Pummelled by the pandemic and facing catastrophe from the cost of living crisis, Nick Hill found himself contemplating closure of his acclaimed restaurant. Instead he wrote a book.
The chef patron of The Hispanist has gone into print with a hardback which bears the name of his restaurant in Hull’s charming Paragon Arcade. As well as 100 of Nick’s favourite recipes, the 220 pages tell the story of his passion for all things Hispanic and his journey from teaching and learning in Spain to opening the restaurant only months before Covid hit.
But Nick’s introduction is a heartfelt apology to his family, which expanded with the arrival of a second child just before the book came out:
“Sorry for never being there, sorry for never being engaged in family matters, sorry for the late nights.
“Sorry for bringing our work home, and sorry for the mood swings. We’re temperamental people. The truth is, being a chef/restaurant owner is a life-consuming job.”
The book was devised in partnership with A Way With Media, Birmingham-based media professionals with a diverse client base featuring the likes of Marcus Wareing, Benjamin Zephaniah, John Lydon and former Hull MP Alan Johnson.
“It’s to support what we do – make a cook book of recipes that people can do at home rather than come up with something hyper-technical that needs all sorts of equipment.
“It’s really recipe focused. It’s broken down into different sections – snacks, veg, meat, fish, desserts, cocktails and I tried not to do pages and pages of spiel around that.
“I purposely avoided making it difficult. You can create any sort of meal from what’s in it and you should also be able to find everything you need in the local shops. It was hard work and by the end I was sick of it – but I might do another one!”
The simplicity is showcased in Nick’s recipe for Croquattie, with everyday ingredients including tomato ketchup and chip spice, now established as a local delicacy . The book explains:
“This is a bit of fun. A combination of two of my favourite foods. The croqueta and the patty.
“It’s as traditional as it gets here, and something that outsiders just don’t get. It’s a food born out of poverty, thought to originate some time in the 1800s as an alternative to a fishcake when people couldn’t afford to eat fish.”
Hard times have become a fact of life for Nick and his team after the disruption of lockdowns and the cost of living crisis. He closed for two months at the beginning of this year to recharge his batteries, revamp the menu and the premises and reduce soaring energy costs.
“As we built up the business last summer I felt we could be heading for a decent December at last, but then we realised there would be problems with food supplies because of the war. Oil was the obvious problem but there was everything else as well. Fish, meat, it shows how fragile the markets are.
“We have never had a good Christmas. With the latest one energy bills were sky high and people were really cautious about how they spent their money.”
Optimism is increasing as diners return to The Hispanist from as far away as Bristol and London and from across the north – Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford. Staff and some of the suppliers have changed and are all the more experienced and committed after the trials of recent years. And there is more focus on the food.
“Our menu is based around the things that interest me at the time, with the message that tapas is not a flavour. The menu will always change to pick up new techniques and we will keep our eye on interesting flavours and of course the seasonal opportunities.
“We have put more and more money into the restaurant, maybe more than we should have. Sometimes I don’t know how we did it, but now it’s about surviving and earning a bit of money. It’s interesting to think about what things could have been like in a different time.”