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This Is What Happened in the London Restaurant World Last Week

New openings, high profile closures, and a 99-loving Boris Johnson confirmed vaccine passports will not play a role in the reopening of dining rooms in May

Boris Johnson Campaigns In Wales Ahead Of Elections Phil Noble - WPA Pool/Getty Images

So, the sun is still out, temperatures are still low, but restaurants and pubs have remained open — and busy — serving customers on terraces, in beer gardens, or on makeshift roadside patios for three weeks. “Reopening” has been and gone; venues are making the most of pent up demand, ticking over, and winding up Corona-time business pivots in readiness for the full and proper indoor reopening on 17 May.

In a week of new openings and old closures, there is a still a lingering sense of uncertainty hanging over the future of the hospitality industry at large. That uncertainty principally concerns two major areas: One, as has been the case for over a year, is rent. Unless the government intervenes in the next two months, it will be curtains for many of the capital’s pubs and restaurants. The other is what happens after June, when all restrictions are scheduled to be lifted by the government? Only time will tell.

  • One thing restaurants will not have to contend with when they reopen next month is Covid status certificates. Or “vaccine passports” as they are otherwise known. The government has ruled out their use in hospitality venues when they reopen on 17 May. It, or rather Michael Gove, has however not completely ruled out their usage when “step four” of the reopening “roadmap” is implemented on 21 June, at which point “all legal limits on social contact” are scheduled to be lifted.

  • Nowhere has the struggled been more real than in central London’s Chinatown. Over the past month, Angela Hui has spoken to business owners in the neighbourhood about the last twelve months: A time of chronic uncertainty, reduced footfall, racist vandalism, and business closures. There is a now a growing sense that the next two months are critically important for the area’s future.

  • Amid the continued uncertainty, one thing is in fact certain. A lot of new restaurants are going to open from the summer onwards. Among those, to start this week, was the surprise news that the co-founder of Polpo, Russell Norman, would be making his London restaurant comeback. In the “summer or autumn,” he will open Brutto — a Tuscan-inspired trattoria, possibly located in Clerkenwell.

  • Another certainty is that there are going to be a significant number of permanent restaurant closures. In fact, there is a sense that the true picture of those who’ve fallen victim to the COVID-19 crisis will only become clear after restaurant dining rooms are legally allowed to reopen.

But this week, two well-known and cherished London restaurants were revealed to have closed as a result of apparent rent disputes with their landlords. In north London on Tuesday evening, the Jewish deli Harry Morgan served customers its famous salt beef and chicken soup for the final time. It had been on St John’s Wood High Street since 1948.

While in Soho, a restaurateur’s restaurant that had served fresh pasta since 1971, pulled down its sign before promising its customers it would “be back.”

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