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Sun 5th Sep 2021 - Weekend leisure stories and restaurant reviews
Pubs ‘can keep al fresco seating areas on their own grounds’, but industry fears loss of street dining: Marquees and al fresco seating areas introduced by pubs, cafes and restaurants during the pandemic may become permanent under government plans, but the hospitality industry says this will not be enough for it to survive and thrive. Temporary structures put up by hospitality venues within their own grounds to provide outdoor eating and drinking areas would be able to remain for good under proposals launched for consultation by ministers on Sunday. Street markets could also become year-round fixtures under the scheme. Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for housing, said: “The simple reforms we made during the pandemic to help hospitality businesses, markets and historic visitor attractions make use of outdoor spaces more easily, made a massive impact. They helped thousands of businesses and attractions to prosper, made our town centres livelier and have been enjoyed by millions of us. As part of our vision to transform high streets into thriving places to work, visit and live, we intend to make as many of these measures permanent fixtures of British life as possible.” The suggestion has been welcomed by the hospitality sector but it has urged the government to go further by retaining street dining in towns and cities and reforming business rates. Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality chief executive, said: “The proposal to make outdoor measures permanent is a welcome boost for the hospitality sector, its customers and local communities. It has provided a vital lifeline to venues all over the country during an extraordinarily difficult period and allowing operators to provide extra outside seating has been a key driver of survival and recovery since reopening.” But she added businesses “face huge hurdles going into the autumn and winter”. “The move by some councils to restrict outdoor seating and return traffic to these areas is a significant blow to our city centres and threatens a huge number of businesses and jobs”, she said. “It is in the interest of the country to have a thriving, dynamic and properly-supported hospitality sector and retaining these outdoor measures would help secure the recovery of a large and vital part of the UK economy.” Street dining, which falls under licensing matters, is not covered in this consultation. (i news)

Nightclubs turn to ‘black market’ bouncers as staff shortages worsen: Desperate nightclubs are turning to unscrupulous security firms with uninsured workers in a bid to combat a chronic shortage of bouncers, industry leaders have warned. More than half of venues are battling employment shortages, according to the Night Time Industries Association, forcing some to rely on unlicenced door staff who are paid cash in hand. Around a fifth of businesses have been forced to close or reduce their operating hours because of licencing conditions around how many bouncers they need on site, the association said. Bouncers have become increasingly important during the covid pandemic, with clubs using them to check coronavirus test results as well as punters’ ages. Opportunists were already seeking to exploit this staff shortage, the association said, with some independent security firms taking on bouncers off the books and paying them in cash to avoid paying insurance or tax. Michael Kill, the association’s chief executive, said: “You’ve got security companies who are doing the right thing, and then you’ve got part of this private security sector which is almost like the black market, getting people to work in these businesses which aren’t insured, which aren’t paying any tax and which are compromising the sector’s reputation as a whole. There’s a real concern this will continue if there isn’t an intervention from the government.” The Night Time Industries Association, which represents more than 100 nightclubs and live music venues, said many would-be bouncers have been unable to travel to the UK due to travel restrictions during covid. Others have been put off by uncertainty in the wake of Brexit. Kill said: “The current resource levels depicted by the results [of the survey] show a very clear issue which will, if ignored, culminate in a weakness in frontline security, compromising businesses and staff across the country. It comes amid a broader staff squeeze across the hospitality industry. Figures have suggested that about 93,000 workers from the EU who had been working in the industry left Britain over the past year.” (The Telegraph)

Ghost town: City of London awaits the back to office rush: Many firms have pencilled in September as the true litmus test of whether workers will return to their offices in any significant numbers. With most of the adult population double vaccinated, the government has eased rules around social distancing and dropped stringent requirements for workers to self-isolate when ‘pinged’ by the NHS app. Meanwhile the summer holidays are over and most children are back in school, reducing childcare commitments for stay-at-home workers. Paul Swinney, director of policy at Centre for Cities, said last week: “September is the month where we’ll see some change.” Just how many staff will come back is an open question. Some companies blame the government for hopelessly mixed messaging around the return to the workplace, after the stop-start autumn of 2020 saw the government encourage staff to go back before being forced to impose new lockdowns. Others have found employees have the whip hand in negotiations; in some sectors a labour shortage means there is a “war for talent” to employ staff. Some firms are advertising roles as “remote only” or flexible hours, heaping pressure on rivals to follow suit, even if they would prefer to have workers come back in. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has been among the more vocal ministers urging workers to consider a return to the office. “I doubt I would have had those strong relationships if I was doing my internship over Zoom,” he told LinkedIn earlier this year. But big City firms have so far shown a reluctance to order staff back to their desks. Some of the big Wall Street banks have been more strident about demanding a return to the office. Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon has declared home working an “aberration”. In London, Goldman has rewarded City workers with free breakfasts, lunches and ice cream for those braving the commute. “Food is playing a much more central part in office life and businesses are using their food offers to try and influence behaviour,” Robin Mills, of catering company Compass, told Bloomberg. Yet many companies have accepted that some staff will not be in full time ever again, and have embraced the “hybrid” working model – possibly with one eye on the reduction in property costs they can enjoy. Accounting giant KPMG, for example, will allow 16,000 staff to adopt a “four-day fortnight”, which means they come in for four days across two weeks. (Sunday Times)

Almost 50 shops a day disappear from high streets: More than 8,700 chain stores closed in British high streets, shopping centres and retail parks in the first six months of this year, research suggests. That is an average of nearly 50 outlets a day as the impact of the pandemic and changing shopping habits continue to hit many towns and city centres. But despite some high-profile retail failures, the number of closures has fallen compared with a year earlier. City centres have suffered the worst, while retail parks are faring better. The store closure figures were collected by the Local Data Company on behalf of accountancy firm PwC. “After an acceleration in store closures last year couple with last minute Christmas tier restrictions and lockdowns extending into 2021, we might have expected a higher number of store closures this year,” says Lisa Hooker, consumer markets lead at PwC. She believes continued government support combined with resilient consumer spending has helped many operators weather the storm and survive the pandemic. Fashion retailers recorded the biggest decline reflecting the collapse of Sir Philip Green’s retail empire which saw his brands, including TopShop and Dorothy Perkins, disappear from the high street. More than 120 department stores also shut for good. There was also a decline in car showrooms, betting shops and banks, providing yet more evidence of changing shopping behaviour and the shift to online. Data also shows that store openings were at their lowest level for six years. Leisure dominated the growth with takeaway chains leading the way. However, there is still an appetite for new space on the high street. Gail’s Bakery has just opened a new outlet in Kew, a suburb in south west London, in what was once a branch of Barclays bank. The chain has opened four bakeries during the pandemic, seizing the opportunity to take advantage of cheaper rents and a change in consumer behaviour. “I definitely think people are eating better food more often and more often at home and I think that’s a great trend for us,” says co-founder and chief executive Tom Molnar. “Instead of using Gail’s as a treat, they’re using it more as a staple. When rents go down, more creative-based businesses can survive... I do have some confidence that new ideas will come in [to the high street],” he says. (BBC News)

Staff shortages to last for years as vacancies top 1.7m: The economy will be plagued by labour shortages and potential supply chain disruption for years to come as businesses struggle to recover from the covid shock, industry leaders have warned. A report by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) found that a massive shake-up of the job market triggered by the pandemic will mean there will not be enough workers in some industries for an extended period. Neil Carberry, REC’s chief executive, said: “Large numbers of people are finding new work post-pandemic as the economy reshapes. But that realignment will take time, and there is good evidence to suggest that the market will remain tight for some years to come, even if the current crisis passes.” Food, logistics and hospitality businesses are struggling to get employees in place for the crucial festive season despite the looming end of the furlough scheme. REC’s jobs tracker showed there were almost 1.7m active job adverts in the UK during the final week of August, with demand for workers continuing to build amid shortages that are slowing the recovery. The Bank of England on Thursday said its survey of senior finance executives found they expect to make job losses and cut investment in the coming months. (The Telegraph)

Jobs market set for bumpy ride: Job creation looks set to remain strong after the furlough scheme ends, but a fresh rise in unemployment is still likely, a think tank has said. Thanks to the success of furlough, an expected pandemic-driven surge in joblessness has not materialised, said the Resolution Foundation. But it warned that about 900,000 people are still expected to be on the scheme when it finishes on 30 September. As a result, “huge uncertainty” surrounds what might happen next. “The Foundation expects many of these employees to return to their previous role – especially those on partial furlough – upon the scheme’s closure,” it said in its latest labour market report. “But with the number of people starting new jobs already at record highs – and potentially hitting two million for the time ever this autumn – firms are unlikely to have the capacity to immediately take on all previously furloughed staff who do lose their job.” The Resolution Foundation said it was possible that unemployment would rise from its current level of 4.4% to about 4.9% in the autumn, with another 150,000 workers unemployed. “Faced with this uncertainly,” it said, “employment support schemes, such as Kickstart and Restart, will prove particularly important in protecting vulnerable groups. Restart will be particularly important for older workers, who are now the most likely age group to be on furlough, and who are most likely to have been on the scheme for at least six months.” It added that there would be a need to maintain wider economic support, including keeping the £20-a-week boost to Universal Credit that is set to end at the same time as the furlough scheme. Hannah Slaughter, economist at the Resolution Foundation, said the furlough scheme had “prevented an unemployment catastrophe”. “But with the scheme ending in less than four weeks’ time, there is huge uncertainty about what will happen next to the jobs market,” she said. Slaughter added: “With firms already reporting ‘hiring bottlenecks’, even a fresh surge in job starts is unlikely to be enough to prevent unemployment rising this autumn.” (BBC News)

UK heatwave and beer drought sparks warning 2,500 pubs could run out of booze: Punters were warned up to 2,500 more pubs could run out of their favourite tipples – just as the UK heads into a heatwave. Heineken-owned Star Pubs and Bars admitted deliveries have been hit as the firm became the latest to fall foul of the lorry driver shortage. The alert came after JD Wetherspoon, which has around 1,000 boozers, hit supply problems and Mitchells and Butlers, which has 1,700 pubs, reported “sporadic shortages”. The potential dry spell at pubs could not come at a worse time – a rush for Britain’s beer gardens is forecast from today as temperatures are set to start climbing to highs of 28C. Despite cloudy weather yesterday, beaches in Bournemouth were packed with holidaymakers and fans of the Dorset town’s air show. Star Pubs and Bars said: “Some of our beer deliveries have been impacted... However, beer is still being delivered and, whilst it might not always be the customers’ favourite pint, we have many tasty alternatives.” Heineken said it was “working tirelessly” to tackle “disruption in the haulage and logistics market”. (The Mirror)

UK food supplies set to worsen as more Brexit red tape is introduced within weeks, businesses warn: The UK’s food supply problems are at risk of getting worse because of additional Brexit red tape which will come into force in a matter of weeks, businesses have warned. From 1 October, the UK will begin carrying out checks on paperwork that must be pre-completed using a government IT system for hours before the point of entry for imports of meat, dairy, and some other produce from the EU. Then, from 1 January, physical checks will begin on shipments of the same products, with goods that are not compliant at risk of being turned away, while at the same time pre-completed paperwork will need to be filed 24 hours in advance, a requirement likely to create major difficulties for exporters of fresh food. The government said it had taken a “pragmatic” approach to the new checks on products of animal origin, animal by-products and high-risk foods imported from the EU, and adds that it had already delayed their introduction by six months to give businesses time to adapt. Until now, while EU countries have rigorously enforced veterinary and food safety checks on shipments coming from Great Britain, the government has waived the requirement for goods going the other way. (The Independent)

Hardys wine owner warns of shortage ahead of Christmas holidays: Christmas could be a little less merry this year, with wine manufacturers warning that lorry driver shortages will push up prices of the alcoholic drink and impact its supply. Robert Foye, chief executive at Accolade Wines which makes Hardys and is the fifth largest wine company in the world, told the BBC: “These shortages, if they continue, could definitely impact Christmas. We are trying to get ahead of it, but it does depend on the situation for the entire transport and trucking industry in the UK.” Mr Foye added: “Staff shortages are definitely there and there’s a whole new group of employees that need to be trained, from truck drivers to restaurant staff.” Companies across the retail, transport and hospitality sectors are dealing with a shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers and an estimated shortfall of 100,000 staff due to Brexit and covid-19. Majestic Wines also said that they have had some issues with supply from Europe “particularly with the movement of freight from some key regions”. But a Majestic spokesperson said they are mitigating disruption by bringing in an extra £10m of stock now, ahead of the Christmas period. “We are confident this will mean our shelves will remain full,” they added. Meanwhile, beer and wine seller Adnams warned last month that the 149-year-old company was struggling with “some upward pressure on wages”, rising input costs, and “some difficulties in wine supply”. (The Independent)

Diageo launches £185m Edinburgh whisky emporium: Edinburgh has acquired a new landmark with the opening of the Johnnie Walker whisky emporium on the historic site once occupied by the Binns department store – a victim of the changing face of the high street. The £185 million seven-storey restoration, incorporating the famous Binns clock, symbolises the faith of distiller Diageo in the future of premium Scotch as Britain carves out a series of free-trade agreements with the rest of the world in the post-Brexit era. Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes views the new Johnnie Walker house as his firm’s window for the world with emerging markets and India in particular the ultimate prize. “We’re making the appropriate investments in Scotch to sustain the growth in the business as the tariffs go down,” Menezes says. Scotch, much of it distilled by Diageo, is one of the UK’s biggest food and drink exports accounting for 20% of overseas sales at present. It is the biggest earner for Diageo making up some 23% of the enterprise’s earnings. Menezes is relatively untroubled by the distribution and supply problems for business which recently have dominated the domestic media. “It’s been a little bit more challenging especially for obtaining packaging materials. We are going to be a little more edgy as we go into the holiday season,” he says. (Daily Mail)

Marina O’Loughlin reviews Giz ’n’ Green and Pizzeria Mozza, London: So here’s Willows on the Roof, on top of John Lewis in Oxford Street, currently occupied by Giz ’n’ Green Pizza Pies (from the beauteous and well-connected chef Gizzi Erskine and, um, rapper Professor Green). The unlikely culinary pair honed their offering during lockdown on Instagram with “Monday Night Fakeaways”, aping Wagamama’s chicken katsu curry, Nando’s peri-peri and the Big Mac. Perhaps this is why their pizzas are less Neapolitan or Sicilian and more … Domino’s. Stuffed crusts and all. Elevated Domino’s, sure, but there’s a definite kinship. It’s a short menu, and it gets even shorter. Chicken wings starters are “off” and garlic mushrooms a bit too Come Dine With Me contestant on the phone to his mum. So it’s Tater Tots “pizza bake” served with a garlicky-cheesy-tomatoey dip in a tinfoil bowl – we see these being emptied from a vast freezer bag – and the pizzas themselves. Oh, and a market salad bar salad that isn’t: it’s a bowl of American-style chopped salad minus its promised blue cheese and charred sweetcorn. Pizzas are mostly great. Though I’m disturbed by the texture of the starred ingredient on a meatball marinara, not so much polpette as impacted sausage. But crusts are elastic and dark-blistered, belying the jokey nature of the toppings. Then to Nancy Silverton, an LA-based luminary behind a clutch of raves, including Michelin-starred Osteria Mozza – and credited as one of the pioneers of new Californian cuisine. I’m not looking forward to her new London outpost, Pizzeria Mozza, as it’s in the showy Treehouse Hotel where I endured a dismal dinner at its rooftop restaurant, Madera. But in this cool marble and wood-lined space – part of, but separate to the hotel – pizzas are sublime. Pizzas as art, pizzas you think, oh, I’ll only have a slice or so, then, dazed, find yourself polishing off the lot, the lightness and perfection grabbing and not letting go. There’s magic in this dough. These restaurants do what they set out to do: Willows on the Roof the perfect spot to take the weight of your slingbacks after a hard sesh trying on the Toast and Ghost; Mozza a genuine destination. I’d happily eat one of Silverton’s pizzas once a week till the end of days. (Sunday Times Magazine)

Jay Rayner reviews Mangal 2, London: Once upon a time, Mangal 2 was like its neighbours. It was a Turkish grill restaurant, famed as the place where Gilbert & George would go almost every night for their tea, and more latterly for its gloriously stroppy presence on Twitter. As the numeral suggests it was the second London restaurant from a chef called Ali Dirik, who moved to London from Istanbul in 1987. It is now run by his sons, restaurant manager Ferhat and chef Sertaç, who spent a year cooking his way around Copenhagen, a honey pot for chefs wanting to slice their ambitions open on the culinary cutting edge. At some point during the tumult of the past 18 months, the brothers decided they no longer wished to replicate the menu served by their neighbours. They wanted to be something else. That something else was brought to my attention by Chris Pople, who writes the longstanding restaurant blog Cheese and Biscuits. Pople’s account of his meal there was verging on the breathless. If there’s an opportunity to be winded by my dinner, I’m definitely here for it. It was a very good tip. Again, context is everything. It is the history – what this restaurant once was, what it has now become – which really makes the experience. But even without that backstory, this is still delightful cooking. It draws affectionately on the Turkish repertoire without being afraid of innovation. What matters here is some serious and inventive cooking. The Dirik boys have declined to be hidebound by the traditions on their very doorstep. It’s brave and compelling. And as it happens, properly delicious. (The Observer)

Giles Coren reviews Kalimera, London: I had one of my best Mediterranean dining experiences of a long summer, at a place called Kalimera. It’s a first bricks-and-mortar spot for a self-taught Athens chef called Télémaque Argyriou, who has been hawking his stuff out of street food trucks and pop-up stands all over the place for a while, from Elephant and Castle to, apparently, Lille and Paris. I didn’t have any higher expectations for a little Greek place called “Kalimera” in Crouch End than I would for a new tapas bar in Queen’s Park called “Hola”. Kalimera looks, when you walk in, like a new little Greek restaurant in Crouch End: wood-floored and white and brightly lit, with interesting asymmetric yellow tiles and a friendly, middle-aged Greek guy behind the bar (whom I took to be Télémaque), where you expect to be handed one of those big gatefold menus with a thousand types of mezze on it, that are actually mostly Cypriot and confuse the hell out of Greek waiters when you ask for them on holiday in Paxos. But, no, it turns out to be a tight little A4 thing, offering just three starters, three mains, three sides, and three desserts, all of them determinedly Greek. The main courses felt to me like proper Greek home cooking, although I have only been inside a proper Greek home once and we had pizza. There was a firm, rather austere “house moussaka” with good flavour and the scent of many herbs about it, and a sweet, aromatic kleftiko that looked a little underdone at first, certainly wasn’t falling apart, but broke nicely and retained a bit of nip, which you want, the juices running down into the long segments of soft roasted potato and peppers in the bowl beneath it, all very juicy and comforting. Listen, there is no beach, no sun, no Orangina and no pizza for the kids, but the cooking is good, the food arrives, there are enough people to serve it, and, best of all, when you’re done, you can get up and go without a PCR test or a stupid passenger locator form. (The Times Magazine)

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