As COVID-19 vaccination rates rise and cases settle into a gradual decline, the restaurant world loses at least some of its pandemic volatility — if not the at-times paralysing uncertainty that the last 17 months have wrought upon restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars.
In the sound of settling, it’s possible to discern some signal from the noise in what that change means for restaurant openings in a city where, 17 months ago, the cadence was one of the most relentless in the world. Huge international chains are muscling in on sites left vacant by U.K. contemporaries in decline; mini-chains and corporate indie-backed groups are using their strength to capitalise on a rare upper hand in the property market; successful central independents and glitzy money pits alike are looking to the residential neighbourhoods; food halls are having a go at a comeback. And, in all this, three new openings in quick time display another trend: success stories from outside the capital are looking (mostly) south and thinking: “why don’t we get in on this?”
In Fitzrovia, Mowgli, the Indian “street food” brand from Nisha Katona that has grown to a 12-strong group with six more in the pipeline, will open on Charlotte Street, replacing Côte Brasserie. Katona wrote on Instagram that:
It’s a street that I have dined upon and been fond of all my life. It is beyond my wildest dreams that we have this opportunity to open, heads down and humbly, in a sweet little building that feels like it was always Mowgli. We will slink open and I’m sure suffer the slings and arrows of accusations of audacity and hubris.
No doubt the group will instead take arms against a sea of competitors, which its menu of chaats, dals, and regional curries has held strong against in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Oxford, Cardiff, Nottingham, Leeds, Sheffield, and Leicester. Unfortunately for Katona, the only critic to visit to date, Marina O’Loughlin, was unimpressed by food she perceived as underseasoned, though this was in 2015.
Over in Soho, Liverpool and Manchester pizzaioli Rudy’s opened on Wardour Street in late July, and Birmingham Japanese restaurant Takumi is heading for Old Compton Street, taking over from Melanie Italian restaurant close to the street’s intersection with Charing Cross Road. In recent times, Italian Cin Cin has arrived from Brighton; tasting menu restaurant and alleged wage thiever Six by Nico from Glasgow. Where Cin Cin and Takumi are building on individual restaurants, Mowgli, Rudy’s, and Six by Nico are in a similar boat to the likes of London expanders El Pastor and Bao — carefully built brands with enough scale and capital to be both resilient in the face of the last year-and-a-half and poised to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. The next challenge is making good on that opportunity.