Flor, the outstanding restaurant and bakery in Borough Market — a union between the owners of Michelin-starred Shoreditch restaurant Lyle’s and the elite bakery and cooking acumen of chef Pamela Yung, has permanently closed. JKS, which backs Flor, Lyle’s, and numerous other outstanding London restaurants, will retain the site for an as-yet undetermined new project.
While it announced its ceasing to be a restaurant at the same time as its new bakery opening in Spa Terminus, it initially continued to sell pastries, coffee, and wine. But in not one, but two announcements over the weekend, co-founder James Lowe confirmed its run was over. Two, because the first neglected to mention the defining work of head chef Pamela Yung, from spring/summer 2020 onward, and successive heads of bread and pastry Anna Higham and Helen Evans. Yung departed in October 2021, while Higham left for the River Cafe in summer 2020.
Flor first opened in July 2019, with James Lowe and then co-owner John Ogier billing it as inspired by the “buvettes of Paris and pintxo bars of San Sebastian.” Initially, this held — early stand-outs included raw carabinero prawns with yuzukōsho; a clam, vin jaune, and wild garlic flat bread; salt-on-salt lardo and anchovy toast; and a pollock brandade with roasted peppers. Anna Higham’s stellar pastry work from Lyle’s carried over into shattering pastries and high-moisture, aggressively flavoured loaves.
But it was Yung’s stewardship of first ASAP Pizza, and then the kitchen when restaurants reopened fully, that took it to its highest and most thrilling heights. Having built and ran the pastry programmes at NYC pizza institution Roberta’s, as well as Ignacio Mattos’ ISA, and having earned a Michelin star at Semilla, she had first appeared alongside Lowe at Lyle’s for a guest series event in July 2017, having cooked at the legendary Bonci in Rome, as well as with Massimo Laveglia at L’Industrie Pizzeria in NY, Montreal’s Le Vin Papillon, and Tartine Bakery in Seoul. This commitment to excellence always with a mind to a whole world of culinary ingenuity manifested in stunning pizzas, which were both definitively “London pizza” and Yung’s personal pizzas. It outgrew its perception as a pandemic pizza pop-up, and became one of the most exciting and genuinely different things to emerge on the London restaurant scene in recent years.
The same was true of her cooking when Flor reopened as a restaurant, first, briefly, in autumn 2020, and then again through 2021. Its skill and force of globetrotting personality created confidence and cohesion in menus that would sometimes range across tens of culinary traditions — a börek, an escabeche, a bánh xèo. Where many menus in the city try this, and feel cherrypicked, Yung’s felt singularly hers.
Its pastries too, first from Higham and then Evans, took all their shapes and sizes from Parisian tradition but made them speak in a British accent, with a savoury, at times austere depth and brave caramelisation adding more complexity. Simultaneously, these were still satisfying, sweet, fruited things, even if they were far less interested than other modern London bakeries about how their cross-sectioned Vieniosserie might look across Instagram.
If speaking in culinary genres, nothing Flor was doing should have frightened London’s horses. Sharing plates, natural wine, pastries, pizza. But hidden in ASAP’s straightforwardly barnstorming success was a more complex thing: the ferocity of devotion was not that of populism, but of obsession — with quality, with interesting food, with constant evolution — that defined Yung’s work as restaurants reopened and in turn inspired its adoring fans. Nearly everyone had had pizza. But they’d never had pizza like this. Nearly everyone had had a croissant. But not one quite like this. Flor, across restaurant, pizzeria, and bakery, served food that was instantly identifiable as the work of its crafter, be it Yung, Higham, Evans, or their teams.
All that taken together with a difficult site, both ergonomically and geographically, can both explain why London loved Flor but also, possibly, wasn’t quite ready to embrace it on its own terms. Reviews, despite overall praise, later seemed unsteady on their feet as the kitchen evolved, perhaps thrown by blueprints (buvettes in Paris, San Sebastian pintxo bars) that became out of date quite early in its life. Indeed, outside of ASAP, Yung’s cooking never really got a critical due — and when it did, she was left out entirely.
While the survival and expansion of the bakery is one testament to its popularity; the loss of the restaurant, and with it Yung’s culinary imagination, is its own: To the sentiment that sometimes a restaurant scene will never quite know what it’s got till it’s gone.