In the second week of trading under tier two coronavirus restrictions alongside the extant 10 p.m. hospitality curfew, London’s restaurants, pubs, and bars appear to be acclimatising. But with the furlough scheme ending on the way into November,
they will come under yet more increased pressure from next week.
Update — Monday 2 November 9.41: Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday evening that the England would move into lockdown from Thursday 5 November. It means restaurants, pubs, bars, and cafes must close, unless they are offering takeaway or delivery. The new restrictions will be in place until at least Wednesday 2 December.
- The headline news of the start of the week was free school meals. Following the government’s rejection of an extension of the voucher scheme into Easter 2021, London restaurants joined footballer Marcus Rashford in providing free meals in their local areas. It was both a vindication of alternative sources of support, and a reminder that state failure on food poverty is currently normalised in the U.K. That continued into the week, as restaurants used Instagram as a forum for distribution and awareness of their work.
- The headline news of the end of the week was a University of Warwick study linking the “Eat Out to Help Out” to an acceleration in the rate of novel coronavirus transmission. The study concludes: “The estimates suggest that the scheme is responsible for around eight to 17 percent of all infections during the summer months and likely, many more non-detected asymptomatic infections, that may have substantially contributed to accelerating the second wave of the pandemic.”
- In between, sobering employment news reinforced the coming significance of the switch from the furlough scheme to the new job support scheme. A YouGov study found that only 33 percent of hospitality workers made redundant following furlough have been able to find new employment. With the furlough scheme ending 1 November, employers — with heavily restricted trade due to coronavirus tier restrictions, the hospitality curfew, and social distancing — will no longer receive job support for employees not working 20 percent of their contracted hours.
- Meanwhile, eight months on from when the novel coronavirus pandemic began to gravely impact many of its restaurant tenants in Chinatown, one of London’s biggest commercial property landlords, Shaftesbury PLC is out here asking for £300 million from shareholders. It’s a reflection of how the COVID-19 crisis is hitting central London, and of the influence Shaftesbury, and other landlords like it, have on the future of London restaurants. That central impact is also weighing on huge restaurant chains: Pizza Express will make a further 1,300 staff redundant weeks after laying off 1,100 people in closing 73 restaurants.
- London restaurants continue to adapt to the changing trading environment. Spring, Skye Gyngell’s studiously elegant restaurant in Somerset House, is redoing its menu entirely with a set offering of cured ham, pasta, and ice cream. Meanwhile ASAP Pizza, the lockdown/summer hit from Borough Market restaurant Flor, is coming back on Sundays for the foreseeable future.
- One of the most anticipated London restaurants of the last few years opened its doors last week. Santiago Lastra’s Kol, now serving up his expression of “time and place” in cuisine through Mexican dishes with British ingredients, is a sterling example of what happens when respect and creativity find each other.
- More openings and closings: Lo-fi indie faves Oh Wonder will open a cafe called Nola in Peckham this November, while outstanding no-frills sushi bar Atari-Ya has left Ealing Common after decades serving the local Japanese community.
- Great British Bake Off update: Japanese Week was a sad reminder of the show’s blinkered, reductive view of global baking.
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Until next week, eat well and be safe.