corporate independent” — a relatively big-money outfit that has significant resource but maintains the image, in part by subdividing its portfolio and continually tapping trends, of an independent restaurant (group.) It is not Pizza Express, it’s not even Franco Manca. But nor is it L’Antica Pizzeria. It might not be at the behest of venture capital or private investor cash, and is, by definition “independently” owned, but its infrastructure leaves it able to exert the kind of leverage which many other independents can only dream.
It is those restaurant operations which are now circling above the most desirable real estate in the city; hoping to attract the best workers out of work back into work; and hoping to exercise yet more market dominance in the weeks, months, and years after reopening. In January, JKS Restaurants chief executive Jyotin Sethi told Eater: “the prospects for the next two or three years are better than they were before [the crisis] — less supply, better people, good sites, cheaper sites, better deals to be done with landlords.”
Nowhere is this more likely to be seized than in the very centre of the city. “Soho is our spiritual home in many ways,” partner Sam said. “It’s where we have Barrafina and Quo Vadis, and James, Crispin and I spent many long, happy evenings in HIX Soho under Mark’s stewardship. We plan to do justice to the legacy of this special, magnetic site with El Pastor Soho and create wonderful experiences for 2021 and beyond.” Chef Mark Hix closed his eponymous restaurant in December 2019, after ten years on Brewer Street.
In addition to the dishes that have propelled El Pastor to a four-site business in five years, sustained by the tortillas made from heirloom corn sourced from the Tamoa co-operative in Mexico, there will be “a new focus on fiery seasonal seafood tostadas, reflecting epic eating experiences in Baja California.” Another new dish for El Pastor will be a crispy duck taco sharing plate. At the bar: mezcals, tequilas, cocktails, Mexican beers, and a small selection of wines.
On the lower ground floor, the group are offering another glimpse into a potential post-pandemic hospitality trend: the commingling of food and music. Or “Ecstasy 2.0.” Styled as “Mezcaleria El Colmillo,” named after the nightclub Sam Hart and Somerville ran in the 1990s and 00s in Mexico City, the space will be inspired by the “many sunrises” witnessed in their “Mid-Century apartment in the Condesa district.” The basement will be a modern take on that style: “a house party vibe, DJ decks, and a Funktion 1 sound system.”
2021 Party People; delivery and meal kits this is not.