As the government’s “Eat Out to Help Out” discount scheme heads into the final week, its offer and outdoor dining have continued to boost restaurants. At the same time, this has been the most congested week of closures since early lockdown, and with no sign of a scheme extension — or meaningful rent support — from the government, this could be the start of a storm for the city.
- Bright sunshine, outdoor dining, and the “Eat Out to Help Out” discount continued to bring a boost in morale and numbers, with the Treasury recording a total of 35 million participating meals, up from 10.5 million meals eaten on the government’s dime in its first week. Pretty much all three of those things are only going to last through August, and the scheme’s success is therefore limited by design: it can’t ignore the longer term problems restaurants and their workers face.
- Some restaurateurs want to change that. While industry body U.K. Hospitality threw its weight behind a government-mandated extension through September, a small-but-growing number of restaurant groups are pledging to offer the discount on their own dime.
- Geography might complicate that hope, too. A credit card data study shows that central London restaurants, who have expressed concern over the area’s long-term economic health, have seen spending stay down longer than restaurants in the suburbs.
- One central area that’s starting to see some hope is Chinatown, whose restaurants were hit hardest and earliest by COVID-19. While landlord troubles and uncertainties remain, outdoor dining and Eat Out to Help Out have offered if not a solution, then something of a template for recovery.
- But, as uncertainty remains over the future of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and its viability, restaurants are closing across the city, unable to withstand the economic pressures of rent or declines in footfall. This week alone, Robin and Sarah Gill’s seminal Clapham restaurant The Dairy, Peckham neighbourhood favourite Forza Win, Arsenal fans’ paradise Piebury Corner, and smart Mayfair Italian restaurant Emilia all announced that they would not reopen.
- Pizza Express also joined the ranks of casual dining chains shedding restaurants, with around 1100 staff set to lose their jobs. The beloved pizza chain, with its particular place in the British restaurant psyche, has ended up with a story of private equity debt far less special than its history.
- There are exceptions to every rule. Among the locals, Michelin-starred Shoreditch restaurant The Clove Club says it will reopen with the tasting menu format some of its contemporaries are ditching. Among the shouty chefs with money, Gordon Ramsay’s ambitions to cover the U.K. in burger restaurants have not been tempered by the pandemic.
- Elsewhere, a tale of two sandwiches. Anti-hype essential 40 Maltby Street accidentally waded into Instagram-famous waters with a pollock fritter number, while erstwhile molecular gastronomer Heston Blumenthal has given the world “baked bean-flavoured bread.”
As for where to eat...
- Here’s are the London restaurants taking Eat Out to Help Out outside.
- Where to find the best Jamaican jerk in the city, whether blessed by the oil drum or ingeniously translated to the oven.
- What to glug (wine) and where to glug it (outside) in London.
- A reminder of the best coffee in the city; the top ice cream delivery contenders; and superb sandwiches.
- And a full list of dining guides for the weekend.
Until next week, eat well and be safe.