London’s restaurants have had a tough old time during the pandemic, with many of the capital’s most famous eateries saying that they will not be able to reopen. Even when restrictions were eased in summer 2020, many were unable to turn a profit from reduced covers, so stayed closed. For those that have managed to survive – some by turning to takeaways, or meal kits – the prospects are still far from rosy.
But good news is on the horizon. According to yesterday’s announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Monday February 22 2021), London’s restaurants and bars will be able to reopen as outdoor venues from April 12, as part of Phase Two of the government's plans to reopen the UK.
Indoor dining and drinking will return in mid-May, as part of Phase Three. There’ll be no curfew and the ‘Scotch egg debate will be over’ – you can have a drink without food. But expect the rule of six to still be in place, to have to book in advance, take part in Track and Trace systems and wear masks when you’re not eating and drinking.
Hopefully this will be the beginning of the long road back for these fantastic spaces – we asked some of London's restaurant owners what they thought:
1. Z He, Bun House and Wun’s Tea Room
'We are happy to hear about the possibility of opening up the industry with restrictions from April. I do believe a gradual reopening with caution is more preferred than a full reopening at once because as desperate as we are to start trading again, ensuring the safety of our staff and customers is still the priority under all circumstances. I think that if we all stay vigilant but creative, as we have been, we will have a fighting chance as we start opening to a controlled amount of eat-in customers while continuing our delivery service to get the best out of the situation.'
2. Brodie Meah, Top Cuvee
'It was good to hear [the government] acknowledge the economy and committing to [the exit from lockdown] being irreversible. I do have questions. For instance, we're happy people can serve outside, but how does that affect restaurants like ours with no outdoor capacity? Same thing with re-opening indoors: he mentioned capacity limits. What will they be?! We need more details to help plan.'
3. Daniele di Martino, Rossopomodoro
'As a business I feel that support now [from the government] is more fundamental than ever. Behaviours have changed and the whole landscape has changed too with them. No tourists, no office workers... They are just some of the new challenges we will be facing. This is the end of lockdown but certainly not the end of a structural crisis in the hospitality/arts/travel/entertainment sector. I feel the country is moving and it is moving in the right direction. But we're here now, the final stretch to relaunch and slowly get back to how things were.'
4. Mohammad Paknejad, Nutshell
'Unfortunately, businesses are paying the price for the never ending chain of mistakes made by the government. From the always too late lockdowns, to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which was believed to have led to a spike in infection rates. Now the economy will be shut for another five months after the mixing of households caused a huge spike during Christmas. Regarding the speech in the parliament, it should have been followed by another speech or at least a press release from the Treasury informing businesses on how they will be supported during the rest of this extremely long period of mandated closures. Now, the only thing that businesses know is that they won’t be having any revenue anytime soon. Thus, a lot of businesses might resort to laying off more staff or closing their premisses.'
5. Jay Morjaria, JAE
'Today's news gives us some hope that as a country we are moving in the right direction, thanks to the great work of the NHS. Of course, we would have liked to have been fully open sooner but the constant stopping and starting is affecting us both financially and emotionally. A more cautious and phased approach is welcomed, providing there is support for affected businesses, such as deferral of tax bills, reduction of VAT and rent debt covered through grants.'
6. Chef Su Tran, Mien Tay
'I have three restaurants run by three of my daughters so we are truly a family business that have been devastated by the pandemic. Only our Fulham branch is open thanks to the smaller size and generous support of the landlord but we don’t have outdoor space so today we face the news that we have another three months, at least, of the current situation. Our three restaurants support four generations of our family, as well as a charity that help the poor in my village in Vietnam, it really is a terrifying situation for me, to see my life’s work just disappear. Why can you go to the gym [in April] but not [inside] a restaurant with your household? We are watching Kingsland Road, home to Vietnamese food in London, fading away. It makes me cry just thinking about what we are about to lose. There is talks about bringing back EOTHO but that does not help small independent family restaurant with low profit margins. And, when big companies are advertising amazing deals? We just cannot compete.'
7. Bin Li, Murger Han
'During the pandemic, we have never closed the kitchen across our three sites and we are proud of it. Despite this, news of waiting another three months of surviving on collection and deliveries is a lot to take in. It really will take a miracle to keep open with revenues slashed to the bottom line, but I tell my team we will keep looking forwards but we remain focused and fighting. I really want your readers to know that it is the customers' support that has meant a lot to us, both financially and emotionally. If someone spends just £10 it makes a bigger difference than they will ever know. We’ve had to put in place so many offers just to compete and I am working on the basis of losing as little as I can, but it is continually a loss. I really hope that May 17th will be the day we can open for dining in again.'
London's best outdoor restaurants to book now.