New ventures by chefs in the suburbs promise a return to vitality for the restaurant sector, says Jay Rayner in the Guardian. January 2021.
Let’s start with the good news. For the UK’s restaurant sector, 2021 will be better than 2020. This is only because, short of your actual Godzilla rising from the depths just off Folkestone at the same time as a chunky asteroid wilfully redirects itself to slam into, say, Birmingham, laying waste to everything within a 500-mile radius, it’s hard to imagine it being worse. And even then, it will only be better for the ones who have survived. A recent survey by various industry bodies found more than 70% of hospitality businesses expected to close, if the current Covid-19 restrictions stayed in place unchanged. We have already seen a number of casualties. Michel Roux Jr’s restaurant at Parliament Square has gone, for example and, as reported here recently, chef Mark Hix has seen his whole London restaurant group close.
Happy days. A look forward to the coming year should, of course, be full of lip-smacking accounts of twists on double-fried Korean chicken wings, deep dives into the compelling cooking styles of hitherto neglected regions of west Africa or India, or nerdy experiments with live fire cooking. And in the next 12 months, I hope there will be lots of that. A great meal out can also be an education.
But in looking ahead, it’s worth recalling the sign that was posted 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 coming year is about the economy. If you’re a well-capitalised restaurateur who survived the ravages of the past 12 months, then there may well be a sunny glow on the horizon. As one major player put it to me: “The first three months will be as bad as 2020. In the second three months, the cavalry are coming. The last six months are likely to be the best we’ve ever had.”