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Sun 13th Jun 2021 - Weekend leisure stories and restaurant reviews
21 June unlocking called off: 21 June will no longer herald a full return to normality after Boris Johnson resigned himself to a delay of up to four weeks in lifting the remaining covid restrictions. The Prime Minister will tell the country on Monday that the latest data on the spread of the Indian or delta virus variant means it is too risky to go ahead as planned. A four-week delay would mean pushing the date back to 19 July. It had been hoped that weddings at least would be given a special dispensation after 50,000 couples – many of whom will have cancelled or delayed earlier celebrations – booked ceremonies for the four weeks following what had been billed as “freedom day”. But senior government sources said that while Mr Johnson might increase the current 30-person limit at weddings, restrictions on numbers would have to remain after officials from Matt Hancock’s health department warned that they could become “super-spreader” events. After weeks of wrangling between ministers, scientists and business leaders, government sources confirmed on Friday that some restrictions would remain in place beyond 21 June, with a four-week delay the most likely option. The decision is expected to be reviewed two weeks into the extension. Face coverings, work from home advice and social distancing are all expected to remain, together with the “rule of six” and restrictions on numbers allowed in arenas, theatres and other venues. Nightclubs will remain closed. One minister described the uncertainty ahead of Monday as “frustrating” and said the “holding pattern” threatened to hit business confidence. Another government source said ministers were alive to the possibility of a fierce backlash from some quarters of the public against a delay to unlocking, adding: “There is a concern around people who’ve made plans in good faith. Even though the government was always clear 21 June was the earliest date, lots of people have been hanging on to that.” (The Telegraph)

Prospect of four-week delay wrecks ‘summer of fun’ for angry businesses: Hospitality leaders have reacted with fury as Boris Johnson prepares to introduce a four-week delay to the road map tomorrow amid warnings of further damage to the economy. The Prime Minister has been accused of killing the summer of fun, with thousands of events set to be cancelled, including the potential for a second successive summer without big music festivals. More than 5,000 music gigs by artists including Olly Murs, Beverley Knight and McFly are also expected to be cancelled at a cost of £500 million. According to industry estimates, a four-week delay to the end of restrictions will cost pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants £3 billion in lost sales and £4 billion to the economy overall. A further 200,000 jobs in the sector, which still has 600,000 people on furlough, could also be lost, according to Kate Nicholls, chief executive of lobby group UKHospitality. (Sunday Times)

Rishi Sunak urged to help amid delay in lifting covid restrictions: Rishi Sunak will be presented with more demands to help businesses as Boris Johnson prepares to push back the 21 June lifting of restrictions. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said the chancellor would need to delay the tapering of the furlough scheme; from 1 July, businesses are due to contribute 10% of staff wages in a staged withdrawal of the job protection scheme, which is set to finish at the end of September. The BCC also called for cash grants and said that “measures need to be in place until the economy is able to reopen fully”. The four-week delay to the lifting of restrictions is expected to lead to another extension of the moratorium on commercial property evictions over unpaid rent. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said that full business rates relief, which runs until the end of this month, should be extended by three months. The Treasury said: “We deliberately went long with our support to provide certainty to people and businesses over the summer.” Economists will want to see if a delay to the removal of restrictions hits consumer confidence. Data this week is expected to show that unemployment fell from 4.8% in the three months to March to 4.7% in the quarter to April. (Sunday Times)

Sadiq Khan tells Boris Johnson that London is ready to fully reopen on 21 June: Sadiq Khan has told Boris Johnson that London is ready to reopen from 21 June. In a letter to the Prime Minister, the London Mayor said he believed the “four tests” set out by the government to ease measures had been met in the capital. “Any delay to re-opening on 21 June will have severe consequences for businesses who have suffered so much already,” he said. “As long as social distancing is in place, London’s hospitality, nightlife and cultural sectors, which have been hardest hit by the pandemic, will remain unable to reopen or fully reopen in an economically viable way. These vital components of London’s vibrant history and global reputation, some of which have been closed since March 2020, are at risk of catastrophic collapse.” He urged the PM, should he decide to delay the reopening, to continue offering financial support for business which would remain closed. Khan continued: “We are committed to doing everything in our power to support our city and our businesses to survive this crisis and to ensure that London maintains its global pre-eminence as a centre for international business, culture, nightlife and tourism. To give London’s businesses the best chance of being able to survive; they need ongoing support, reassurance – and they need to fully reopen on 21 June. If restrictions are extended beyond 21 June, we urge ministers to extend the 100% business rates holiday; and the business evictions moratorium for a commensurate period beyond the end of June.” (LBC)

Delay to lockdown easing means a midsummer nightmare for businesses: Many nightlife venues have been shut for more than a year. In a recent poll by the Night Time Industries Association, 90% of businesses said the decision on whether to delay reopening would have a critical impact on their chances of survival. Aaron Mellor, 51, founder of Tokyo Industries, a chain of nightclubs, bars and music venues, said the latest delay would be “catastrophic”. Tokyo Industries runs 45 sites in the UK plus seven abroad. Mellor has changed many of them to operate as restaurants or bars with seating, but he said it was hard to make this model financially viable: “Our large venues are reliant on high-volume ‘vertical’ drinking,” where customers go to the bar to order and drink standing up. Mellor made many of his 2,500 employees redundant last year, but said he was now struggling to recruit enough people to get his workforce back up to 1,200. The pressures on the sector were being exacerbated, he added, by a “cliff edge” at the end of this month, when the ban ends on commercial tenancy evictions. Delaying the lifting of limits means he has to move hundreds of sold-out events. He said: “We booked things as we were told that restrictions would be lifted then.” (Sunday Times)

Fears that restrictions could be in place until spring: Britain will have a six-week window to open up in the summer or risk keeping covid-19 restrictions in place until the spring, ministers fear. Boris Johnson on Saturday gave his clearest signal yet he is planning to delay a full return to normality for another month, as he said he wanted to give covid-19 vaccines “extra legs” in “the race between the vaccines in the lockdowns”. But government advisers have told ministers they will face a ticking clock before it becomes too late to lift the remaining restrictions in September. On Saturday night a senior minister said there were fears the planned delay would leave a “very short window to open up”, with further postponements leading to an eventual re-opening in the spring, when transmission occurs less easily and winter strains on the NHS have eased. The minister said: “I am very worried the people who want to keep us shut down now want us to keep us shut down permanently and are aiming for ‘zero covid’. Once you start delaying to the spring you’re making this type of control of people’s lives semi-permanent.” This weekend there was mounting anger among senior backbenchers who have opposed the extension of covid-19 restrictions, which include a cap on wedding guests, mass gatherings and a continuation of the rule of six indoors. Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Conservative MPs, said: “It is increasingly clear that the modellers are our masters now... Boris Johnson will need to be extremely careful he doesn’t allow them to lead us into a lockdown that lasts all winter.” (Sunday Telegraph)

Delay to Freedom Day to wipe billions off economy: The economy will suffer a hit of £55m a day if Boris Johnson confirms plans for a four-week delay to the final stage of the covid-19 reopening roadmap, a leading forecaster has warned. Analysts at the Centre for Economics and Business Research released the figures as the Prime Minister prepares to push back the lifting of all remaining restrictions until July. The beleaguered hospitality industry will suffer the lion’s share of the £1.6bn hit – equal to around 1% of overall monthly growth – if capacity limits on pubs, restaurants, theatres and cinemas remain in place. Nightclubs have been shut since the pandemic began. Kay Neufield, head of forecasting at the CEBR, said: “The government needs to acknowledge that most of the economic pain will once again be borne by those businesses that have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic so far – pubs, restaurants, nightclubs and many other businesses in the hospitality and cultural sectors are desperate to reopen,” adding: “The longer restrictions are required, the higher the risk of an insolvency wave later in the year.” The pub trade is hoping for a lift from the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, but could lose as much as a quarter of its estimated £104m takings if the “rule of six” remains for indoor gatherings. (Sunday Telegraph)

Curtain poised to rise on state rescue for theatres: West End impresarios are on the brink of striking a deal with ministers to rescue Britain’s teetering theatre industry in a race to avoid a £6bn hit to the economy. The Sunday Telegraph understands that theatre grandees have an agreement in principle from Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, for a taxpayer-backed insurance scheme that will pave the way for productions to restart when restrictions eventually lift. Plans for a government indemnity are now sitting with the Treasury, which will wait for Boris Johnson’s announcement on covid restrictions tomorrow before giving the green light. A group of impresarios has been in discussions with officials from the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for more than a year to thrash out a scheme that will protect Britain’s theatres. A senior insider involved in the talks said: “At the moment DCMS is fully seized with it. They are supportive because they understand that the cost of offering us insurance cover is not that large. And the benefits are both culturally and economically significant.” Sources said that similar insurance will be offered to cover live entertainment, concerts and music festivals. It will underwrite ticket revenues if theatres have to close down either because of an outbreak within the production team or a fresh wave of covid restrictions, meaning companies can go ahead with planning shows without the fear of massive losses. (Sunday Telegraph)

Out of frying pan into the fire as pubs and restaurants scramble for staff: Before the pandemic, a bartending role at Simon Wood’s restaurant might have attracted a couple of hundred applications. But when the MasterChef winner put out a job advert ahead of indoor dining reopening last month, he received just one response. Like many in his industry, Wood has found himself scrambling to find staff, caught between a lack of potential workers and waning enthusiasm among the existing workforce. Due to staff shortages, the work has become harder and covid has made it unappealing. That, combined with an exodus of overseas workers, has made hiring “far, far worse”, Wood says – with the problems being felt from the bottom to the top of the industry. “We’re at a tipping point, I have to be honest,” he adds. “I had four people leave me last week. These are seasoned professionals that have worked in hospitality for years, and they’ve decided they just can’t do it anymore.” The chef has been forced to lift salaries to keep staff and attract talent. As restrictions have been eased, similar reports have been flooding in from around the country of businesses offering bonuses or wage increases. For now, it’s not clear that pay rises are here to stay. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics say 7% of the UK’s workforce remains on furlough. That is the lowest level since the scheme was introduced, but the retail and hospitality sectors still represent roughly half the total. A report by Goldman Sachs found that hiring bottlenecks are concentrated within certain sectors, such as hospitality and transportation. Its authors said covid-19 had generally resulted in improved wages for those left working, but that it was too early to get a clear picture of longer-term trends. “We think that spare capacity in the economy will be enough to keep inflation and wages fairly muted,” says Steffan Ball, Goldman’s top UK economist. For Wood, however, the pandemic presents an opportunity for his industry to change a reputation for quick-fire employment. “We can rebuild,” he says. “That’s what we’re having to do, but rebuild properly. Not with people doing 90-hour weeks for £18,000 a year. That’s not how I see this industry.” (Sunday Telegraph)

Customers are desperate to get back in the pub – it’s our staff who are staying away, say bosses: Many of Britain’s small businesses that managed to survive the pandemic are now facing another threat: a shortage of staff. While business owners are desperate to make up for months of lost trading due to lockdown restrictions, a lack of available staff means many are having to operate their companies under reduced hours – such as remaining closed on Mondays or shutting early at weekends. The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit, with a ‘perfect storm’ of Brexit, covid-19 and people not returning to work after furlough resulting in many jobs going unfilled. Brian Keeley Whiting, managing director of WH Pubs, runs four pubs with beer gardens in Kent. He has been delighted with the public’s response to his pubs reopening – “customers were queuing up in the cold, the rain and even the snow,” he says. But getting sufficient staff to provide the right level of service is a challenge. We’ve lost good people we had on our books for a long time,’ says Brian. “They went to second jobs, which they took while being furloughed working for us. When it was time to reopen, some workers just didn’t want to come back.” One of Brian’s top chefs is now working as a gardener while one of his barmen, who took a job loading lorries for Sainsbury’s while on furlough, is now working for the food retailer full-time. Brian is not happy. He says: “I had to pay National Insurance, pension contributions and holiday entitlement while the barman got 80% of his salary with us as well as his Sainsbury’s salary. When asked to come back, he said he didn’t want to as his other job was less pressure and had better hours.” He adds: “I can’t blame people for moving on if that’s what they want to do, but we currently need to recruit another ten chefs and 20 front-of-house staff. So we’re having to rethink how we do things. Should I buy a £5,000 burger machine rather than having our chefs make them from scratch, for example? If I increase salaries then I’ll have to increase our prices as we work on the tightest of margins. We don’t want our remaining staff to burn out and then leave – especially given the summer will be really busy if people can’t go abroad.” (Mail on Sunday)

Pubs cash in with table charges to watch Euro matches: Pubs are charging hundreds of pounds to reserve tables for England’s opening Euro 2020 match against Croatia on Sunday as football fans struggle to find places to watch the game. This week the Players Lounge in Billericay, Essex, was charging £120 per seat in its “VIP” area, and tables at the Barca Bar in Manchester were going for £60. In London, the Oval fan park was charging £135 for a table of six, although fans would be hosted by the former England player Tony Cottee. Despite the high prices all of the venues, as well as many others across the country, were sold out. More than five million fans are expected to try to watch games at the pub this weekend. The home nations matches are set to deliver a £400 million boost to the economy, according to the Centre for Retail Research. It predicts that 5.1 million people will descend on pubs and other venues to watch the games, with a forecast spend of £63 million. An extra £334 million will be spent by those preparing to watch from home, including £189 million on food, £108 million on drink and £20 million on new televisions. Pubs have found that they can charge for tables because covid-19 restrictions have limited the number of people they are allowed to host, meaning that demand for seats has hugely outstripped supply. At present, pubs are required to ensure social distancing of at least one metre and must operate table service only. They also have to ensure that customers wear masks other than when sitting at a table, and that groups indoors are limited to six people. Drinking at the bar or standing are not allowed anywhere. Not everywhere is charging or fully booked, however. Many pubs, such as the Vibes sports bar at Hartlepool Marina, are operating on a first-come, first-served basis. Some are even offering cheap beers to encourage customers, such as Hornsey’s Bar in Seaton Carew, which promises to sell two-pint steins for £6 during all England’s games. (The Times)

Caring pats his pockets at Bill’s: Fans of dad jokes struggle to hold back when the bill arrives at Bill’s. But the hearty all-day restaurant chain, part of 73-year-old tycoon Richard Caring’s empire, has discovered it’s not all fun and games when the time comes to pay. In March, Bill’s disclosed it had breached the terms of an overdraft facility, while auditor BDO warned that covid could cause material uncertainty that “may cast significant doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern”. Bill’s said that while Caring had offered to stump up more cash, he hadn’t made any binding commitments. Now, Caring’s commitment may be put to the test: an owner of London’s Westfield centre is suing for unpaid rent. Prufrock understands the sum is substantial. Bill’s says it will be “happy to come to come to an arrangement with Westfield, as… all the thousands of hospitality businesses in the UK are trying to do with their own landlords”. It sounds like the two sides are unlikely to be swapping Limoncello shots and hugs. (Sunday Times)

BrewDog’s ethical status at risk over allegations of ‘rotten culture’: BrewDog is in danger of losing its ethical business certification in the wake of allegations of a toxic work culture. The Scottish craft brewer has a page on its website dedicated to its “B Corp” certification, a stamp of approval for private companies meeting high standards for impact on workers, customers, community and the environment. However, B Lab, the New York-based group that administers the certification, is reviewing BrewDog after receiving a complaint from a former employee, who said that the company had failed to conduct its business “as if people matter” and without “causing significant harm through their business practices”. BrewDog was founded in Fraserburgh, Scotland, in 2007 by James Watt and Martin Dickie and now has more than 60 bars in the UK. It has about 145,000 small shareholders through its “Equity for Punks” scheme and is expected to seek a stock market flotation. The brewer is reeling after an online open letter from more than 60 former staff this week accused it of creating a “rotten culture” that left them feeling burnt-out, afraid and miserable. A spokeswoman for B Lab told The Times: “Identifying and investigating allegations of misconduct or misrepresentation by B Corps is essential to maintaining the integrity and value of the B Corp certification. This specific case is under review by our standards team and B Lab does not comment publicly on the details of open cases.” About 4,000 companies in 153 industries have B Corp status. They range from Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream brand, to Patagonia, a clothes retailer. The complaint details how BrewDog had to pay £12,000 in 2018 to a former worker who lost his job at its brewery because of eyesight problems. A year later, it was sued by a customer who said he felt forced by staff at its bar in Cardiff to say he “identified as a woman” to buy a bottle of Pink IPA. BrewDog declined to comment on the B Lab investigation. (The Times)

Dishpatch meal kits heat up with £10m: A finish-at-home meal-kit service used by restaurants including Angela Hartnett’s Cafe Murano has raised £10 million for expansion. Dishpatch, founded in the first lockdown last year, obtained the funds from venture firms Andreessen Horowitz and LocalGlobe. Entrepreneurs including Bloom & Wild boss Aron Gelbard and Trouva co-founder Mandeep Singh also invested. Ex-Farfetch operating chief Andrew Robb will join the board. Founded by Peter Butler, 33, and James Terry, 23, Dishpatch works with London restaurants to create meal kits that can be posted anywhere in the UK. Restaurants prepare the food, while Dishpatch handles logistics, delivery and customer service. The kits, shipped weekly, come with detailed instructions for customers to heat and finish the meals at home. Since starting, Dishpatch has delivered more than 75,000 boxes, which range in price from £40 to £70 for a two-person meal. The funds raised will be used to add 20 restaurants to the 25 now available via the platform, as well as expand Dishpatch’s 17-strong team. (Sunday Times)

Marina O’Loughlin reviews Il Portico, Kensington: Il Portico has existed in one shape or another for four generations of the same family. And I’d never noticed it. I’ve walked past its Kensington High Street frontage, but since it had no glitz signage, no Big Green Egg smoke, no tiling or studied modernism or Georgian opium den paintwork, it simply didn’t register. Topiaried hedges, for God’s sake: what self-respecting professional neophile, what kimchi and fermenting obsessive longs over the likes of that? Il Portico’s owner, James Chiavarini, son of the original padrone, brought it to my attention by the dangerously subversive expedient of dropping me a line. It could probably survive by doing the same: pizza and commercial pasta and cheap wine are good for profit margins. Not so good is delivering half a roe deer on the plate. Or hand-making their own gnocchi and cuttlefish ink linguine. Or using gloriously grassy olive oil. Or offering the finest cheeses and salumi – DOP – from the homeland. That’s all joyful, obviously. But this little place thrives because it makes diners feel special. It is beloved. When we visit there’s a family with children to one side, an elderly couple to the other, sleek Kensington youth elsewhere, all cheersing with glasses of good Italian wines. Apart from Chiavarini himself, voluble and super-informative, the floor is run by the kind of lifer Italian waiter forever ready with a quip and a “bella signora”. Cheesy? Maybe, but pass the formaggio. This all might be because I’m with Lisa, the editor of these pages, and we’ve been clocked as a result; but it also might not – everyone seems to be getting the treatment. I have now joined Il Portico’s legion of devotees. Since going there I’ve been evangelising – but replies have frequently been along the lines of “Oh yeah, I went there in the Eighties/Nineties/ Noughties”. Seems like I was the only one out of the loop. As L said on the night: “I’m definitely coming back here.” Me too. (Sunday Times Magazine)

Giles Coren reviews Bar des Prés: The British Bar des Prés is a great-looking little joint on Albemarle Street in Mayfair, which was Manish Mehrotra’s wonderful Indian Accent until he closed last summer after barely two years, citing an inability to operate under social distancing. I ordered blind with a swirling pin over the various needy headings (“Land & sea”, “Raw & marinated”) and was rewarded with a procession of brightly coloured, sharply accented, beautifully fresh and precisely plated European variations on Japanese themes, and vice versa. First up was seared chutoro (five pieces for £21): “Voilà, bish, bosh,” said my guy. “Pukka tuna, lovely jubbly, avec les wicked tiny potato crusty bits like me nan makes and just a slug of le chilli vinaigrette – that’ll put some cheveux on yer chest, bruv.” Actually, he didn’t. He was a very elegant and lovely Frenchman and the dish was fantastic. Yellowtail maki rolls (£9 for six) were followed by a wondrous riff on nigiri sushi, with gorgeous salmon draped over rice that had been fried into crispy, sticky little fingers (five for £16) and then fresh little spring rolls of king crab with cubes of mango and flecks of mint rolled in lettuce (seven slices for £20). There was an escalope of breaded volailles des Landes (£26) – a St Germain riff on katsu with a sriracha mayonnaise (I actually do this at home wiv me wife’s fried chicken for the kids, bro: just squish out a load of Hellmann’s, bosh a big squirt of sriracha on top and Bob’s your uncle) – and a somewhat underpowered and dainty take on Nobu’s famous old black cod in miso (£39). But I’ve not eaten cod in miso in two years, thanks to lockdown, and, like Woody Allen films, Asterix books and bullfights, even a slightly disappointing codin miso is better than no cod in miso at all. (The Times Magazine)

Reverend Richard Coles reviews June Plum, Wellingborough: While the East Midlands will not dazzle you with Michelin stars, Northamptonshire, where I live, is a singularly Dark County. We have some terrific food producers and wonderful cooks, but not many restaurants that fulfil their promise, or last long if they do. Is it the traditionally thrifty chapel culture of the towns that grew with the expansion of shoemaking, or the monopolising of fine dining behind the walls of the many great estates here, or a road network connecting easily to fleshpots elsewhere? But then, suddenly, a glittering jewel in a surprising place – June Plum in Wellingborough. Strong, clean flavours that delight are delivered by its chef-patron, Jodi Jenny, who grew up in Jamaica, near St Mary’s, the daughter and granddaughter of cooks. She trained in Miami, and then came to the UK and worked in restaurants around here, posh pub grub at first, but, as she grew in confidence, and in the esteem of her employers, Jamaican food appeared on the menu. My starter, ordered from the vegan menu, was BraDap cauliflower (£5.95), al dente florets dredged in a sauce of Jodi’s own creation, a happy accident involving nearly burnt onions and molasses. It is rich and dark and treacly, sweet but with smoky depths, that complements the faintly bitter vegetable beautifully. Portions are substantial, which works just fine for me, but fainthearts may find one serving sufficient for two as a starter. For my main course I ordered curry goat (£12.50), as good as any I have eaten, the meat tender, and unlike versions I have had in the Caribbean, deboned and degristled. It is marinaded generously in Jodi’s own curry sauce, which is dark and rich with heat and sweetness, and runny so it leaks into the steaming pile of rice and peas which comes on the side, the rice soft and almost sticky, the peas gently releasing their leguminous richness in the mouth. One of the adaptations to local palates is making the degree of heat optional. I like fiery, so I ordered some of Jodi’s own hot relish, Junkanoo Poison (£1.20) on the side, a mysterious pinkish creamy-looking concoction that looks like something you would put on a dessert rather than a curry, but it is deceptively powerful. (The Observer Magazine)

Tom Parker Bowles reviews The Wolseley: To walk into The Wolseley is to slide, seamlessly, into another world, a place where the irks and indignities of normal life are shaken away like raindrops from an umbrella. Because this is restaurant as pure theatre, a spectacle as much as a lunch, with its vast and ever-moving cast of doormen and greeters, maître d’s, waiters, barmen and boss. The boss being Jeremy King, one half of restaurateurs Corbin and King, tall and immaculately clad, effortlessly gliding through the tables. A nod here, a word there, but one eye eternally on the rest of the room – one of the most handsome in London, if not the world, with its soaring ceiling, thrusting columns and polished marble sheen. Nothing misses his gaze. There’s no place for snobbery here, and despite its starry reputation, The Wolseley is refreshingly democratic. You can wander in for morning porridge and coffee or stagger out at midnight after a beluga feast. That’s the joy of the place, along with the eternal buzz, hum, hubbub and clatter, fuelled by endless gossip and brokered deals, the whispered sweet nothings, clandestine affairs (nowhere more discreet than the least discreet place on Earth) and endless celebrations of every hue. It has an atmosphere so rich and thick you could spread it over their warm, crusty baguettes; and after that first icy martini, you fall easily into its warm embrace. And while you don’t necessarily come to The Wolseley for the food alone, there’s always something you want. I know its menu like the keyboard of my computer: a dozen quivering Colchester rocks, or a quarter pint of pink prawns. Smoked salmon, finely sliced, from Severn and Wye, or an intense chicken soup with bouncy, joyously bland mini matzo balls. Maybe a burger, or rarebit, schnitzel, choucroute or chateaubriand. Sometimes the food should not get in the way of the talk. Which is why we come here, Jo Elvin, Olly and me, for our first indoor lunch for five months. We eat sweet, tiny queenie scallops in the shell, smoked haddock Monte Carlo, schnitzel, chopped chicken salad and fistfuls of hot, salty fries. It is as it always is, comfort as a class act. All around us, bread is broken, wine slurped and old acquaintances renewed. London is alive once more. (Mail on Sunday)

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