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.”
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.”
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.
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.
Toklas Bakery — one of the city’s newcomers, open for just a month — now closed until the new year.
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.
Camberwell’s peerless Kurdish restaurant Nandine brings down its shutters on an uncertain and unpredictable year.
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.
Barnes Motors, the name of the former mechanics garage, which is now the restaurant Primeur, is shut for 2021.
Wooden palettes, normally used for outdoor seating and tables, are stacked inside Newington Green bakery Jolene.
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.
New Parisian-esque wine bar, restaurant, and cave, Planque by chef Sebastian Meyers, closed on the 18 December and will return in 2022.
“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.
London’s hottest restaurant of 2021, chef Max Rocha’s Cafe Cecilia in Hackney, was forced to close earlier than planned at the weekend.
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.”
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.”
P. Franco’s Covid-secure wine hatch in Clapton.
Snackbar closed due to the number of staff who tested positive in the penultimate week before Christmas.
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.
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.
Back to being just a shop for the festive period, Clerkenwell’s Quality Chop House is closed until the new year.
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.”