The Insider: Adam Hyman

How one man came to influence London's dining revolution

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At the end of a long, not remotely arduous day observing Adam Hyman charm and schmooze, flatter and fluff, wheel and deal, one question would burn inside anyone: “Adam, what is it that you actually do?” Hyman responds when I ask – as he reacts to most situations – with good humour and equanimity.

“It’s a tricky one,” he concedes. “Yeah, people always go, ‘What’s your job?’” Then he laughs like he has caught the joke a few seconds before everyone else.

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Fine, I will try to explain on behalf of both of us, using a (true, though redacted) recent example. About a month ago, the phone rang in Hyman’s fifth-floor Piccadilly office that doesn’t quite, even if you crane your neck, have a view of Nelson’s Column. At the other end of the line was a man he had never spoken to before, the owner of a Mediterranean restaurant in north London that has been reviewed breathlessly since it opened a few years ago. The restaurateur had outgrown his neighbourhood and was thinking of expanding his offering in a more affordable, mass-market direction. Would Hyman be able to help?

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Of course Hyman would. He inquired if the restaurateur had financing; he did, sort of. Then Hyman asked whether he had a site in mind; he hadn’t thought of it. Before even the second coffee of the morning, Hyman had arranged meetings with a couple of contacts who could help: one landlord and an agent who specialises in finding sites for new restaurants. Hyman hadn’t been paid a penny or even formalised a breakdown for future remuneration. He was confident enough that, if it did work out, which was by no means likely in the precarious world of hospitality, he would be well looked after.

More than anything, Hyman just really loves restaurants. The narcotic charge he gets from bringing together, say, a brilliant young chef and the perfect site is equivalent to the one that, perhaps, some of us might experience when we make a change to our fantasy-football line-up and the new transfer buries a hat-trick. And doesn’t get booked for taking off his shirt in celebration. Friends of Hyman call him “the restaurant Rain Man”: he views the creation of a successful dining venture as a complex mathematical puzzle. When something is awry, it can plunge him into a neurotic tailspin like the one Dustin Hoffman’s Ray plays out when he is directed to board a flight that isn’t operated by Qantas.

In old-fashioned, Gladwellian terminology, Adam Hyman takes the role of a “connector”. In The Tipping Point, his 2000 deconstruction of social epidemics, the seer Malcolm Gladwell defines them as “people with a special gift for bringing the world together”. Connectors tend to share some fundamental qualities: first, they have a throbbing contacts book; second, they are aware of the importance of keeping up with “weak ties”, or casual acquaintances; and finally, unlike a lot of us, they are not particularly judgmental. In other words, they tend to like people, and, in turn, other people like them back.

Hyman calls himself a “restaurant consultant”. It was not a position that was advertised, nor was it one that the denizens of the hospitality industry realised they had much need for. But the 29-year-old has created a niche. And now it’s hard to imagine how much of anything got done before. That his principal qualification for the job appears to be that he has a long-standing enjoyment of eating in excellent restaurants makes the position especially enviable. That the main hardship is that his dinner will, sometimes for nights on end, consist exclusively of canapés will not elicit any great outpouring of sympathy.

This typical day, a Wednesday in the gloaming of late summer, starts for Hyman with a meeting with Capital & Counties Properties Plc, or Capco, a landlord with interests in Covent Garden and Earls Court. Not a few properties here and there, but vast swathes of Covent Garden and 70 acres of prime real estate in Earls Court. This morning, at a Swedish fika-house called Bageriet, Hyman is meeting Beverley Churchill, Capco’s creative director, and Simon Gibbs, one of her retail negotiators.

The formidable Churchill has been instrumental in shaking off Covent Garden’s long-standing reputation for tourists watching jugglers, unicyclists and, inevitably, juggling unicyclists. She has now brought Hyman in to advise on F&B; that is, food and beverages. Capco has already scored some spectacular coups in Covent Garden, notably the first outposts outside New York for Balthazar, Keith McNally’s storied bistro, and next-level burger joint Shake Shack. Hyman is on a monthly retainer to make sure the progress in the area doesn’t stall. Discussion this morning centres on Henrietta Street, a neglected byway off the main piazza that Capco has invested heavily in recently. Churchill’s vision is to turn it into a men’s fashion destination, with F&B to match.

“I don’t want Covent Garden to be achingly trendy,” Churchill says. “We leave that to east London.” Two of the early arrivals on Henrietta Street are setting the tone: a first UK flagship store for the intrepid outerwear of Nigel Cabourn; and The Ivy Market Grill, a brother outpost of the Theatreland stalwart The Ivy.

Hyman nods, and pops his Kaweco Sport ballpoint. He is compact and makes neat, precise movements like an actor playing Hercule Poirot. He wears Michael Caine glasses, a vintage silver Rolex and Nike sneakers with invisible socks that flash a good four inches of ankle. He repeatedly apologises during the day that an event we are attending later requires us to wear suits. His style is edgy for a West End business meeting, too square for Hoxton, which pretty well sums up his sensibility. He would be happier eating Mitteleuropean classics in an opulent, baroque dining room than he would be chowing down on a dirty burger, in a railway arch somewhere off the Tube map. Later, he will admit that he doesn’t entirely “get” east London.

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What Hyman brings to the table with Capco is gossip, both about the London dining scene and wider restaurant trends (this instant: man-friendly salads and Greek food). He sometimes leans in as he tells you something, giving an extra impetus to the idea that he’s sharing privileged information. He talks about a road trip he’s taking to the US with the one-time Polpo head chef Tom Oldroyd. He drops in to Churchill that in New York he’s meeting with Ken Friedman, the business partner of chef April Bloomfield, who everyone wants a piece of right now. Hyman mixes the fun and frothy with an appreciation for grown-up business: concepts such as incubator tenants – younger, greener start-ups that Capco might take a punt on – and ERV, the estimated retail value that is the bottom line for any landlord.

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The Capco meeting ends with a brief discussion of Earls Court, a wildly ambitious scheme to turn one of the most grisly areas of the capital into an idyllic vision of parks, amenities and al fresco dining. But that’s maybe a decade or so away — they can return to that particular topic another time.

Eating out and regeneration have a relatively new connection. Suddenly – no one’s sure exactly why – food became a compulsive preoccupation for many of us. We cared about the provenance of everything. We didn’t care about having to wait outside the latest, reservation-free, even-smaller-plates restaurant. We Instagrammed our flat whites. These changes have been felt in all corners of Britain, but nowhere was bitten harder than London, a city Hyman calls “the food capital of the world at the moment”.

In short, Adam Hyman, restaurant consultant, could not have existed 10 years ago. A decade ago, he was training as a chartered surveyor. It’s a safe profession, one his father convinced him would always offer financial security, but it wasn’t something he had a passion for — unlike eating out. Restaurants, as he tells it, were in his blood: his father was on the board of Groupe Chez Gérard and his mother was a general manager of London patisserie chain Richoux. Hyman had neither the palate nor the monomania to become a chef, but he did think he might like to be a maître d’, those slick meet-and-greeters who often make the difference between a good restaurant and a great one.

It was, however, an encounter with Jeremy King that set Hyman on a different path. King, along with his partner Chris Corbin, has been one step ahead of London’s restaurant scene for 30 years. Hyman introduced himself to King one day at The Wolseley. Ever the inveterate connector, he made sure they stayed in touch. When Corbin & King opened Brasserie Zédel off Piccadilly Circus in 2012, King offered Hyman a job doing its social media.

“I was immediately impressed with his extensive knowledge and passion for the restaurant business despite being a training surveyor,” King recalls. “I liked his attitude and I always try and find time for people who have such a commitment and need a break.”

The job with Zédel was, by mutual consent, short-lived – eight months – but King steered Hyman towards a gap in the market. When King was away on holiday, he  found he missed London’s restaurant chatter. Even in a couple of weeks, there would be dozens of openings and closings, hirings and firings. He suggested Hyman, as an insider for the restaurant industry, was well placed to publish a weekly newsletter.

The first The Code Bulletin was emailed to 30 of Hyman’s contacts in January 2013. It launched formally soon afterwards to perhaps 100 people: impressive names, Jeremy King and the Polpo group’s Russell Norman and so on, but still a tiny crowd. Now Hyman dispatches it every week to 7,000 subscribers, all of whom have been personally vetted and most of whom work in  hospitality. I was told, more than once, that across London’s kitchens there is rapt silence when The Code Bulletin pings into inboxes at 9am on a Monday. For two or three minutes chefs stop chopping, waiters stop primping and everyone stares at their phones. “There was a dearth of information in the business and Adam’s willingness to provide advice and information was to a degree unique,” King says. “He had the opportunity to become an industry ‘authority’ and to his credit he grasped it.”

The Code Bulletin covers Hyman’s costs, nothing more, but it has established him as a highly desirable guest for restaurant openings and the like. It also boosts his consultancy work — the stuff that does pay. When Hyman is looking for stories, he walks around Soho. “You couldn’t do The Code Bulletin from your desk,” he notes. “You have to be out pounding the streets and bumping into people.”

And because the tone is impartial – unlike reviewers – he cultivates few enemies. Or to appropriate another conceit of Gladwell’s, Hyman is a maven: Yiddish for a person who accumulates knowledge. When everyone decides they need to eat at, for example, Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone, that can be traced back to mavens. They are, as The Tipping Point explains, “information brokers, sharing and trading what they know”.

After the Capco meeting, Hyman dashes to Blacks, perhaps the louchest of Soho’s private members’ clubs, for lunch cooked by the new chef, an alumnus of hip Bloomsbury restaurant Dabbous. The club has recently changed ownership and Hyman has been invited to join the committee, which is now making sure – in very un-Blacksian spirit – that existing members cough up their fees. He leaves before pudding to meet with the Salt Yard Group of restaurants to tell them about a new website for Code, his umbrella company. Then it’s off to Bar Boulud in Knightsbridge for a flute of prosecco to celebrate, from what I can establish, that the restaurant has moved some tables around. It may not be immediately obvious what Hyman does, but he works tirelessly at it.

Day turns to night at Annabel’s, another members’ club where Hyman is on the committee. Mark Birley’s subterranean playground – now owned by Richard Caring, whose other interests include The Ivy – is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and seems to have decided it can no longer trade off Frank Sinatra holding court at the bar or Bryan Ferry standing in as the cabaret act. A refined food and drink offering is, inevitably, part of the revamp, and now it needs to attract the right crowd, which is where people like Hyman come in. Tonight, each committee member has been asked to invite a dozen friends, none of whom has been to the club before, and the hope is that word will spread from there.

As stipulated by Annabel’s, Hyman has changed into a suit, but, despite the dress code, he seems the most relaxed he’s been all day. The pals he’s brought are all in the industry — a restaurant manager, a food blogger, a private concierge — and at last he seems to be having fun, not working; though these are tricky concepts to delineate when you go out as much as Hyman does. There are stumpy red drinks, elegant green ones, bowls of risotto and delicious mouthfuls of lamb and couscous. When Hyman is out of earshot, one of his friends tells me that he hopes Hyman will open his own restaurants one day. That his destiny is to be a new generation’s Nick Jones, the Soho House Group entrepreneur, or Jeremy King.

King admits that he wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. “I wasn’t aware that was his ambition and I would counsel against it – but then I do that to everyone!” he says. “I think he would be better served staying at the table. He will offer more to restaurateurs and customers as a font of knowledge.”

I look for Hyman to ask if that is a dream he has, but he’s nowhere to be found. Either he is upstairs in Annabel’s notorious inside-outside smoking terrace, or he’s back at home, finally off-duty for the day, tucking into cheese on toast.


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