Chef Dhruv Mittal, the owner of two lauded regional Indian restaurants in central London, will close Muglai-focused Lucknow 49 on Maddox Street in Mayfair and is planning to relocate his more casual Soho site, Dum Biryani on Wardour Street. Propel Hospitality reports that both Dum Biryani House and are being marketed to new tenants by the property company CDG Leisure. Mittal confirmed the story to Eater this morning, adding that while Lucknow 49 was certainly being sold, there was a chance that with a negotiated rent settlement, the Soho restaurant could reopen.
In an email, Mittal told Eater: “It is with great sadness and regret that we have to close Lucknow 49. Creating the restaurant was a personal passion of mine, breathing new life into a regional cuisine, which has been dying out slowly over the last century.”
Mittal’s decision to close the restaurants means that almost all staff have been made redundant: 15 members from Dum and 10 from Lucknow 49. Mittal said that landlord inflexibility was chief among the reasons why he could see no feasible way of reopening either restaurant.
Mittal, who ran his restaurants front-of-house, trained as a chef — working under Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, with Claude Bosi at Hibiscus, and at Sat Bains’ eponymous restaurant in Nottingham. His debut site, Dum, which specialised in the aromatic biryanis of Hyderabad in southern India, opened in November 2016. His follow-up, Lucknow 49 — thought to be London’s only Mughal restaurant and which served dishes native to the northern city of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh — opened in April 2019.
Regarding Lucknow 49, he said: “With distancing measures in place, and with the costs that we have of operating a restaurant in central Mayfair, it just isn’t feasible for us to operate to survive. Landlords have been equally unhelpful in adjusting rent, or offering deferrals/rent reductions of any sort, which has meant that we have no other option but to close.”
Margins at the restaurant were already tight, since Mittal had designed the 45-cover restaurant pricing structure to go against the grain in the big-money neighbourhood. Last year, he told Eater that he was “disrupting Mayfair by bringing casual dining into a place where everyone pays over £70 for any meal. People are starved for everyday comfort food that’s accessible,” he said. But from January this year, he said footfall had started to drop significantly. “Covid-19 hit us pretty hard, from January onwards, where we saw tourist numbers dwindle down to zero almost instantly,” he said. By March, just before lockdown, he said that numbers were down to less than 10 percent of what the restaurant was doing in January.
For Dum Biryani, Mittal hopes there is a future, but says he has “struggled since the lockdown to open up any part of the business because of a lack of landlord flexibility, small dining areas, and low local customer traffic in the area.” It is a small, intimate, subterranean restaurant with vaulted dining booths and little flexibility for physical distancing.
He says the plan, if there is no new offer from the landlord, is for the restaurant — as others have signalled — to relocate to a neighbourhood location in October. “We are looking to move to areas such as Shoreditch, Brixton, or Swiss Cottage to take advantage of a bigger site and hopefully lower rents and better flexibility to apply distancing in a safe and profitable way,” he said.
Mittal added that Dum was also working on restaurant delivery models, retail and merchandise. “So it is not goodbye for good, it’s just goodbye for now,” he said. “We’ll be back soon and stronger than ever.”