After four weeks of mandated closure and with England’s second coronavirus lockdown now over, London’s restaurants were permitted to reopen their dining rooms for customers yesterday, 2 December.
They do so with a now-familiar, but nonetheless profound, sense of uncertainty. After a month of relying on takeaway, delivery, meal kits, and provisions, businesses must approach what is normally the busiest time of the year under a suite of public health restrictions that will both protect staff and diners but prevent restaurants from taking the straightforward path to festive profit that many badly need. As well as social distancing measures, only customers from the same household or support bubble can dine together indoors; outdoors, guests cannot gather in groups of more than six. Last orders must be called at 10 p.m., with everyone out by 11 p.m.
Restaurants must also approach this period with the knowledge that a vaccine against COVID-19 — talked up as presaging a return to normality — could be rolled out too late, unless all interested parties reach a satisfactory arrangement on the rent question. Because as it stands, come January, tenants which have been unable to pay their landlords during the pandemic will suddenly be exposed to eviction, with no legal protections. Something has to change, but no one knows if or when it will.
And yet, for many, there is no option but to reopen. Again. And so they must wait. Again.
Here’s what London looked like the day restaurants reopened their dining rooms: more outdoor seating, more tarpaulin, new signage, heaters, queues, masks, and lots of familiar dishes.
Ed and Josie Wilson’s Brawn has been operating as a deli and provisioner for the last month. Yesterday afternoon, it once again reopened its dining room for guests.
Chef Sirichai Kularbwong’s Singburi, whose blackboard menu makes it London’s outstanding Thai restaurant, will be open just for takeaway in Leytonstone for the foreseeable future.
Hill and Szrok on Broadway Market, one of the East End’s best butchers shops, lockdown stalwart, once more reopens as a wine bar and “cookshop” for counter dining.
Leila’s Cafe on Calvert Avenue is offering takeaway dishes and store cupboard ingredients.
Thai restaurant Smoking Goat on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch has reopened with a covered outside seating area, extending its capacity and enabling guests not from the same household or support bubble to meet and eat at the restaurant; new coronavirus safety signage displayed alongside the daily menu.
40 Maltby Street — one of London’s great restaurant wine bars has remained alert to changing guidance throughout the pandemic, offering fresh fruit and veg, deli items, provisions, and more recently takeaway sandwiches. It is now open for guests with a set menu, plus lots of wine and merch to boot.
Algerian cafe-restaurant, El Marsem, opened on Old Kent Road during the first lockdown and has remained opened for takeaway throughout the pandemic. Yesterday, guests were allowed back inside.
Chef Thuy Nguyen prepares noodles in the kitchen at Pho Thuy Tay, one of London’s best Vietnamese restaurants, which reopened for guests yesterday.
Little Ochie, which serves fresh seafood grilled, fried, or steamed, open again for customers in Camberwell yesterday evening.
La Barra, Maria-Luisa Riascos Solis’s Colombian restaurant in Elephant and Castle, which is known for serving outstanding Dominican fried chicken.
Koya, one of London’s great Japanese noodle bars open for customers in the City, an area of London with far fewer office workers than in early March. It reopens with an expanded outside seating area.
Another restaurant (and sports bar), Brigadiers, in the Bloomberg Arcade reopens after keeping its customers fed and watered via delivery and meal kits through lockdown.
One of the London’s best coffee shops, Rosslyn, is getting used to being open in the heart of the City with fewer commuters and fewer office workers.
Quality Wines in Clerkenwell re-pivots back to indoor (and outdoor) dining. Awnings and heaters keep guests warm and sheltered on the makeshift terrace.
Hala, one of Green Lanes’ restaurant institutions, reopens for customers in north London yesterday lunch time.
Noble Rot, which has fully closed during both lockdowns, welcomes guests back to its dining room and wine bar on Lamb’s Conduit Street.
Modern Japanese restaurant Roka reopens its dining room for guests in Fitzrovia.
Under the joint stewardship of brothers Ferhat and Sertaç Dirik, Mangal 2, renowned Turkish ocakbasi in Dalston, reinvented itself after lockdown 1 this summer. Having remained open for takeaway and delivery for the last four weeks, it reopened for guests once more last night.
Bright, sister restaurant to east London favourites P. Franco and Peg, with a new covered outdoor seating space — looking anything but bright in the drizzle.
Chef Mitshel Ibrahim’s Ombra, one of the pandemic’s most agile and innovative restaurant success stories, back open again for diners last night.
Inside Biju and Preeti Gopinath’s Thattukada in East Ham, one of the area’s outstanding Kerala restaurants — after four weeks, welcoming guests back into its dining room.