Hopkinson tried again with a modest establishment called Hoppy's, above a pub in nearby Fishguard, and then left the restaurant trade for five years, spending two of them as a restaurant inspector for Ronay (''Eating lunch and dinner out five days a week and getting paid for it—I was having such a good time!'') and three as personal chef to entrepreneur Christopher Selmes in London. It was at Selmes's house that he first met the design-and-retail genius (and sometime restaurateur) Terence Conran, and the two renewed their acquaintance when Hopkinson was hired as chef at a bistro called Hilaire on the Old Brompton Road in 1983. One of the dishes on the menu was a traditional steak au poivre, which Hopkinson had learned at the Normandie. One night, the chef recalls, Conran came in and ordered it. ''Later in the evening he said, 'If you ever want to open your own restaurant, I'll back you.' I went to see him about three weeks later. He said, 'Let's look for a place.' I found one, but he said there was too much to rip out. I found another one, in Soho, and he said, 'Oh, Soho's awful.' I think all this time he knew that the Michelin Building was coming up. We started to become good friends, and every time he'd come in to dine, he'd send little notes to me in the kitchen saying how much he liked something he'd eaten. One night he sent one with a drawing of the Michelin Man with a note that said 'I've got it!''' In late 1987, Conran, publisher Paul Hamlyn, and Hopkinson opened Bibendum to great acclaim, and the history of modern British restaurants changed course. Steak au poivre (see recipe), incidentally, has never been off the menu at either Hilaire or Bibendum. ''It's Terence's favorite dish,'' says Hopkinson.