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Here’s What Happened in the London Restaurant World Last Week

Restaurants prepared to reopen, restaurateurs plead for more support, and the city’s biggest food hall said social distancing makes reopening impossible

Hanging lights and table settings at west African restaurant Ikoyi, in London
Ikoyi is one restaurant which discussed its reopening plans this week
Tomas Jivanda

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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

Don’t forget, takeaway won’t go away:

Until next week, with news of how those who reopened fared over the first weekend, stay safe.


12 Old Compton Street, , England W1D 4TQ 020 7437 7820 Visit Website

St. John

26 Saint John Street, , England EC1M 4AY 020 7251 0848 Visit Website

Indian Accent

Lodhi Road, CGO Complex, DL 110003 098711 17968 Visit Website

The Ledbury

127 Ledbury Road, , England W11 2AQ 020 7792 9090 Visit Website

Masala Wala Cafe

5 Brockley Cross, , England SE4 2AB 020 3659 4055 Visit Website


1 Saint James's Market, , England SW1Y 4AH 020 3583 4660 Visit Website