Restaurants knew that when the “Eat Out to Help Out” meal discount scheme ended, autumn started. It was already the beginning of a three month period in which restaurants and their employees faced down the vanishing of both rent protections and employee security, but new developments this week, including track-and-trace rules with fines attached but now indication of what they will be fined for, only add to the feeling of uncertainty. Contrasted with the return of a drip feed of new openings and reopenings, and Michelin’s certainty that it will hand out stars in 2021, it sometimes feels like two parallel realities are in play at once.
- As has been characteristic, the biggest government coronavirus announcement this week both meant very much to restaurants, and very little. Restaurants are now obliged to keep customer details for coronavirus test-and-trace, with health secretary Matt Hancock saying the rule — previously a guideline — will be “rigorously enforced.” This would be a big deal, if most restaurants weren’t already keeping details and if the government’s COVID-secure guidelines for restaurants weren’t just that, guidelines.
- But now, prime minister Boris Johnson says fines will be levied against restaurants which fail to ensure their premises are Covid-secure. The problem for restaurants is that they don’t yet know for what, by whom, and in what amount they will be fined. Break out this guy: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- The start of the week belonged to chains. On the commuter-sandwich front, Pret a Manger unveiled its new drink subscription, YourPret Barista, which would entitle a diehard stan of 99p filter coffee and a diehard hater of constipation to 155 drinks in the longest months, at the cost of £20. That would be strange behaviour, but Pret’s announcement happens in the context of a whole lot of strange behaviour. As the government, and the [free] press pushes the benefits of offices, water coolers, and commutes, Pret’s status as the water cooler of food is only getting starker, and many Britons’ concordant obsession with its essential mediocrity is only getting weirder.
- Meanwhile, Pizza Express confirmed that it is putting 1,100 people out of work by closing 73 restaurants. The closures, designed to take down some of its astronomical debt, are happening in a pandemic but not really because of it. As with so many of the casual dining chains that have shed restaurants like snakes shed skin during the crisis, Pizza Express’s longterm problems — not the ones associated with Prince Andrew loving it — stem from a bubble of private equity debt and over-saturation.
- Last Saturday, 5 September, Tooting police raided the only two Black-owned businesses in their section of Tooting Market. The Lone Fisherman, a Caribbean fish stall, was one of them, and now owner Christopher says market management has evicted him at three days’ notice, even though nothing was found.
- The Michelin man appears to be pivoting to the Kool-Aid Guy marketing strategy of bursting through the wall with a star in his thicc rubber hands, except, no-one’s asking for him. The Red Guide will persevere with its 2021 stars for U.K. restaurants under the guise of “support” for them, which creates a tension between its palely dispassionate authority and the needs of businesses right now. Michelin man with pom-poms? Believe it when the world sees it, in January.
- New London restaurant openings are starting to trickle in, many of them delayed by COVID-19. One of the most exciting looks to be Kol, Santiago Lastra’s Mexican restaurant in Marylebone, which will open in October.
- This week on Instagram, there was a whole lottolenghi, as Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage’s new cookbook Flavour arrived with all the subtlety of driving a Boeing 747 through an airport while inverting time. The Tenet of cookbooks? Absolutely.
As for where to eat...
- Here are the... the best Chinese restaurants for takeaway in London.
- The best restaurants in Ealing.
- Where to eat outside in London when it rains.
- The best restaurants in Clapham.
- London’s best bakeries.
- The best Sunday roasts in the city.
- The London restaurants extending the “Eat Out to Help Out” discount.
- The ultimate guide to eating at home in London.
- And a full list of dining guides for the weekend.
Until next week, eat well and be safe.