This week sees one year since the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic. To mark the anniversary, Time Out is looking back at the past year in cities around the world, and ahead to what the future could hold.
We could be wrong here, but we’re pretty certain that London’s chefs and restaurateurs never signed up to become contestants on ‘The Apprentice (But It’s Actually Your Whole Life for a Year)’. Although that’s probably what the past 12 months have felt like for them.
Since the pandemic kicked off last March, each month has brought new and impossible challenges for these knife-wielding saints. It’s like Lord Sugar (appropriately) has been stood behind them all year yelling ‘Launch a food charity FROM SCRATCH!’, ‘Start making impossibly fiddly desserts as TAKEAWAYS!’, ‘Become a SHOPKEEPER!’, ‘Invent a thing called DIY MEAL KITS!’.
The prize for the restaurants that succeeded? Simply keeping their business alive.
This feature is a tribute to all those cooks and business owners who have had to fight so hard over the past year. We asked some of London’s restaurant top dogs – from Yotam Ottolenghi to Angela Hartnett – to share one personal photo that sums up the past 12 months for them. The results are a touching insider glimpse at their creativity, struggle and community spirit.
1. Yotam Ottolenghi, NOPI
‘A bunch of our chefs from Ottolenghi and the NOPI kitchens are pictured here after a busy afternoon cooking for kids at Manorfields Primary school. Who would have thought 2020 would be the year that chefs became dinner ladies/men! Teaching the children at Manorfields how to make Easter brownies has to be a highlight of our time at the school.’
2. Shuko Oda, Koya
‘This picture says to me: the doors might be closed but we’re still smiling at our Soho restaurant.’ Koya has launched ‘Koya Mail’, its omiyage udon and dashi delivery service with shipping across the UK.
3. Joshua Owens-Baigler, Angelina
‘Here’s some of the thousands of meals we cooked for charity during the first lockdown. Plus co-founder Josh, in the background, worrying about the books.’ Angelina’s tasting menu is available for takeaway and delivery (within 2.5 miles of the Dalston restaurant) Thu-Sat.
4. Filippo La Gattuta, Gloria
‘After all the sadness of having to close Gloria and Circolo Popolare, there was such happiness in realising there was a market for artisanal Italian food at home. It was whirlwind of recipe-testing for me – especially with our pizza dough, to make sure the pizzas arrived crispy yet soft to people’s homes – and packaging: how do you transport a 12cm lemon meringue pie on a motorbike?’
5. Charlie Tayler, Aulis
‘This year we transformed our eight-seater chef’s table in Soho into a workshop where we created our weekly-changing Aulis at Home meal kits. We are now delivering to 400 homes across London each week.’
6. Emeka Frederick, Chuku’s
‘There is a Yoruba proverb that goes “There is sweetness in bitter-leaf, at the end” and it means: good things can come out of unpleasant experiences. That’s what this year has been about for us, fighting to stay positive and looking for those good things. Closing our restaurant just weeks after we opened was devastating, but it’s because of (not despite) the trials and tribulations of the pandemic that in one year we’ve gone from one local restaurant in Tottenham to now being able to deliver our Nigerian cultural experience nationwide with our Chop, Chat, Chill Ready Meal Kits. That’s been a truly wonderful thing to come out of a really difficult time.’
7. The Kolamba team
‘This photograph perfectly captures how our small but mighty Kolamba team have come together to cook for the NHS over the last year. Supplying meals to UCLH was one way we felt we could say thank you to all the amazing frontline workers who were doing everything they could to protect us, our friends and our families.’
8. Elizabeth Haigh, Mei Mei
‘Someone drew this in the Borough Market staff toilets. As we’ve remained open as a service to the public, this felt like the pandemic summed up for us.’ Elizabeth’s debut cookbook, ‘Makan: Recipes from the Heart of Singapore’ is out on May 13.
9. Richard Gladwin, Gladwin Brothers
‘I love restaurants and have spent one day each week during the lockdowns working in our empty ones just to feel each building. This picture represents something new on the horizon. It was taken last week and I came home with a spring in my step.’
10. Su Tran, Mien Tay
‘My photo signifies hope, which might seem strange considering it’s a picture of a crab. Let me explain: the pandemic has had catastrophic impacts on my restaurant and my family. My photo is of a day we all remember as a happy time. This photo was taken between lockdowns when we held a family and staff meeting and we filled the table with traditional dishes we enjoy to share together. I got up very early and visited the fish market and found the beautiful crabs; I hoped it would be a sign of fortune ahead. I was wrong in the short term but I stay hopeful for the future.’
11. Angela Hartnett, Cafe Murano
‘This picture was taken in May when we opened a takeaway hatch at our Bermondsey site. Who would have guessed after only a few months of opening, our new restaurant was going to be transformed into this! I love how the photo captures a moment of brightness amongst all the madness and you can also see my good friend Val’s special on the board. It was a time when chefs were really coming together to support one another.’
12. Karan Gokani, Hoppers
‘If I was to take one positive out of the past year, it [was that it] forced us to jump off the hamster wheel and get creative outside of our comfort zone. In our case, we launched Cash & Kari, our retail platform. It’s something that had always been on the back burner and certainly something that’s here to stay well after the pandemic has gone.’
13. Ravinder Bhogal, Jikoni
‘Not the greatest photo, because we were busy cooking for King’s College Hospital and charity Nishkam SWAT, but the point is that we proved that hospitality transcends government-mandated closures.’
14. Colin Clague, Rüya
‘Without a strong team this would be impossible. At Rüya we are reminded every day that we are still together and that’s what counts. We can’t wait to welcome back all our guests on May 17.’
15. Skye Gyngell, Spring
‘After closing the doors to Spring in March, we tried to channel the same energy that drives the kitchen into exciting new projects that kept momentum going and spared produce from Heckfield Home Farm and Fern Verrow going to waste. Opening an ice-cream van in the courtyard of Somerset House last summer is a colourful example of this!’
16. Adam White, Riding House Cafe
‘If you had told me a year ago that I would be up-selling exotic peanut butter to go with your sourdough, I’m not sure how I would have reacted. We had fun trying everything and learned two things: that people are craving luxury, and the best way to deliver it is in a box.’ Riding House at Home delivers meal kits nationwide.
17. Nick Fitzgerald, Tacos Padre
‘A picture of the Padre team with all 221 meal kit orders ready for national delivery. For us, this sums up the last year and is just one example of the constant adaptations we’ve had to make as a business due to the pandemic.’
18. Aji Akokomi, Akoko
‘Lights off, all plates stacked up – this photo shows the reality of our restaurant in lockdown. We can’t wait to reopen without any more stops.’
19. Ed Templeton, Carousel
‘This shot was taken back in May 2020 when we were cooking meals for the NHS. I think we prepared a total of 22,000 dishes over the first lockdown, with a volunteer team of dozens. The building became a food factory for those three months. What we cooked depended on the donations that we were sent each day. Volunteering gave us hope and a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and without it I’m not sure we would have made it through to the summer.’
20. Saiphin Moore, Rosa’s Thai Cafe
‘This picture shows Team Rosa’s Tooting with donations ready to go to St George’s Hospital. Supporting key workers and the community was a big part of 2020 for us!’ Rosa’s Thai Cafe is open for delivery and click and collect across London.
21. Hubert Zanier, Kipferl
‘We changed from being a busy, happy restaurant to a web shop overnight. I had to entertain my non-furloughed staff somehow, so one day we decided to go full lederhosen when doing local deliveries. We made a lot of people smile and it showed just how into it we were. I am proudly Austrian and our customers love that about me and the business!’
22. Brodie Meah, Top Cuvée
‘This picture really sums up what we’ve been all about for the last year: delivering mountains of natural wine nationwide, with our friends, and not taking ourselves too seriously while doing it. Most of the time, being at work felt like I was having fun with my friends and I think that’s what we helped bring to our customers over this whole year too.’
23. Mel Brown, The Laundry
‘What does the last year mean to me? Resilience. The brutality of the last 12 months has imposed an involuntary “superhero” status on those in hospitality – the relentless fight for more money and support whilst navigating lack of revenue and pivoting a million ways, all whilst losing our lifeline, has reinforced resilience, opportunity and the downright love of service in us all.’ The Laundretters’ Overnighter, The Laundry’s dinner and morning-after breakfast meal kit (complete with drinks), is available for takeaway and delivery (within eight miles of the restaurant) every Friday.
24. Masaki Sugisaki, Dinings SW3
‘This year gave me a chance to find out who I want to be through what I do – and this picture says that to me.’
25. Marcus Eaves, Oblix at The Shard
‘“ROUGH” was a clever play on words by the super-talented photographer John Carey. This poignant image was taken outside Borough Market and pretty much sums up the last 12 months for the hospitality industry. Whilst it’s been an incredibly challenging time for all of us it’s important to look ahead, remember there’s some exciting and positive times in the not-too-distant future.’ Oblix is delivering its signature dishes, as well as afternoon tea and finish-at-home favourites across London via the Zuma London website.
26. Tim Siadatan, Padella
‘The launch of Padella pasta kits for nationwide delivery meant that our beautiful brand-new restaurant in Shoreditch became the world’s most expensive distribution centre.’
27. Bin Li, Murger Han
‘This picture is very important to me. When the public services were inundated we didn’t have the infrastructure to take meals to the hospitals or police stations so we offered free meals and became a welcome break for police and an easy stop for NHS workers on their way home or into work. We made many friends during that time and we were proud to be able to support in the best way we could.’
28. Andrey Datsenko, TAKA
‘After delays due to the first lockdown, we finally opened in September 2020. This photo, which is the outside of our restaurant, to me sums up hope and the importance of never giving up; we have traded constantly since opening, whether that has been through pivoting to takeaway, or opening a deli in collaboration with HappySky Bakery.’
What we have learned from one year of staying inside.