After fourteen weeks, London’s restaurants have an opening date for dine-in service. The flurry of activity following the government’s announcement early this week illustrated a few key ideas: what that reopening looks like is to be determined; risk assessment for and by staff and diners is key; and many many restaurants have, in fact just kept on doing what they’re doing.
Here’s a round-up of what happened last week in the London restaurant world.
- The week began with news that Nour Cash and Carry, a pillar of the Brixton Market community, had signed a new “secure, long term lease.” The deal came after months of pressure on landlord Hondo Enterprises, whose plan to evict Nour had stoked long-burning fires about developers’ attitudes to Brixton.
- Also on Monday, long-expected news about restaurants and social distancing was all but officially confirmed, with reports that the government would cut the two-metre rule in half on the basis that it would increase the proportion of pubs, cafes, restaurants, and bars able to reopen on 4 July.
- The next day, prime minister Boris Johnson officially announced that pubs, cafes, restaurants, and bars could reopen for dine-in customers in England on 4 July. The announcement, which came before the publication of guidance on how that re-opening would happen, stuck with the overarching theme of the crisis. Guidance over legislation, which both presents apparent freedom and, of course, limits accountability in terms of enforcement.
- That guidance duly arrived the next day, a raft of non-obligatory recommendations designed to give restaurateurs and publicans freedom to adapt the constraints to their particular businesses. Presented as equivalent to food safety guidance, some restaurateurs welcome the flexibility, but the onus of enforcement being internal leaves both staff and diners to handle public health by interpretation.
- As such, some restaurants are unsure of how soon they can safely reopen, and are preparing to bide their time.
- One of those is Tomos Parry’s Michelin-starred grill restaurant, Brat, which will take up a residency at coffee roaster Climpson and Sons’ arch in London Fields. The restaurant, which draws heavily on Basque grilling culture and Welsh produce, will use the residency as a sort of annex to its reopening in Shoreditch. Another is Southern European favourite Brawn, which will first transform itself into a grocery store and online retailer.
- Asma Khan’s celebrated debut restaurant Darjeeling Express, however, will not reopen. Khan is looking to find a larger space, having outgrown its current site in Soho’s Kingly Court.
- Longstanding chains are also taking tough decisions. Bakery stalwart Percy Ingle, founded in Hackney, will close all 48 of its bakeries after selling bread, traditional London sweet and savoury pastries, and cakes at affordable prices for 66 years. Pret a Manger, meanwhile, is expected to lay off staff, as profits plummet with both its footfall and high-capacity, quick service model in tatters.
- There’s also movement in restaurant delivery. Deliveroo, which had claimed that it would collapse due to COVID-19, is both out of a danger that never really appeared to take hold and set to receive a gigantic cash injection from Amazon.
- Meanwhile, food scene veterans Dominic Cools-Lartigue and Bejay Mulenga are launching new food delivery platform The Great Feast, which intends to provide a more equitable commission structure than the big players, like Deliveroo, currently offer.
- Also this week: the best takeaway coffee in the city; a new suite of ice cream delivery contenders; superb sandwiches; and as ever...
- The best restaurant delivery in London right now.
- A running list of corona-time restaurant reopenings and adaptations.