The Ledbury, the era-defining, two-Michelin-starred Notting Hill restaurant owned by chef Brett Graham, has no current plan to reopen. Graham has not said that the restaurant would permanently close, but did confirm that all staff began the formal redundancy consultation process yesterday and that he could see “no route to reopening.” The news was first posted to Twitter by Bloomberg’s Richard Vines. The restaurant opened in 2005.
Graham told Eater that he and his business partners simply did not know what was going to happen with government policy, scientific advice, and the future of hospitality. He therefore had to act on the basis that the restaurant could not reopen and operate as it did before the novel coronavirus crisis forced non-essential businesses to close at the end of March. “We can’t keep customers and staff safe,” he said. “If there was an outbreak at the Ledbury, then it would be devastating. I just can’t think of any way to [reopen].”
He added that any form of social distancing wouldn’t work at his restaurant and that he had no confidence that The Ledbury’s customer base would be able to revisit in the near future. “We can’t operate the restaurant with any form of social distancing — even if it was a one-metre. The economy is smashed; there are no customers in hotels, no international flights,” he said. “The [existing] business model is not viable.”
He said the economic recovery would be long and hard and that he didn’t want to make compromises for anybody: customers, staff, and suppliers.
Graham was keen to emphasise that there were no underlying business reasons for the decision, and that all suppliers, including the landlord on the property, had been paid in full. He said that when the next quarterly rent payment was due, at the start of July, his current plan was to make that payment, because that money is owed. He confirmed that the business would maintain the lease on the property, because he couldn’t say for certain what would happen in the future. “I just don’t know what the plan is,” he said.
“I’m gutted. It’s been 15 years. There’s no winners in any scenario. I just don’t want to put anyone at risk,” he said. But added that fine-dining restaurants like the Ledbury “can’t reopen and then have three or four chances of reopening” pending any future lockdowns or changes to the social distancing guidance. “We think it’s better like this,” he said.
“Not many restaurants survive for 15 years in London,” Graham said, adding that he was proud of what it had achieved, and that yesterday had been an emotional experience for him and the staff.
The Ledbury’s starched tablecloths and Franco-modern European style might have been seen as old-school for the better part of the last decade, but its influence on many of London’s most influential young chefs in reshaping fine-dining, cannot be underestimated. Isaac McHale, of Michelin-starred Shoreditch restaurant The Clove Club, worked in the Ledbury’s development kitchen for five years, while chef Sally Abe, who ran the U.K.’s first Michelin-starred pub, The Harwood Arms in Fulham before lockdown, sits alongside the likes of one-time P. Franco and Coombeshead Farm chef Tim Spedding in its list of alumni.
The Ledbury is among only a select number of London restaurants to have been consistently placed in the controversial World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, last year entering the list at number 64.