Eating Out in Pandemic Days

Let’s start with the great news. For the UK’s restaurant industry, 2021 will be better than in 2020. This is first because, short of your real Godzilla rising from the depths off Folkestone at precisely the same time as a chunky asteroid wilfully redirects itself to slam into, say, Birmingham, laying waste to everything inside a 500-mile radius, it is tough to imagine it being worse. And even then, it’s only going to be better for the individuals who have survived. A recent poll by various industry bodies discovered over 70 percent of hospitality companies expected to close if the present Covid-19 restrictions remained unchanged. We’ve already seen several casualties. Michel Roux Jr’s restaurant in Parliament Square has gone, by way of instance, and, as mentioned here lately, chef Mark Hix has seen his entire London restaurant group near.

Happy days. A look forward to the forthcoming year should, of course, be filled with lip-smacking accounts of spins on double-fried Korean chicken wings, deep dives to the persuasive cooking styles of hitherto neglected areas of west Africa or India, or nerdy experiments with live fire cooking. And in another 12 months, I expect there’ll be plenty of that. An excellent meal out is also an education.

But in looking forward, it is worth remembering the signposted on the wall of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential election campaign war room. It read, “It’s the economy, stupid.” For restaurants, everything about the upcoming year is all about the economy. If you are a well-capitalized restaurateur who survived the ravages of the previous 12 months, then there might well be a glowing glow on the horizon. As one significant participant put it to me: “The first few months will be as awful as 2020. In the next three weeks, the calvary is coming. The last six months will probably be the best we have ever had.”

Predicting a boom might be the product of wishful thinking. The Second Decade of the previous century was called the Roaring Twenties for a great reason. Following the ravages of a world war and then a pandemic more deadly than Covid-19, there was a pent-up appetite for pleasure. Many in the industry are convinced that history will repeat itself. One of the substantial inequities of the outbreak is that, while millions were thrust into grinding poverty, many were not. Those who stayed fully employed while working at home frequently found their outgoings plummet. Not spending money on travel into work could quickly pile up. Throw in the absence of weekday sandwich lunches — farewell to much city-center Press –, and the bank balance looks amazingly plump.

There’ll be a desire to invest, which has to be helpful both for the economy generally and hospitality particularly. Neil Macleod of Mission Mars, the firm behind Manchester’s Albert’s Schloss, a beer hall serving up crispy pork knuckles, bratwurst, and hot and cold running drag queens, is thinking like this. “A significant volume of guests have enough confidence in the security measures in place to go to,” he says. “And, along with the effect of vaccine availability, that builds confidence that there’ll be strong need come spring.” Therefore, they have expansion plans. Last summer, they were able to start Zumhof in Digbeth, Birmingham. In the upcoming year, they have eye venues in Leeds and Newcastle.

Meanwhile, in London, Wolseley operators Corbin & King will eventually have the ability to start their long-delayed relaunch of the Manzi’s name, using a seafood brasserie off Soho Square they describe as”fun and reasonably priced.” Fruits de Mer and moules all around. There’s also substantial investment guaranteed for food court ventures. The company behind Scottish restaurant and butchery company Mac & Wild is opening a 16,000sqft website boasting eight restaurant brands at the new Edinburgh St James development. In Manchester, the Escape into Freight Island website, which opened last year with numerous food outlets, has declared #2m of new investment. The City of London will see the UK’s first outpost of Eataly, with 40,000sqft of Italian food outlets.

The real challenge for many Such businesses is they are often in town centers, places a lot of people have lost a tradition of visiting. Footfall may return, but it is going to take time. So allow me to make a one optimistic prediction: we will see an increase in intriguing new ventures by young chefs in the suburbs. As restaurateur Jeremy King put it in a meeting with the significant Hospitality site: “There will be an awful lot of empty spaces… and I am hoping they’ll allow all the remarkable new chefs and restaurateurs to do something.” I hear that rents in city centers have plummeted because of a lack of demand.

I don’t understand what any of Them will be, but some new ventures are coming in 2021. Sam and Georgie Pearman, who run two food bars, will reopen the Dual Red Duke in the Oxfordshire village of Kelmscott, together with Richard Turner’s assistance, a veteran of Pitt Cue and Hawksmoor. Anticipate a charcoal grill working overtime and a killer steak and kidney pudding with oyster and bone marrow gravy. And you can not keep Mark Hix down for long. He is reopening the Fox Inn at Corscombe, Dorset, a sister company to his Oyster and Fish House in Lyme Regis. He is promising bunny brawn with piccalilli and a gamekeeper’s hotpot.

Graeme Cheevers, who won a Michelin star while the head chef of the Isle of Eriska Hotel, says he is hoping to do it again at Unalome at Glasgow on the Sisters restaurant. Chef Emily Scott will see her pop up in the Watergate Bay Hotel in Cornwall go indefinitely from March with a fish and plant-based menu, including the likes of roasted scallops with truffle butter and buffalo mozzarella panna cotta with basil and tomatoes. And back in London, there is a courageous plan to relaunch the once legendary Langan’s Brasserie.

It’s a random choice, But evidence that there remains a willingness to test despite it all. That is a cause for optimism because restaurants do not only feed us and bring us together. In addition to providing severe careers, the hospitality industry has historically been a source of mass employment. It offers temporary jobs for people working on other things: students paying their way through college, celebrities between jobs, painters fighting over their art. Restaurants, hotels, and bars are part of an economic web that can help underpin our cultural lifestyle. There are several reasons why we want the hospitality industry to fight its way back to good health in 2021; a fantastic dinner is but one of them.