In this week’s column, CODE founder Adam Hyman discusses how we need to keep on moving despite learning to live week-by-week and the changing nature of the capital’s restaurant scene.
Our friends over at Hot Dinners this week have reported that new restaurant openings in London have dropped by two-thirds compared to the previous couple of years. No surprise considering what 2020 has thrown at us so far. September has always been the month to open a new restaurant, it’s when London gets back to business after a sleepy August. The offices are full of bronzed folk back from their summer holidays around Europe preparing to get their winter wardrobe ready, models are gracing the shiny catwalks for London Fashion Week and art dealers from across the globe pack up their Rimowas to head to the green surroundings of Regent’s Park for Frieze at the beginning of October.
Speak to any restaurateur, hotelier or private members’ club and these few weeks in the calendar are often as busy as Christmas for many central London operators. The city is awash with people from Seattle, Seville and Singapore who have come to London for these important events that they need to be at in person. They’re also spending money in our economy – in hospitality businesses, shops and travel. Whole restaurant takeovers by art galleries, average room rents hitting £1,000 at some of Mayfair’s best hotels and the roads around Mayfair at a standstill with Addison Lees and chauffeured Mercs full of journalists being ferried between fashion shows.
As our Indian summer in London continues and the leaves start to change colour, our city is in a very different shape this year. Hotel occupancy remains painfully low and the hottest parties in town for LFW and Frieze have had to be postponed till 2021. Yet, this week there seems to be some hope. The streets seem busier, business lunches are returning and the endless traffic jams around town are almost a welcome sight. The Evening Standard Magazine is even back in print. The clientele that were around taking advantage of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme have been replaced by those who never stay in London when the month begins with the letter A.
And over the past seven days I’ve eaten in three new restaurants in the West End that have all bravely persevered through lockdown and opened their doors at a time when many of their contemporaries are in survival mode. Louie – a sexy, three-storied spot in Covent Garden with Chiltern-esque vibes is already attracting the glamourous crowds for cocktails when I visited last Friday night. The second Noble Rot in Soho in the former Gay Hussar has a buzz in it that I’d not experienced in a restaurant since before lockdown and the spacious Maison Francois in St James’s was full up on Thursday night.
While I sat in each of them for dinner, it struck me just how nerve-wracking it must have been for these restaurateurs at a time of such uncertainty. We’re all too familiar with the trials and tribulations of opening a restaurant at the best of times but not when there’s a global pandemic that has torn through our industry and means these venues have to not only open for the first time but under certain guidelines, restrictions and in a city that is considerably quieter than it normally is.
As the week when the ‘Rule of Six’ was introduced draws to an end and we take stock of the serious implications it has for PDRs, group bookings and Christmas parties our news outlets are reporting the possible implementation of national curfews to stem the spread of COVID. We’re having to learn to live week-by-week at the moment and take things in our stride. For businesses this new-norm makes it incredibly difficult to plan. For many, everything is on hold but we still have to put our best foot forward and keep on moving.
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