After nearly four months of mandated closure, this week restaurants, bars, and cafes in London resumed outdoor service.
This, the first of the key dates in the government’s reopening “roadmap” was always going to be something of a dress rehearsal for the 17 May, when indoor dining is scheduled to return. Nevertheless, customers — in lockdown since before Christmas and emboldened by the safety net of the vaccine roll-out — were eager to get out. For both punter and restaurateur, there may be a little getting used to the cadence of service, but this week there was a steady optimism that the “roadmap” may actually lead businesses and their staff somewhere other than the depths of uncertainty for the first time in a long time.
And so after nearly four months leaning on takeaway customers, delivery apps, kits, heat-at-home meals, and provisions, many businesses have used the extended winter lockdown to take stock and prepare for a reopening that they hope will not again be curtailed.
It has been a week of unseasonably cool weather, but blue skies and enough sunshine has served not to deter customers ready to return to their favourite haunts and be able stay there. Staff could once again ask customers this week: “Is that to stay or to go?” in a gesture towards normality; the continuation of social distancing measures, mask wearing, and gatherings of groups of no more than six that will remain in place for the foreseeable future are a reminder that normality is still very far away.
Another is that, in spite of the government’s plea for “evidence,” no formal arrangement between landlord and tenant has been reached on the rent question, which could render the entire process of reopening meaningless. Like in December and September and June before that, something has to change, but no one knows if or when it will.
Nevertheless, London and its restaurants did partially reopen this week. Here’s what pockets of the city looked like: More outdoor seating, more tarpaulin, heaters, blankets, a few queues, masks, and a palpable sense of relief.
Old Town 97, a Chinatown staple serving traditional Cantonese food, was once again able to serve customers outside its premises this week.
Burger and Lobster, the formerly three-item restaurant chain, is open for outdoor dining in Leicester Square, and in other locations as well.
Outdoor dining has resumed in Gerrard Street in Chinatown; one of the many streets in the area that was devastated by the COVID-19 crisis.
Flat White, Berwick Street
Bar Bruno on Soho’s Wardour Street.
Chefs inside Michelin-starred tapas restaurant Barrafina on Dean Street in Soho.
And, left, pull cañas of Estrella Galicia. Right, a plate of pan con tomate being lifted for a customer on the outside terrace.
Next door, the Union Jack hangs above Quo Vadis, the British restaurant helmed by chef Jeremy Lee.
Customers brave the unseasonably cold weather outside Riding House Cafe in Fitzrovia.
Guests make use of new covered outdoor dining arrangements on Soho’s Dean Street.
A member of the front-of-house team at Barrafina.
Monmouth Coffee on Borough Market.
Kaffeine has remained open since Christmas, serving the significantly reduced number of office workers in Fitzrovia their daily flat whites and espressos. This week its benches returned outdoors for customers to enjoy those coffees in ceramic cups, perhaps alongside an Anzac biscuit.
Middle-Eastern restaurant Arabica Bar and Kitchen during lunchtime this week.
Taiwanese gua bao specialists Bao in Borough Market open for service and offering outdoor dining as well as takeaway from its hatch.
Outdoor drinkers on Mare Street, Hackney Central, with Otis Wright’s Rainbow Cookout jerk chicken stall in the background. Wright returned to his pitch outside St Augustine’s Tower in St John’s church gardens this week for the first time since before Christmas.
Argentinian cafe, bar, and restaurant Porteña in Borough Market.
The Southwark Tavern in Borough Market.
A barista prepares a drink at Kahaila cafe.
Vegan fast food restaurant Vurger co. in Shoreditch.