After London’s restaurants, cafes, and pubs reopened last week, they did so under a cloud of uncertainty, ahead of what is normally the busiest time of the year. A week on, those businesses did learn that protections against eviction would be extended from the end of the year until 31 March. But they end the week with a warning from Mayor Sadiq Khan who has said restaurants could be facing even tougher restrictions — and another period of closure — before Christmas, if rules were not followed.
Here’s what happened in the world of food and restaurants this week in London.
- Restaurants have been open and trading under tier two coronavirus restrictions — that is, allowing guests only from the same household or support bubble to dine inside — since last Wednesday. The impact of those restrictions on businesses, which are designed to protect staff and the wider public, has been made clear by UK Hospitality. The beginning of this week began with the trade body publishing a seven-point plan to avoid what it called a “crisis” in the new year. It ended with the London Mayor sounding the alarm that London could move into tier three coronavirus restrictions — resulting in the closure of restaurants — next week.
- As a reminder, here’s exactly what tier two coronavirus restrictions means for dining out in London.
- The acute vulnerability of restaurants in central London to a reduction in office workers, tourists, (and politicians) was again illustrated this week. Michel Roux Jr. chef Steve Groves’ restaurant Roux at Parliament Square announced it would permanently close, citing an incredibly difficult year and ongoing uncertainty behind the decision.
- Although the first vaccinations against COVID-19 were administered in the U.K. on Tuesday, there’s a concern that unless a solution is found to solve the rent crisis, the vaccine roll-out could be too late to save restaurants. Here’s a close look at why rent is so important and what might happen to debt in the new year.
- A day later, as widely expected, the government did the bare minimum to avoid what UK Hospitality had said would have been a “bloodbath” on the high streets: It extended legislation to protect restaurant tenants from eviction in January. It also said that no further extensions would be granted; that it was now up to tenant and landlord to reach an agreement.
- Because of hospitality’s perceived vulnerability to the headwinds of restrictions, rent debt, reduced demand, and recovery prospects in 2021, there were renewed calls from high-profile quarters this week for “proper” political representation for the industry: Chefs Angela Hartnett and Tom Kerridge were among those to appear on new platform, “Seat at the Table,” petitioning for a Minister for Hospitality.
- On Instagram, at least, users are leaning into festive excess — racing a marathon as if it’s a sprint.
- And to the world of food media this week: TV star and author Nigella Lawson took the piss and broke the internet, pronouncing the word “microwave” as “mee-kro-whaav-é,” not because she thinks that is how the word is pronounced, but because... she was having a laugh!
- Then, a big announcement from the London Evening Standard newspaper: After 48 years, its critic Fay Maschler would leave, taking a new role at Tatler magazine in the new year. Maschler is succeeded by ES Magazine’s Jimi Famurewa whose first review will be published in the newspaper and online on 13 January.
- In the foreground, then, the coronavirus pandemic. In the background, Brexit!
Last November’s catchphrase du jour, “oven-ready Brexit deal” resurfaced in Westminster this week, as Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly was forced to explain that the trade agreement the British government was now trying to secure had never been oven-ready. No, it was the Withdrawal Agreement that had been “oven-ready” and “delivered.” “People who are using that phrase about that trade agreement are either displaying their ignorance or dishonesty,” Cleverly said.
- Meanwhile, in midweek, half-baked Prime Minister Boris Johnson was channel-hopping in pursuit of said deal. He was in Brussels on Wednesday evening to see European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen for dinner where the two attempted to thrash out the terms of a new post-Brexit trading relationship between the U.K. and the EU. One of the items on their agenda was fish. Two of the items on the menu were fish. Did they do a deal? No.
- And lastly, this week, it’s goodbye for now to one of the city’s great restaurants. Leytonstone Thai restaurant Singburi closed on Monday because of an illness to a family staff member. Chef-owner Sirichai Kularbwong said on Instagram that he hoped the restaurant could reopen in the new year. Londoners will hope so too.
- Don’t forget the Eater London 2020 gift guide.
And, of course, all the dining guides you need in London this weekend...
- The best Christmas sandwiches.
- Outdoor dining is the safest way to eat in the city.
- Outdoor dining, when it’s raining.
- The best restaurants for delivery and takeaway.
- The most interesting restaurant meal kits to order.
- London’s best new restaurants, for those December reservations.
- Coffee with a different kind of buzz: the best new cafes in London.
- And, in Covid-times, 38 stand-out restaurants across the city.
Until next week, eat well and be safe.