So, after fifteen weeks, London’s pubs and restaurants can open their doors tomorrow and welcome customers inside from 6 a.m. tomorrow. Many in the city have been closed and out of operation since the government mandated the closure of all non-essential businesses on 20 March.
This week, more business have announced or indicated they will close permanently, while many have been making their final preparations, left to their own devices on determining what constitutes “Covid-secure” for their premises. Unsure of demand and new customer behaviours, some others are waiting a little longer to see how the coming days and weeks play out. Because even though the reality of tomorrow’s reopening date is a relief, the future of the industry at large remains fundamentally uncertain.
Here’s a round-up of what happened this week in the London restaurant world (which ended with Prime Minister Boris Johnson telling those heading out for a drink this weekend to behave “responsibly.” Boris Johnson said that.)
- The week began with a group of high-profile restaurateurs warning the government that the reopening date on its own was “no silver bullet.” Led by St. John’s Trevor Gulliver, the group said that the centre of London, without workers and tourists, would be a “ghost town” — that, without further support, there was little point in reopening a business if there were no customers to come through doors.
- The group followed this up with an open letter to the Prime Minister and Mayor of London, with a 10-point action plan, which ranged from providing clear and succinct messaging to introducing more cycle lanes across the capital. It also told its leaders to stop “dithering.”
- Following the recent closure of two-Michelin-starred The Ledbury, in Notting Hill, and longtime Michelin-star elect Indian Accent in shutting down, early this week, another high-profile fine-dining restaurant announced it too would close as a result of the pandemic. Chef Alex Dilling of the two-Michelin-starred Greenhouse in Mayfair said the last two years had “been an amazing journey.”
- Behind and alongside the COVID-19 pandemic is Brexit, among whose effects will be a trade deal between Britain and the United States, which itself has raised the controversial possibility of low-welfare meat — and especially chlorine-washed chicken — coming into the U.K. As a result, on Tuesday, it was revealed that an independent commission would scrutinise the U.K.’s agricultural trade policies going forward, following sustained concern about food standard security in future trade deals with the U.S.A.
- Another after-effect of the pandemic and Brexit could be the arrival of more international chain restaurants in the capital. Also on Tuesday, one of the world’s largest udon noodle and tempura specialists confirmed it would be opening its first London restaurant. Marugame Udon, which had planned to open a debut site in the capital in early 2019, will use London as a base for significant European expansion. It is not yet known where in London its debut restaurant will open, nor the timeline for that opening.
- Elsewhere in the U.K., American mega chain Wendy’s will open a burger restaurant in Reading next year, as part of its own European expansion.
- While the high-end has been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic, the already struggling high street chains are faring badly, too. As the owners of Byron Burger desperately seek a buyer, the company announced that it had appointed administrators — signally that it was unable to pay its suppliers and its fate had been taken out of its own hands.
- Later in the week, Casual Dining Group — the parent company of well-known brands like Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia — announced that it would close 91 of its 250 restaurants. Nearly 2,000 staff will lose their jobs as a result.
- Despite Marcus Rashford having forced the government to u-turn on its free school meal policy over the summer holidays, many families are reporting issues with how it has been implemented. Parents and schools, who had already spoken of failing vouchers, limited redemption, and a lack of help when things go wrong are now struggling with a prohibitively expensive helpline and further technical issues.
- An obituary: Remembering restaurateur Saima Thompson, co-founder of Masala Wala Cafe in south east London. Thompson used her platform to build visibility and ownership for women in the Pakistani community; she created a space for others. Thompson died last Saturday, at the age of 31, after a two-year battle with lung cancer.
- The effects of the pandemic has gotten to Heinz, a company which appears to have taken leave of its senses. On Wednesday, it “launched” a range of ice creams. What it really did was publish a recipe online, created a tub, designed a spoon, and marketed the lot for fifteen English pounds.
- Celebrated Soho cocktail bar Swift will fly east for the summer to open a sibling in Shoreditch, with an all-day model bolstering the drinks that have earned the original a reputation as one of London’s best cocktail bars.
- How are some of London’s best restaurants feeling about reopening? When are they doing so? And how do they feel about the guidance issued by the government? Read the thoughts and plans of nine of London’s best and most well-known restaurateurs.
- And an in-depth look at how London’s most captivating and innovative Michelin-starred restaurant is approaching its own reopening after nearly four months of closure. Ikoyi will return with a shorter menu of “comforting” dishes designed to be suitable for delivery but also to ease customers back into dining out.
- Little has been heard from London’s food halls during the pandemic. Market Halls, the biggest food hall in the city, yesterday announced that with any social distancing rules in place, reopening its three sites was impossible. It also confirmed that it had made its whole staff redundant but did not comment on the status or future of its food traders.
Don’t forget, takeaway won’t go away:
- A reminder of 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.
- And a full list of dining guides for the weekend.
Until next week, with news of how those who reopened fared over the first weekend, stay safe.