On Monday 17 May, one hundred and fifty-two days after London restaurants last closed their dining rooms, they reopened for customers.
It has been a long time coming. After months of pivots, adaptations, and new roles within communities, on 12 April, hospitality businesses were given permission to offer outside seating — an experiment, which, owing to unseasonably cold and wet weather, has had mixed results.
Feelings of relief and gratitude are mixed with nervousness and hope; above all, restaurateurs and their staff want never to have to close again. They don’t yet know if this is it such is the frequency with which all involved have been met with uncertainty over the course of the last 12 months. But, as they welcomed back customers for the first time in a long time, they now have to hope it is. Only time will tell.
So under grey skies and intermittent rain showers, the dining rooms of London’s restaurants, the cafes, and the pubs once again welcomed in guests and allowed them to stay.
Here’s what that looked like, with a collection of photographs from Camberwell, Brixton, Shoreditch, Soho, Mayfair, and Chinatown.
A customer sits at a table inside O Cantinho De Portugal in Brixton on the day dining rooms reopened in London.
Food House on Chinatown’s Gerrard Street has remained open for takeaway and delivery throughout the whole of the pandemic. On Monday, it opened for dine-in once more.
Chef Anna Tobias’s debut restaurant, Cafe Deco, on Store Street in Bloomsbury opened last autumn, and has since functioned as a provisioner and deli. Until this week, it has hardly known what’s it’s like to be a dine-in restaurant.
Noble Rot’s second restaurant — on Greek Street in Soho — opened in September 2020, just two months before restaurants had to close for the second time and only three months before they shut down for what would be five months. Here’s what it looked like inside on Monday night.
The iconic, unchanged, and inimitable Bar Italia, with guests back inside, on Soho’s Frith Street this week.
The India Club Restaurant inside the Strand Continental Hotel defied an eviction notice to reopen on Monday. The restaurant, one of historic significance, is engaged in a fight for survival, after its landlord has proposed an 80 percent increase in rent if it is unable to “modernise and run [its] own hotel” from the property. And still, it welcomed guests back this week. Guests who will continue to campaign for its ability to remain right where it is.
The doors to Soho’s Brasserie Zedel flung open once more.
Staff await guests at the intimate udon noodle bar Koya, on Soho’s Frith Street.
Cafe TPT, which remained open for delivery and takeaway through lockdown, welcomes guests back this week.
Camberwell’s Silk Road again reopened its dining room this week.
Also in Camberwell, the newer, but no less popular Nandine was back open for business having relied on takeaway and delivery for the last five months.
For Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant Gymkhana, lockdown presented fewer troubles than many other restaurants in that category. Its meal kit delivery initiative wasn’t a total replacement for lost trade, but it enabled the business to tick over in tough times.
On Piccadilly in central London, The Wolseley’s doorman says goodbye to a guest; the restaurant’s owner Jeremy King this week said: “I can confirm that all our restaurants will be fully open — albeit some with slightly modified hours. That’s the good news. The bad news is this will be against a background of having much of the hospitality sector remaining on the precipice of major failure.” The main problem, he reiterated, was rent debt.
The Clove Club, the Michelin-starred Shoreditch favourite welcomed guests back this week, with a more formal approach to service. Table cloths appeared. Will the second star finally be forthcoming?
London restaurant dining rooms, open again.