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Sun 22nd Aug 2021 - Weekend leisure stories and restaurant reviews
Nightclub vaccine passport policy in disarray, leaked letter reveals: Boris Johnson has been accused of letting his vaccine passports plan descend into disarray as a leaked letter from government lawyers stated that “no final policy decision” had been taken on requiring the passes in nightclubs. The prime minister had said that full vaccination will be a condition of entry for nightclubs and large venues by the end of September, in a move that sparked a backlash by hospitality industry leaders and divided opinion among ministers. But in a letter written on behalf of Sajid Javid, the health secretary, last week, the Government Legal Department stated that “no final policy decision has yet been taken” in relation to the issue, adding that “any further announcements will be made in due course”. The letter appears at odds with comments by Boris Johnson who has said those attending nightclubs and “other venues where large crowds gather” in England will need to be fully vaccinated from that date. Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, also states in an interview with The Telegraph that vaccine passports are “certain to happen now, in certain limited, restricted areas”. However, Mr Kwarteng refused to confirm that the requirements would be introduced specifically for nightclubs, stating: “I’m just not committing to what those areas are. But I’m ruling them out for pubs.” The letter, a copy of which was leaked to this newspaper, was written to solicitors representing Hugh Osmond, the founder of Punch Taverns and director of Various Eateries, who has threatened to sue the government over the proposed move. Osmond said: “The one thing the letter makes clear is that they have no idea what their policy actually is. As so often, rushed rhetoric without any thought to the implications, practicalities or ramifications”. Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said: “It seems ludicrous that the government is falling into a continual cycle of announcing new rules and policies around mitigations through ministers, when it is clear that decisions have not yet been made. All of this on top of the fact that businesses are suffering from further uncertainty, resulting in a drop in trading levels and workforce confidence.” (Sunday Telegraph)

Boss of Britain’s biggest nightclub group attacks PM Boris Johnson’s ‘ludicrous’ plan to make revellers show vaccine passports to enter clubs: The boss of Britain’s biggest nightclub group has attacked prime minister Boris Johnson’s ‘ludicrous’ plan to make revellers show vaccine passports to enter clubs. Peter Marks, chief executive of Rekom UK, said young people have flocked back to nightclubs and would not ‘play ball’ with new rules set to be introduced next month. He said many would seek out illegal underground raves instead, where there were no safety measures. Marks also warned that ordering his staff to be double-vaccinated could trigger employment disputes – particularly from ethnic minorities. Marks, who runs 46 clubs across the UK, said: “What do I do with staff who have not had double vaccines through their own choice? Ask them to leave? They’ll sue me for unfair dismissal or discrimination.” Nightclub revenues have soared since reopening on ‘Freedom Day’ on 19 July, due to pent-up demand. “The genie is out of the bottle,” said Marks. Last month, he and industry leaders Hugh Osmond, Michael Kill and Stephen Thomas warned health secretary Sajid Javid they could launch legal action over vaccine passports for nightclubs. Businesses in New York City are suing Mayor Bill de Blasio over his ‘Key to NYC’ scheme, launched last week, which requires proof of one vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, nightclubs and gyms. Kill, head of the Night Time Industries Association, said: “We need to respect people’s freedom of choice.” (Mail on Sunday)

Nightclub boss says takings have soared to double their pre-pandemic levels: Nightclubs veteran Peter Marks has spent his career out on the town – but even he has been surprised by the party mood sweeping Britain since clubs reopened last month. “It has gone ballistic,” says Marks. “I have been in the business 40 years this December and I have never seen a change as big as this. This is like suddenly – bang – a rocket’s taken off because of all the pent-up demand for socialising. The response has been unbelievable.” Marks, the chief executive of Rekom UK, runs ‘the biggest clubs in town’, specialising in 2,000-plus capacity venues catering for 18- to 30-year-olds in student towns from Portsmouth to Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh. On ‘Freedom Day’ on 19 July, he went to Rekom’s Atik club in Oxford, where 200 young people queued down the street. Marks says they were so excited to be on a ‘proper night out’ for the first time in 16 months they rushed through the doors as soon as the club opened. “We had people literally running in, screaming with excitement,” he says. Marks spent last weekend in Manchester city centre, where he estimates 20,000 people were out enjoying bars, pubs and restaurants. “I walked around Manchester for seven hours, calling in at a number of places and everywhere was packed. In no premises did I see anybody check in through Test and Trace, no one was wearing a mask, and there was no trouble – the atmosphere was marvellous.” He adds: “That heartens me, wearing my investor and management hat. I can’t see how the authorities can unravel this. This genie is out of the bottle.” The summer’s post-lockdown hedonism has increased revenues at Rekom’s 46 UK clubs by up to 100% at some venues compared with pre-covid takings. Sales for the four weeks since reopening are £8.5 million, up from around £5.6 million per month in usual trading, and the average spend has risen from £15 to £20 per head. Marks says late-night venues, licensed until 3am or 4am, currently have the edge over pubs. His customers are now arriving earlier in the evening, with many bypassing pubs and arriving by taxi straight from house parties. “In quite a few of our towns, pubs haven’t had the boom that we have had – they said Freedom Day had been a bit of a damp squib. But as soon as we could open our nightclubs, all of a sudden there was relief.” (Mail on Sunday)

Gordon Ramsay rumoured to be returning home to open new restaurant on Drake & Morgan site: Gordon Ramsay’s fingers were burnt after the collapse of his Michelin-starred Glasgow restaurant but a return to Scotland’s culinary scene has never been off the menu. Now, hopes are rising that the celebrity chef could open a new eatery at fashionable premises in Edinburgh. Ramsay, who is perhaps more famous for his foul-mouthed kitchen tirades than his cuisine, was linked last week to a deal that could see him take over premises occupied by the Refinery restaurant on the capital’s up-market St Andrew Square. Speculation that the celebrity chef is poised to take another stab at running a Scottish restaurant escalated on Friday after Drake & Morgan, the London restaurant group, confirmed that the Refinery would close next month after the chain was unexpectedly served notice by its Luxembourg-based landlord, St Andrew Square SARL. Sources said that staff were told their jobs were redundant “because Gordon Ramsay had bought the building”. A spokeswoman for Ramsay said she could not comment “at this point” on the claims. It has been 17 years since Ramsay was forced to close the doors of his Amaryllis restaurant at One Devonshire Gardens. It was awarded a Michelin star in 2002 – a year after the restaurant opened – but tragedy struck in 2003 when the head chef, David Dempsey, fell to his death from a block of flats. Ramsay later revealed the venture was haemorrhaging money and cost him £480,000 over its three-year run. In April, Drake & Morgan announced plans to close three sites, which did not include the Refinery in Edinburgh. The chain, which runs 22 venues in London, Manchester and Edinburgh, said it was taking action to survive the “unprecedented and challenging” trading conditions brought on by the pandemic and was seeking the support of its landlords to secure the future of the business by moving to a turnover-based rent model. A spokeswoman said on Friday: “We are incredibly disappointed that our landlord at The Refinery St Andrew Square has served us with notice. This means we are sadly forced to close our doors on Sunday, 12 September.” (Sunday Times)

Pubs could run out of beer for Bank Holiday after lorry driver strike causes shortage: Pubs are being crippled by a beer shortage caused by a lorry drivers’ strike over pay. And despite the industrial action coming to an end after a deal was struck yesterday, brewers have warned it will take ages before ­supplies return to normal. Boozers across Britain have been left almost dry of beer and wine, with some facing running out within days. Many have said they are considering closing on weekdays. Landlords say Heineken, Fosters, John Smiths, Kronenbourg, Amstel and Strongbow have been virtually impossible to get. Some fear having to shut for next weekend’s Bank Holiday. Around 1,000 workers at GXO Logistics – responsible for 40% of UK beer deliveries – have called off their walk-out after a 4% pay deal. But brewer Heineken said: “It will take some time to get the network back to capacity.” The crisis came as pubs try to claw back billions of pounds lost during covid lockdowns. A national shortage of truckers due to Brexit and covid has made matters worse. Landlord Ian Ward, of The Spring Vale Inn, in Chadderton, Greater Manchester, said: “We’re really low and may have to shut Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.” Ben Davis, manager of the Drunken Dragon, in Bicknacre, Essex, said: “We’ve been struggling for weeks and the problem seems to be getting worse.” John Wray, owner of the Venue, in Bolton, Greater Manchester, said: “There’s a growing concern we could run out.” (The Sun)

Retail sales experience shock fall as shoppers head out to restaurants: Retail sales in Great Britain fell sharply in July, as consumers skipped shopping to head out to restaurants and pubs. Retail sale volumes dropped 2.5% from the month before, according to the Office for National Statistics, despite economists predicting a small rise of 0.4%. This is the biggest drop in sales since January when Britain returned to lockdown. In June, sales rose by 0.5%. Retailers reported that England’s success in the Euro 2020 football tournament and bad weather kept shoppers away from stores, the Office for National Statistics said. Analysts also predicted that the impact of the fast-spreading Delta variant could also be behind the sudden drop. (The Independent)

Shops, farms and restaurants turn to prisons to fill staff shortages: Food manufacturers and restaurants are scrambling to recruit prisoners to help ease the “desperate” shortage of workers caused by covid-19 and Brexit. A lack of HGV drivers, fruit pickers and factory workers has left some supermarkets struggling to keep shelves filled, with everything from fruit and vegetables to bottled water, wine and baked goods severely depleted in parts of the country. The British Retail Consortium and the freight trade group Logistics UK have written to Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, to warn that a shortfall of about 90,000 HGV drivers is “placing increasingly unsustainable pressure on retailers and their supply chains”. The situation is likely to get worse with children returning to school and workers returning to offices in September, they wrote on Friday. Some companies are trying to hire prisoners to fill the vacancies via a scheme which allows inmates to undertake paid work on day release, it has emerged. Prisoners took part in 58,752 days of work-related release between October and March. At a meeting this week, the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers will urge HM Prison Service to prioritise food suppliers for the release on temporary licence (ROTL) programme. One prison has already told the association that it has no more inmates to spare after a surge in demand from short-staffed companies. Pret a Manger sandwich shops, Greene King pubs and Bernard Matthews factories already hire serving prisoners or former offenders, but many food businesses are now trying to do the same. The Lincolnshire Food Partnership said the ROTL scheme at HMP North Sea Camp, a men’s open prison, offered an opportunity for farms after “fewer EU workers and the covid-19 pandemic left a gaping hole in the number of agricultural land workers”. Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said: “Businesses are leaving no stone unturned to find workers, including contacting charities for ex-servicemen and women and the prison service, as well as advertising on social media to attract younger people, anything they can think of.” He added: “The situation is getting worse. One member said, at this rate, Christmas is going to be a disaster.” (Sunday Times)

Public still avoiding face-to-face contact despite lifting of restrictions: People are still having half the daily face-to-face contacts they had pre-pandemic and it’s helping to suppress the virus, data suggests. Despite covid restrictions having been all but dropped in Britain, people’s movement and socialising still lags behind many comparable countries and remains far below normal. Data from the government-commissioned CoMix survey, which has tracked daily face-to-face contacts since the start of the pandemic, shows they have barely risen since previous lockdowns. “Reported mean contacts remain lower than the levels reported in August last year and far lower than pre-pandemic levels”, says the week 72 survey report which reflects data up to 10 August. “Mean reported contacts for adults have increased steadily over the past few weeks, though the overall levels of contact remain less than half of pre-pandemic levels”. Typically, we average about ten to 11 contacts per person per day in Britain, but currently they stand at just three to four for both adults and children. Contact rates have actually fallen slightly since the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ on 19 July for the population as a whole, with the school holidays markedly reducing daily contacts. According to John Edmunds, a Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who helps run the CoMix survey, it is Britain’s failure to return to the office that accounts for the bulk of the gap. The extent to which Britons remain cautious was reflected in other data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week. A high proportion of adults still feel that measures to slow the spread of coronavirus are either “very important or important”, with 86% supporting mask use and 84% supporting continued social distancing. “Over a quarter of adults (28%) reported they felt it will take more than a year for life to return to normal”, added the ONS. (Sunday Telegraph)

Doordash abandons $400m investment in Gorillas: Food delivery giant Doordash has pulled out of talks with fast-growing German grocery start-up Gorillas as the US takeaway company eyes up its options for a European launch. The New York-listed company had been in negotiations over a $400m investment into Gorillas, which has expanded rapidly across Europe including into the UK, but the deal collapsed in recent days, three sources confirmed. The deal would have valued Gorillas at a reported $2.5bn – far lower than its planned $6bn valuation the start-up had been seeking earlier this year. The Telegraph understands a letter of intent had been signed between the parties, but Doordash tore it up after Gorillas attempted to find another backer at a higher valuation. Doordash declined to comment. A Gorillas spokesman said it did not comment on speculation. Gorillas is among the best-known players in the fast-growing ten-minute grocery delivery sector, expanding into the UK, with its marketing appearing across London buses, and has recently launched in the US. Doordash, which listed in December, has been eyeing a European launch and has started hiring dozens of employees to bring its food delivery business to Germany. There is speculation that Doordash could soon bring its app, which rivals the likes of Deliveroo and Uber Eats, to the UK. An investment in Gorillas would have been its largest in a rival firm. “Dark stores” have attracted billions of dollars into start-ups, with Gorillas raising $290m alone despite being founded only last year. Investors say the number of start-ups is unsustainable and predict some could collapse or be snapped up by rivals. (Sunday Telegraph)

Families’ food waste soars as lockdown ends after a massive 43% drop at the height of the pandemic: Household food waste rocketed after lockdown ended as families slipped back into bad habits, a major new survey has revealed. Waste fell by as much as 43% at the height of covid restrictions as families spent more time in the kitchen planning and cooking meals. However, it shot back up to pre-pandemic levels as the economy reopened this summer, according to the campaign Love Food Hate Waste. Its report, which will be published tomorrow, put the sudden rise down to more people eating out at restaurants and the return of busy lifestyles, which make it harder for people to plan meals that use up all the food in their fridges. Love Food Hate Waste’s survey found that in the first national lockdown last year, households adopted more than six good habits that reduced waste, such as cooking in batches. As a result, the amount of bread, chicken, milk and potatoes being thrown away fell from 24.1% in November 2019 to 13.7% in April last year – a decrease of 43%. By June this year, waste across those four products had risen back to 19.7%. The proportion of people who admitted to being ‘high food wasters’ rose from two in ten in April last year to three in ten this June. Around half of 18- to 34-year-olds and half of families with children under ten classified themselves as high food wasters. On average, respondents said they had more than seven meals out or takeaways in the past month, up from six in September last year. (Mail on Sunday)

Deliveroo now delivers to UK campsites and caravan parks: Holidaymakers can now order groceries or meals from their favourite restaurants to their camping spot. Deliveroo has expanded to deliver direct to campsites, caravan parks and motorhomes around the UK – including Hawthorne Caravan and Camping Campsite in Oldham. The new service covers ten areas across the country, from major cities to rural towns. So if you’ve run out of baked beans whilst away, or are down to the last toilet roll, Deliveroo can bring essentials to campsites in as little as 30 minutes. Campers can order grocery food items on the app from local supermarkets and convenience partners, including from Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Waitrose, Aldi and Morrisons. The expansion comes in response to a surge in popularity of camping summer holiday staycations from Brits writing off international travel amid ever-changing government restrictions. Carlo Mocci, general manager UKI at Deliveroo said: “The past year has been a tough year for everyone and we know that many people are opting for staycations this year due to travel restrictions. We want to bring our customers some joy by making their holiday staycation experience the best that it can be by giving them access to essential groceries on-demand and the chance to enjoy incredible food from their favourite restaurants, without having to stray far from their picturesque camping spot.” (Manchester Evening News)

Tom Parker Bowles reviews Nadu in Bristol: Stokes Croft, Bristol. As much attitude as it is area, the home of the hedonistic Turbo Island, legendary club Lakota and The Mild Mild West, one of Banksy’s greatest murals. Freethinking, fiercely independent and occasionally, after dark, on the edgier side of bohemian, it’s also one hell of a place to eat. And Nadu, which was due to open before Christmas last year, but scuppered by yet another lockdown, is a stellar Stokey addition. The room is large but warm, with booths, parquet floor, vast wicker-basket lampshades and a bar with corrugated-iron roof. On the walls, blown-up vintage matchbox covers, lions, lovebirds and cow heads alike, alongside grinning and glaring Tamil masks. Which makes sense, as Nadu is all about Tamil food, found, as the restaurant points out, ‘from Colombo to Chennai,’ and very much part of owner Raja Munuswamy’s heritage. As well as that of his executive chef, the very talented Saravanan Nambirajan. And what a cuisine it is, all fragrant curries, vibrant sambals, fluffy rice-hopper pancakes, and the ever-present scent of coconut, cinnamon and chilli. A pair of lamb rolls, looking like Findus Crispy Pancakes on steroids, are magnificent, stuffed with mashed potato, and soft, gently spiced chunks of lamb, dunked into a boisterous, scarlet-hued sambal. Soft-shell crab is astonishingly good, splayed out on a bed of string hoppers (rice flour noodles) like a taxidermist’s centrefold, the crustacean gloriously crisp, the complex curry sauce seething with dried chilli and pepper. There’s a black pork curry, all wobbling fat and slow-cooked pig, warm with cinnamon and clove. And prawn Issan Pol, lavishly rich, heavy on the coconut cream and turmeric. A vast dosa is longer than my arm, frilly edged and soft in all the right places, begging to be ripped apart and dunked into still more sambals and chutneys, both fiery and fresh. Bliss. Because this is a kitchen that not only knows its Tamil spices and techniques, but revels in them. Flavours move effortlessly from big and bold to subtle and delicate, with not so much as a dreary nibble. Ingredients are top notch (and local where possible), while service is warmer than a Galle sunset. This is food to make the heart sing and tastebuds holler with joy, a Tamil triumph with real tiger’s bite. (Mail on Sunday)

Giles Coren reviews Fridheimar, Iceland, and Bocca di Lupo, London: My mate Dunk and I ordered the whole menu (at Fridheimar) and, as I got up to go to the soup table, I pulled a bright red cherry tomato – at least, it looked like a tomato – from the vine to my left and popped it into my mouth. I bit in. The thickish carapace popped and my mouth filled with something wet. I suppose a third of all respondents in a blind test might have guessed from the flavour that it was a tomato. The rest would have taken wild guesses at anything from aubergine to ping pong ball. For me, it was most reminiscent of eating grapes when I had covid at Christmas and had lost all sense of taste and smell. It didn’t bode madly well. The soup was not a cream of tomato soup, sadly. And after it, I really longed for a tin of Heinz. Indeed, as a dunking juice for a few hunks of heavily buttered bread it would have made a perfectly serviceable weekday lunch. Alas, I had ordered other things. The pasta was firm little parcels of heavy carbohydrate filled with some sort of foaming dairy extract and slathered with a sauce that was, again, no more than the boiled innards of these “tomatoes”: very wet, thin, somewhat sour, quite a lot of seeds. The mussels were small, a bit gritty, and sat in a thin, salty, yellow water that would probably have tasted of tomatoes if the tomatoes it was strained from had tasted of tomatoes. And the tortilla, which was far and away the most delicious thing we ate, was like a bad margarita pizza. So I ran screaming for my plane back to London and dived into Bocca di Lupo in Soho, a place of homage to the great regional cooking of Italy, home of the actual tomato, where I hadn’t been in years (because of lockdown, obv), and rinsed away my pain at the bar, in front of the bustling burners and supremely flavour-aware chefs, with impeccable Jewish-fried artichokes, a small, dense and devilishly brown slice of aubergine parmigiana, soft, sweet Lucques olives, chopped raw veal battuto with just lemon and a little nutmeg to bring out the flavour, and finally one of the great dishes of my year so far, a plate of dense, chewy paccheri with meaty shards of gurnard and a sauce of tomato and chilli. (Sunday Times Magazine)

Jay Rayner reviews Kurisu Omakase at Ichiban Sushi, London: The two seats I have reserved are inside a humble restaurant 12 minutes’ walk away from my house on Atlantic Road in Brixton. It’s called Ichiban Sushi, and opened in 1999. My family went there for years when the kids were small, for comforting rice bowls, sturdy nigiri and more than punchy Thai green curries. The latter was not quite the outlier it might seem. Ichiban is owned by a Thai-Colombian couple. Sometimes at weekends, the food would be brought to us by their bright-eyed ten-year-old son Chris, helping out with the family business. It turns out that Chris Restrepo was doing more than just fetching and carrying. He was soaking up the intricacies of sushi. He was, he says now, finding a direction in life. At 16, he started in the kitchen. He ate his way around the best sushi restaurants in London and later went to Tokyo. He secured a place at the prestigious Tokyo Sushi Academy. He was ambitious. Now 28, he wanted to bring something back. It is a sushi tasting menu served twice nightly on Sundays and Mondays when Ichiban is closed, to eight diners. I heard about it from my friend the chef Tim Anderson, who has the ramen restaurant Nanban elsewhere in Brixton. But word has also got around. Endo Kazutoshi of the revered Endo at the Rotunda turned up one night, as did some of the crew from the Araki. Serious chefs are coming down to see what Restrepo is up to. With good reason. I’ve eaten at the fabulous Endo. I’ve splurged at Umi and purred over Sushi Tetsu. I do not hesitate to say that what’s being served here is some of the very best sushi in the UK today. Yes, there’s oceans of technique on display, but there’s so much more than that. There is character and narrative and wit. Restrepo is chef as story teller. The old tables where once we were served those Thai green curries, are pulled around to form a low counter. He takes up position on the other side with his brazier of glowing coals, his blow torch, sauces and, of course, his blonde-wood case of fish. (The Observer)

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