The last two weeks of London restaurant news round-ups have concluded with the feeling that “two parallel realities are in play at once.” As coronavirus cases continue to rise in the U.K., and the government introduces a coronavirus curfew for restaurants, pubs, and bars, this feeling gets starker, as openings continue in what is traditionally the busiest period for them.
- Health secretary Matt Hancock offered the restaurant world a preview of what was to come on Monday, by asserting that hospitality businesses and “social settings” were key drivers in rising coronavirus cases. While reporting protocols mean that widely cited Public Health England data accrediting just five percent of cases to food outlets isn’t the full rejoinder many restaurants believe it to be, the assertion was not backed up by any scientific evidence.
- On Tuesday, the axe fell: restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars were ordered to close at 10p.m., meaning all staff out and doors locked. The government also introduced new rules on masks in restaurants, with staff obliged to wear them at all times and diners obliged to wear them whenever things are not entering their mouths.
- Restaurants reacted to the news first with dismay, and then with invention. A 10p.m. closure cuts capacity for many restaurants in half, when their capacity was already limited by social distancing; that cuts shifts; that cuts wages; that cuts people’s ability to live. With the curfew not backed by scientific modelling, and scenes in central London this Thursday confirming fears about bottlenecks and crowding with few people wearing masks, the government is set to face pressure about its rationale.
- With the coronavirus job retention scheme expiring at the end of October, and many restaurants still not able to reopen, there’s still a growing push for targeted support in a sector that could face 900,000 redundancies without it. While Rishi Sunak announced new coronavirus job support measures on Thursday, they are centred on one phrase: “viable jobs.” The new measures define “viable jobs” as allowing people to work a third of their “normal hours.” This means that restaurants, pubs, and bars, yet to open — or whose “viability” has been compromised by the new curfew restrictions — will have no recourse to job support from 31 October.
- Great British Bake Off has always been celebrated for its coziness / warmth / chumminess / choose your fighter. These qualities make an easy read-in for a “relief from everything” narrative, but that didn’t quite come to pass. One: the new series was filmed in a bio-secure bubble. Two: episode one, Cake Week, was absolutely disturbed, featuring tumbling cakes, Sir David Attenborough’s head falling over, and Paul Hollywood slicing Freddie Mercury in half.
- On Thursday, developer Delancey and Southwark Council shut down Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, a culinary and cultural hub for a mostly working class Latinx community for nearly six decades. New, luxury flats will open in its stead. While some of its food traders — some of London’s finest cooks — have been relocated, many have been displaced, and a new space does not guarantee maintaining a sense of space.
- The power of place is the subject of Eater’s next live online event, with Eater London’s James Hansen joining editors from New York City and Los Angeles to discuss how power — money, landlords, councils — shapes place and in turn shapes restaurant culture. RSVP to join the conversation.
- Two further big close-downs this week. Milkbar, the lauded, irreverent Soho cafe shut down on Bateman Street after 12 years. And Brannigans, the iconic, god-tier British crisp best known for its sinus-clearing roast beef and mustard flavour, has been discontinued by snack boss KP.
- But like it has been recently: parallel realities. Bao, the Taiwanese bunslingers and brandmasters, will open its King’s Cross cafe in November with some seriously irreverent bakes, while Sonora Taquería, the evolution of lockdown tortilla maestros Pollo Feliz, is now open in London Fields.
- No strikingly weird stories this week, so just remember that while Twitter virality is fleeting, the sack of wet eggs is forever.
As for where to eat...
- A guide to London’s best Sunday roasts.
- The best tacos in London.
- Where to eat in Kensington and Chelsea.
- London’s best bakeries.
- Where to find London’s best coffee.
- The ultimate guide to eating at home in London.
Until next week, eat well and be safe.