Exclusive interview with Allister Barsby and Alice Bussi of Hide and Fox
By Olivia Riccini
Sitting neatly in the pretty village of Saltwood in what was once the village shop, you will find the curiously named Hide and Fox. Tucked aside the village green and surrounded by chocolate-box houses, Hide and Fox basks in its traditional Kentish setting. However, Hide and Fox is far from traditional, and is instead a magnificent juxtaposition to its quintessential location. Although a neighbourhood restaurant, Hide and Fox takes on a contemporary identity in everything from food to decor. Serving vibrant modern cuisine, Hide and Fox revel in their friendly and informal atmosphere, which embraces an accessible fine dining experience with a relaxed and unpretentious approach.
Praised by the Michelin Guide for its unique identity and take on food, Hide and Fox was awarded their Michelin star in January 2021, having already claimed three AA Rosettes. But what makes Hide and Fox even more remarkable, is the couple that sit at the helm at this modern day dining marvel.
Allister Barsby and Alice Bussi were only 32 years old when they popped the Champagne cork to celebrate their accolade. “We watched it right here live streamed on the laptop,” says Alice, who sits in front of me in the restaurant one April morning. The restaurant itself is painted in a rich aegean blue, which melts alongside the original dark wood panels and floorboards, seeping a deep and solid sense of quality into the venue. Head chef and co-owner Allister sits in front of me too, sipping a coffee in a beam of warm spring sunshine. I ask him how he felt the moment he was awarded the star. “It’s the pinnacle of a chef’s career,” he smiles. The Michelin Guide heralded Allister as: ‘An experienced chef who has the courage to know when to hold back; instead, taking a measured approach which demonstrates a sound understanding of classic techniques, skilfully allied with modernity.’ Together with his partner Alice, he puts this into play five days a week in the kitchen of Hide and Fox.
A Kent local born and raised in Whitstable, Allister moved to Devon when he was 19 years old to chase his culinary dream having worked in two classic Kent treasures, Wheelers Oyster Bar and Reads Restaurant in Faversham. In Devon, Allister was made head chef at Gidleigh Park at just 24 years of age, maintaining two Michelin stars and regaining five AA Rosettes before taking the position as executive chef at Grove of Narberth in Pembrokeshire, Wales. “We have always worked in boutique venues; the luxury side of hospitality,” says Alice, who herself is an award-winning restaurant manager and esteemed sommelier.
Raised in Liguria, Italy, Alice attended the renowned Stresa Hotel School on Lake Maggiore for five years before working in the five star Gallia Palace in Tuscany; the start of a glittering career that took her to high-society locations around the world. Now, Alice leads what the Michelin Guide dubbed, a ‘charming service team’, whom it is clear she has great admiration for and nurtures alongside the two junior sous chefs. “Our team are all in their 20s. It is our belief that when you look after your team well and give them a good balance of work and life they have more energy, more motivation, are well rested and happy to put their utmost into their career and work. That’s why we give them a four-day week. The hard-work and the long days of the hospitality industry need to be recognised,” she explains warmly.
Alice and Allister met when they both worked at the Bath Priory. Between them, they have lived in a myriad of different places and have experienced a host of unique cuisines and cultures. I ask them what brought them back to Allister’s home of Kent. “Every time we would come back to visit Allister’s family, he would say ‘I do love it here!’” Alice laughs affectionately. “The timing just felt right. We were ready.” They nod in a solid agreement. I ask them what they love most about the county and Alice, a true wine connoisseur and accredited sommelier praises its Wine Garden of England title. “I love being surrounded by the vineyards here. We work closely with Simpsons Wine and have almost their entire collection on our wine list. But we’re not exclusively wine. I take just as much pride in our cocktails too.” Alice tells me that she and Allister do not encroach on each other’s areas of expertise. “Every day I am in awe of his genius. We keep it professional, I always call him ‘chef’ at work, never Ali,” she says. When I ask her what makes them such a good team: “Trust in each other’s knowledge and ideas is crucial to our success.”
When I quiz Allister on what he loves most about the county, he praises the agricultural element of Kent’s identity. “We are committed to quality when it comes to ingredients. We are definitely able to showcase the best quality of Kent,” he says. “However, I don’t restrict myself to Kent alone; I use the best of what Britain has to offer. A spring menu staple is of course lamb. I use Kentish lamb from the local Longlands Farm. I also use butter from The Cheesemakers of Canterbury, and during game season I use local birds and venison. The fruit and vegetables from Kent are also top quality, that’s what’s great about running a kitchen from the Garden of England.”
I ask Allister what makes his approach to cooking and creating his menus unique and his answer is one which reflects Michelin’s description of him. “For me it’s all about the balance of flavour: sweet, salty, acidic, whatever they might be, the flavours of each dish and every menu are my focus. At Hide and Fox, we only do tasting menus.” When they first opened, the locals of Saltwood came to Hide and Fox intrigued by what they offered. “We were welcomed like old friends,” says Alice. “And what we ultimately want to do is make fine dining and our approach to high-end cuisine a relaxed and enjoyable experience.” The ambiance and interior of the restaurant does indeed lend itself to Allister and Alice’s desire for Hide and Fox to be an intimate space in which to enjoy good food and wine in the company of friends. “We were both very used to a ‘butler style’ service and we wanted to move away from that,” says Allister. “We don’t want to be stiff, but we still want to provide guests with the quality, elegance and professionalism that people expect from fine dining at the same time as engaging with our diners. There’s no pretension here.”
My final question for Alice and Allister is about what the future has in store for them and Hide and Fox. “There’s always room for improvement and progression,” says Alice. “But we are happy at the moment; this is the perfect venue for us and we love our clientele. We meet everyone from locals to London foodies and even those from abroad that have been magnetised by the Michelin star.” Alice reaches out to Allister affectionately and smiles. They make a magnificent team and it is clear they bring out the very best of each other’s wonderful talents; a true appreciation of these reflected in the other’s eyes. “It’s also my prediction that Hythe and this side of Kent will rise to meet the North Kent coast’s critical foodie acclaim,” says Allister; I nod in agreement, knowing that he and Alice have had a solid influence in putting it well and truly on the map already.