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A restaurant exterior with artwork on a white brick wall and a small sign with the restaurant’s name.
Planque in Haggerston now closed for Christmas
Michaël Protin

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The Nightmare Before Christmas

Omicron brings down the shutters on a year of uncertainty, turmoil, takings, and takeaways

To borrow a line from John Lennon’s festive classic: “So this is Christmas / And what have you done / Another year over.”

Restaurants in London are heading into the holidays wondering what the hell just happened. Less than a month ago, many were reflecting on how positive the previous four months had been — how they’d exceeded expectations since reopening on “freedom day” in July, outperforming projections made in lockdown through the heady days of summer and autumn 2021. But in the last fortnight, since the effects of the omicron variant of COVID-19 forced the government to implement its so-called “Plan B” restrictions, a significant number of restaurants closed early for Christmas. Either their guests stayed away, the virus itself infected too many staff members for the restaurant to remain open, or the owners did not want to risk leaving those employees at risk of isolation over the holiday.

While there are obvious similarities with the ruthless way in which the pandemic and inadequate government messaging dealt a blow to restaurants and their staff before Christmas last year, the hope is that the omicron wave will peak and pass comparatively quickly; that the impact will not deliver such a brutal January hangover. The prospect of further restrictions might hang in the air like a ripe slice of stinking bishop, but restaurants right now are planning for the resumption of their new normal come the new year.

There are those who have kept Covid-free and carried on; there has been no mandate to close, even if the government has reluctantly accepted (evidenced by its £6,000 grant scheme) that trade truly has been, in the words of U.K. Hospitality’s Kate Nicholls, “annihilated.”

This is, for so many restaurants, a nightmare before Christmas.

Below is a selection of photographs from across London this week where a cold snap, countless shutters down, and widespread resignation signalled “another year over.”

Let the new one just begin.

Westerns Laundry, one of the restaurants owned by Brut restaurateur Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim and chef David Gingell, closed up for the year. Last month, Cometto-Lingenheim summed up 2021 to Eater London as a year of “perseverance, resilience, consolidation, prudence.”

This week, he wrote of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “when you elect a clown, expect a circus.”

WEsterns Laundry restaurant in Highbury is closed for Christmas owing to the omicron variant of COVID-19
Westerns Laundry in Highbury

After closing the Seven Dials branch of fried chicken shop Chick n Sours unexpectedly last weekend, co-owner David Wolanski told Eater, he hoped “for a brighter 2022.”

A person walks past Chick ‘n’ Sours which has been shut due to the omicron wave of covid-19 in London
Chick ‘n’ Sours closed last weekend

Mangal 2, the popular Turkish ocakbasi in Dalston, relaunched in July 2020 with a new image and new menu under the direction of brothers Ferhat and Sertaç Dirik. It closed for business in 2021 on Thursday 16 December. “To you all, utmost thank you for all your love and support. We’ll bounce back, we always do. We always will x,” Dirik wrote on Instagram.

Mangal 2 in Dalston has also closed early for Christmas and will only reopen in the New Year

London institution St. John in Clerkenwell. Its famous white shutters down much earlier than expected. “So, with a crashing sense of deja-vu, we bid you a partial farewell. We will be closing the doors of St. JOHN Smithfield from tonight, to reopen in the New Year,” it wrote on Instagram last week.

The white shutters of St. John Bar & Restaurant are down on an empty street during the omicron wave of covid-19 in London

Toklas Bakery — one of the city’s newcomers, open for just a month — now closed until the new year.

The storefront of Toklas Bakery on Surrey Street in central London looks deserted

Santiago Lastra’s outstanding Mexican fine dining restaurant Kol in Marylebone was among the first high-profile London restaurants to announce it would close early, on Wednesday 15 December. It, too, will return in the new year.

The Mexican restaurant Kol in Marylebone has been temporarily closed

Camberwell’s peerless Kurdish restaurant Nandine brings down its shutters on an uncertain and unpredictable year.

Nandine in Camberwell, closed

Chef Anna Tobias’s Cafe Deco first opened just before the November 2020 lockdown, a project initially delayed by the arrival of COVID in the spring of that year. After a varied and successful first full year, it ends 2021 as it began — with takeaway meals, provisions, and wine for the home.

Cafe Deco, a bar, restaurant and wine shop in Bloomsbury, hopes to reopen in January next year, while offering ‘heat at home’ food options

Italian restaurant Trullo in Islington closed because of the “current climate” until 2022.

Trullo on St. Paul’s Road, a beautiful blue building, is set to reopen at the end of the month

Barnes Motors, the name of the former mechanics garage, which is now the restaurant Primeur, is shut for 2021.

The storefront of Primeur, which is painted black and is a restaurant set in a 1940s car showroom

Wooden palettes, normally used for outdoor seating and tables, are stacked inside Newington Green bakery Jolene.

Newington Green’s Jolene has shuttered its glass doors following the impact of the omicron variant on London’s restaurants

Left: Wine bar and shop Hector’s which debuted in London’s De Beauvoir town in the summer of 2021 closed but for retail last week. Right: Gregarious sandwichmeister Max Halley’s Sandwich Shop brought its shutters down on 16 December.

White gate covers the door at Hector’s wine bar and shop in De Beauvoir town
Hector’s in De Beauvoir town
The shutters are down on Max’s Sandwich Shop
Max’s Sandwich Shop in Finsbury Park

New Parisian-esque wine bar, restaurant, and cave, Planque by chef Sebastian Meyers, closed on the 18 December and will return in 2022.

Planque, a wine bar and restaurant in a former railway arch in east London, has its green shutters down, during the omicron wave of covid-19 in London

“ITS CHRISTMAS TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIME,” according to a window decal at butcher Hill and Srzok, which closed its wine bar and cookshop to protect guests and staff — through the “rough patch” in the face of omicron — last week.

A person walks outside Hill & Szrok, Broadway Market’s top butcher

London’s hottest restaurant of 2021, chef Max Rocha’s Cafe Cecilia in Hackney, was forced to close earlier than planned at the weekend.

Cafe Cecilia, housed in a brick building, has also closed for the holidays until 5 January

Ombra — 2020’s “pandemic restaurant” — is by now accustomed to the pivot. It closed for business in 2021 on 20 December but will continue to trade through its online shop before reopening in the new year. Owner Mitshel Ibrahim saw it coming, earlier in December telling Eater London that “we are going to be back in that limbo where people will be scared of going out; furlough or grants won’t be made available [and] restaurant will tentatively bring back their online offering while trading as restaurant — a mess basically.”

A restaurant sits inside an empty street

Left: Ombra’s shutter comes down on 2021; Right: Bright in London Fields, now with a purpose built covered outside seating area, is closed for the year. Sister sites P. Franco and retail shop Noble Fine Liquor remain open for business. The general manager at the group wrote to Eater after the first wave of omicron-related closures, before he had made a call, with just four words: “It’s a fucking nightmare.”

Shutter comes down on yet another restaurant in London
This is a small restaurant, painted in green, which is part of the Christmas closure

P. Franco’s Covid-secure wine hatch in Clapton.

The impressive blue storefront of P. Franco, the wine shop and bar which will now remain as a bottle shop only

Snackbar closed due to the number of staff who tested positive in the penultimate week before Christmas.

Snackbar in London which has closed its doors due to rising cases among staff

One of South London’s best pubs — the Camberwell Arms — down and out until 2022. “For now the good times will have to be put on hold! We will have our time,” the restaurant said on Instagram.

The Camberwell Arms pub
The Camberwell Arms

Left: Chairs normally spread on an terrace in front of the restaurant are stacked inside for the Christmas period at Llewelyn’s in Herne Hill. Right: 40 Maltby Street pivots back to sandwich shop, traiteur, and wine emporium.

Llewelyn’s in Herne Hill
A sign posted to the door of Llewelyn’s in Herne Hill
40 Maltby Street
40 Maltby Street

Back to being just a shop for the festive period, Clerkenwell’s Quality Chop House is closed until the new year.

Quality Chop House and its shop next door in Clerkenwell closed because of the omicron variant
Quality Chop House and its shop next door

Left: Spitalfields’s favourite street food stall and outstanding shengjianbao producer Dumpling Shack explains that it closed to protect the welfare of its staff. Right: Llewelyn’s in Herne Hill says that it was the “only responsible way ahead given the number of people who pass through these doors.

“We will always do our best to look after our team but hope the government can get its act together and help too; it’s tough making these decisions in the dark.”

Dumpling Shack’s sign in Spitalfields spells out the reason behind its early closure
Dumpling Shack’s sign in Spitalfields
A sign posted to the door of Llewelyn’s in Herne Hill
A sign posted to the door of Llewelyn’s in Herne Hill

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