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Sun 12th Sep 2021 - Weekend leisure stories and restaurant reviews
Covid vaccine passports scrapped for winter: Boris Johnson will announce this week that he is scrapping plans that would have required vaccine passports for entry to nightclubs, cinemas and sports grounds. On Tuesday, the prime minister will announce plans to try to keep covid under control over the winter. He will say that he has abandoned the proposed compulsory certification scheme, which would have forced venues to check people’s vaccine status. Johnson tore up the proposals after scientists said vaccinations would be an effective first line of defence against a winter wave of the pandemic. But the move also represents a significant concession to Tory backbench rebels who had complained that enforcing vaccine passports would create a group of second-class citizens. Companies that already demand proof of vaccination will be able to continue but the new “toolbox” of measures will introduce masks and home-working only if rates soar. The announcement will also mark the start of the government’s booster programme, with millions set to get a third jab this autumn. A senior government source said: “Vaccines are the first line of defence. We have listened to MPs on certification. We don’t see the need for it so we will hold it in reserve. Only if things get much worse would we look at masks or a return to working from home.” (The Sunday Times)

Johnson set to repeal draconian covid-19 powers that shut schools and pubs: Draconian covid-19 powers, such as the ability to shut down schools and pubs, are no longer needed, Boris Johnson will announce this week. The prime minister is set to repeal powers from the Coronavirus Act which are no longer deemed necessary in England as part of the government’s plan for managing the virus during the autumn and winter. These include the ability to close down sectors of the economy, such as pubs and restaurants, and to restrict access to education by closing down schools, colleges and childcare. Infectious people can also no longer be legally detained, and restrictions on events and gatherings cannot be imposed. However, legal requirements will remain for someone to isolate if they test positive for the virus in order to reduce the likelihood of vulnerable people getting infected and to control the spread of variants. Johnson will emphasise that vaccines continue to be the “first line of defence” when he sets out his strategy for tackling covid-19 during the colder months. (The Sunday Telegraph)

Back to work rush has sent sales soaring, says Pret a Manger boss: Pret a Manger boss Pano Christou is optimistic about trading in city centres after employees returning to offices last week drove a 15% sales uplift in just seven days. He said the first full week after the school holidays had been the “acid test” to gauge the scale of workers returning to areas such as the City of London after a switch to remote working over the pandemic. Christou said sales at his sandwich shops in city centres had now returned to about 80% of pre-pandemic levels. He said he had also seen a “significant step up” at Pret’s airport shops after travel restrictions for vaccinated passengers were eased. He said many employees were adopting a hybrid working model, spending two or three days of each week in the office. City commuters have cheekily begun to refer to themselves as ‘TW*Ts’ – commuting into work on ‘Tuesdays, Wednesdays And Thursdays’. Christou said: “Things have really continued to build since Freedom Day in July. We are optimistic and confident this demand will continue to build throughout the rest of the year.” He added that sales outside London had recovered fastest and were already exceeding pre-pandemic levels at some shops. He said: “Suburban locations have continued to stay very strong. Where we are in regional towns, things are pretty much back to normal.” Last week, London pubs were noticeably busier than the previous week, business sources said. Latest data from the British Beer and Pub Association said nationally pubs’ trade has recovered to 95% of pre-covid levels. Most of Pret’s future growth will be in the regions. But Christou said Pret was “still looking at opportunities in Central London”. He said: “There has been a fallout of our competitive set within Central London, so there are more gaps and opportunities there than there were a few years ago. We need to see how the rest of the year plays out. We have a handful of [London] stores on a watchlist and we will be watching closely to see how those recover by the end of the year. We will then be able to take a call on whether to close further shops in London or not.” (Mail on Sunday)

London restaurants bounce back with spending almost at pre-covid level: Spending in London restaurants is almost back to pre-pandemic levels at weekends as the capital’s visitor economy shows signs of a strong recovery. Mayor Sadiq Khan said takings had risen to 90% of normal while visitor numbers had reached 86% of normal levels by mid-August. However, weekday visitor numbers lagged behind at 62%, though Tube numbers this week of more than two million journeys a day showed the post-holiday return to work was in full flow. He said a £7m Let’s Do London campaign to encourage Londoners back to the city’s cultural venues and attract domestic tourists to take a “staycation” in the capital had “proved to be successful”. Khan said: “Now that restrictions have ended, our most urgent task is to restore confidence in the city and to encourage visitors and Londoners safely back to our world-leading hospitality, culture, leisure and retail sectors.” (Evening Standard)

Era of limitless choice in restaurants is over, says top food lobbyist: Customers will permanently face less choice in British restaurants and supermarkets because of a crippling shortage in lorry drivers which has hammered companies across Europe, the boss of the country’s biggest food trade body has warned. Ian Wright, head of the Food and Drink Federation, said that a combination of the pandemic and post-Brexit disruption means that consumers must get used to the end of an era when “just about every product they want” was easily available. Wright said: “That’s over. And I don’t think it’s coming back.” His comments came as tepid July growth figures laid bare the damaging impact that widespread shortages of staff and goods are having on the UK’s recovery. The food industry has been hit heavily, with shortages in major chains including McDonald’s, Nando’s, and Greggs and instances of empty shelves in many supermarkets. Wright told a panel hosted by the Institute for government think-tank that shortages had put paid to Britain’s “just-in-time” food system, where goods go out on the shelves as soon as a lorry turns up. He said: “It is no longer working and I don’t think it will work again. I think we will see we’re now in for permanent shortages.” The UK will not run out of food, Mr Wright said, but the availability of certain items is likely to become more limited. In a cross-industry report published last month, food business group bosses called for the introduction of temporary visas to help alleviate shortages. Wright said: “One in eight of our desired staff is simply not there. That’s driven by the combination of a number of factors and Brexit is only one of them.” Fellow panellist Elly Darkin, a trade policy adviser at advisory firm Global Counsel, warned the looming introduction of post-Brexit border checks would cause further disruption. She said: “In the short term, I think things are likely to get worse before they get better. And that’s because a lot of the factors that we’ve been discussing today aren’t ones that can be addressed with quick stopgap measures.” (The Telegraph)

Fast-food joints and barbers spring up as pandemic recedes: Fast-food outlets, barbers and greengrocers are among the post-lockdown high street winners, while clothing and department stores are fading. The first clear snapshot of how Britain’s retail and leisure industries have weathered covid-19 indicates that new businesses are catering to renewed demand for food on the go and services such as hairdressing and manicures. Takeaway shops were the fastest growing type of store in the first half of the year, according to a Local Data Company report out this week, with a net 462 units launched in the six months to June. A further 103 food-to-go shops such as sandwich bars opened their doors. Meanwhile, 540 grocers and convenience stores opened, and 318 new barbershops started trading. Researcher LDC, which surveyed more than 550,000 units for its study, also reported a rise in the number of nail and beauty salons, mobile phone stores and ice cream parlours. By contrast, LDC’s data recorded the sharpest rate of closures among clothing retailers, department stores and travel agents – all hit hard by the switch to online shopping in lockdown, and by restrictions on travel. The findings support the idea that businesses offering face-to-face services, such as haircuts and instant food, have better prospects than shops with online rivals. The period covers the closure of the last Debenhams stores, 97 of which reopened in the spring to clear stock before shutting for good. “The latest data is clearly reflective of changing consumer habits resulting from the pandemic, specifically as we’re seeing a rise in businesses such as convenience stores and takeaway food shops as people were forced to stay home more and shop locally,” said Lucy Stainton, commercial director at LDC. The vast majority of openings were by independent operators, which Stainton said reflected “increased levels of entrepreneurialism”. (The Sunday Times)

UK cities and towns to lose 500,000 jobs due to pandemic, report warns: UK city centres and towns are set to lose half a million jobs due to changes wrought by the pandemic, including increased working from home, a report has warned. Most of the job losses are expected to be in manufacturing, finance, hospitality and retail. The report, produced by Cambridge Econometrics and commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA), highlighted that urban areas have been hit harder than rural and suburban regions by the pandemic, with higher rates of covid cases. More workers began returning to offices this week but many employers have said they plan to continue with flexible working arrangements. The LGA, which represents councils, warned there are some 4.6 million urban jobs in “vulnerable or very vulnerable” sectors such as hospitality. The group’s report found that young people aged between 16 and 24 were two and a half times more likely than other age groups to be working in a sector that was shut down during the pandemic. Unemployment is expected to rise in the coming weeks as the furlough scheme, which has supported 11 million jobs during the pandemic, comes to an end. The latest figures released this week show that 1.6 million people remained on furlough at the end of July. The LGA called on the government to create a new “sustainable urban futures fund” that would allocate £7bn over a decade to support councils to invest in infrastructure improvements, new housing projects, town centres and other measures to support economic growth. (The Independent)

Patisserie Valerie auditor’s ‘£4m fine’: Patisserie Valerie’s former auditor faces a £4 million fine from the accounting regulator three years after the cake-shop chain’s collapse. The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) announced in 2018 that it had begun an investigation into three years worth of financial statements audited by Grant Thornton, and is reported to be in advanced discussions about a settlement with the firm. The FRC and Grant Thornton declined to comment on a Sky News report that a fine of about £4 million had been outlined in recent correspondence. After Patisserie Valerie collapsed in January 2019, it was said to have overstated its cash position and failed to disclose the existence of overdrafts. Five people were arrested in June 2019 over alleged accounting fraud. The problems started to emerge in October 2018 and prompted its executive chairman, the entrepreneur Luke Johnson, to describe the week the scandal unfolded as “the most harrowing” of his life. At the time he was a columnist for The Sunday Times. He has not been accused of wrongdoing. Grant Thornton is the sixth biggest accountancy firm in Britain. If the fine is in the region of £4 million, it would be the largest levelled by the FRC at a firm outside the big four of Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC, according to Sky News. An overhaul of the way the profession is regulated has been promised by the government, which intends to replace the FRC with an Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority. (The Sunday Times)

Delta variant and pingdemic effect slows economic recovery to crawl: Britain’s economic recovery came close to a halt in July as the Delta variant of the coronavirus took hold and the ‘pingdemic’ wreaked havoc on businesses, official figures show. The economy expanded by 0.1% during the month, according to the Office for National Statistics. This was down from 1% in June and the weakest expansion since January, when the country was in a winter lockdown. In the three months to July GDP growth slowed to 3.6%, down from 4.8% in June. Economists were pencilling in a slowdown but the rate of decline surprised analysts, who were expecting growth of 0.6% during the month. The findings suggest that rising infection rates and self-isolation rules weighed more heavily than expected on consumer spending. With thousands of workers being told to self-isolate, businesses were also forced to delay or curb production because of crippling staff shortages. (The Times)

Asda owners the Issa brothers held talks with rival: Canadian convenience store and petrol stations giant Couche Tard is seen as the most likely buyer of EG Group after the billionaire Issa brothers hired bankers to explore a multibillion sale of their filling stations empire. Couche Tard and the Issas – who last year bought Asda – are understood to have held exploratory talks two years ago. The two sides did not reach an agreement on price or how a deal would be structured, but relations are said to remain positive between Mohsin Issa and Couche Tard’s founder and executive chairman Alain Bouchard. The Issas and TDR Capital, co-owners of EG, are working with advisers from Rothschild, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Barclays to examine strategic options for the business, which has grown at breakneck speed to span 6,000 forecourts across the UK, continental Europe, America and Australia. Industry sources believe recent acquisitions make a sale of EG’s UK business unlikely. The brothers, with their private equity backers at TDR, bought Asda for £6.8 billion and confirmed plans to open 200 Asda convenience stores across EG’s forecourts by the end of next year. The Issas have also acquired healthy fast-food chain Leon with the intention of opening branches on petrol forecourts and potentially in Asda stores. A sale of EG’s international operations could enable the Issas to pay down billions of pounds of debt. EG reported underlying profits of $1.27 billion on sales of $20.7 billion last year and is thought to be worth in excess of £10 billion. A source close to EG said all options were on the table. This year, the Issas and TDR appointed Lord (Stuart) Rose to chair EG to quell concerns around corporate governance. (The Sunday Times)

Ivy Collection reveals plans to open new Asian-inspired restaurant in Cardiff: Ivy Cardiff has revealed plans to open a new Asian-inspired spot in the capital. The brand behind the city’s popular venue has submitted plans to open an Ivy Asia restaurant as part of the current site. Caprice Holdings have submitted a licensing application on 7 September for an Ivy Asia site in Cardiff. The application to Cardiff council asks to provide alcohol and late-night refreshment seven days a week. The Ivy group said they are unable to provide any further detail at this stage. Manchester was chosen as the first site in the UK for an Ivy Asia site, with others later opening in London including one venue in Chelsea. (Wales Online)

Tom Parker Bowles reviews The Cadogan Arms, King’s Road, London: It’s been a while since I was last in The Cadogan Arms; 29 years to be precise, a time when the King’s Road in south west London still had some charm. And ‘cruising the KR’, a sort of public school passeggiata, was a worthy way to spend one’s day. You’d start at Sloane Square and shuffle, floppy fringed and smoking furiously, past R Soles (cowboy boots) and Soldier Blue (jeans), ending up at The Garage (hoodies et al) before being refused service at The Goat in Boots on Fulham Road. You’d never get served at The Cadogan Arms either, although not for want to trying. But after a few years of sinking slowly into beer-stained obscurity, a fine old pub is reborn. And it’s very grand indeed. There’s a handsome hand-carved bar, wrought-iron staircase, endless cornices, glittering chandeliers and the most ornate of ceilings. You half expect to see Lillie Langtry smouldering in the corner, while Rossetti and Turner sink stout in the snug. It’s one hell of a pub. Its gastronomic credentials are sparkling too, with the very talented James Knappett as culinary director and Alex Harper, late of The Ledbury and The Harwood Arms, as executive chef. Lunch starts well. Summer vegetables, crisp leaves and crunchy radishes wear the most becoming of light pickles, and are dipped into cold bagna cauda (more like anchovy mayonnaise), with just the right amount of fishy kick. There’s peerless buttermilk fried chicken, all burnished batter and gloriously succulent meat, with a buffalo sauce so good it lingers on the table for the rest of lunch. Chicken liver parfait, rich as the first Earl Cadogan, and lasciviously creamy, is exactly what you’d expect from a chef of Harper’s level; while boneless lamb ribs are inspired, a mix of the tender and crunchy, with a cumin kick. My main course of turbot, roasted on the bone, is beautifully cooked, bathed in brown butter and shrimps, heavy on the capers. So far, so good. But my old friends Jonathan and Jeanine Sothcott are less impressed. A toasted cheese sandwich has too much bread, too little cheese, and is a little burnt. Jonathan says his chicken Kiev is no better than Sainsbury’s, while Jeanine is equally unimpressed by her mussels in cider: ‘Distinctly average’. So a good time was not had by all but there’s promise here. Give it time. And the pub’s a beauty reborn. (Mail on Sunday)

Marina O’Loughlin reviews Due South, Brighton: The usual contemporary restaurant shtick is present and correct – “working in harmony with the seasons, honouring wild food and ethical farming”, says the Facebook page; but to be fair, Due South was doing this before it became ubiquitous. The new brigade has updated the offering into something alluring: fresh fish, interesting grilled meats with sparky salsas, lots of sightings of miso, with the odd dish – smoked duck, port, truffle emulsion – that seems to have escaped from an earlier Brighton. I suspect the brains behind the menu might have been yearning over a hugely influential restaurant in London Fields: those flatbreads, whole grilled turbot to share, the so-now Basque-style cheesecake. (Clue: Brat.) I’d happily return: a bit more attention to detail could make a world of difference. And it’s a lovely place to be – ambitious enough to satisfy the food snoberati (ahem) but surrounded by just enough of yer kiss-me-quick paraphernalia to remind us that we’re at the great British seaside. I can cheerfully overlook hiccups – even the pemmicanned skate wing – due to the loveliness of the staff, especially the charming Scottish manager and a rather posh blonde lady whose aim in life seems to be the happiness of her diners. (I always think of that research a while back that concluded the vast majority of restaurant-goers will forgive bad food over bad service. Sometimes good enough is, genuinely, just that.) Also, I’ll concede everything to a place that introduces me to a new cheese; startling both in looks – “Charcoal Cheddar” is black as Vantablack – and deliciousness. I’d dismissed it as a novelty, like those travesties veined with sage, apricots or, worst, salted caramel, but it’s a crumbly-creamy, magnificently intense thud of deep, dark cheesiness. I’d like to bask here as the sun sets, furnished with a glass of Nyetimber pink fizz, a few oysters and one of the flatbreads – excellent, as it happens – perhaps the one crowned with microplaned lashings of pretty decent summer truffle, crispy onions and an egg yolk that flows like golden lava over the puffy bread. Gorgeous. Or half a lobster (probably with miso butter) wishing they did chips, like the day-tripper I’ll always be. While wondering who the hell gave the green light to some of the architectural horrors lining the seafront. And, obviously, wallowing in some of the greatest people-watching on the planet. (Sunday Times Magazine)

Jay Rayner reviews The Pigs, Norfolk: The Pigs, a low-slung pub not far from Holt in North Norfolk, is making a serious statement with its name. They can serve anything they like, but a good slab of it better have something to do with pigs. The headline news is that they meet their commitments, and do so with enthusiasm and vigour. I have long said that there are no bad words, only words used badly. However, there are some combinations that make me flinch. Among them is the phrase “hearty fare”. It speaks of forced chumminess and UKIP bingo nights and the heady waft of Lynx Africa. Yes, of course I’m a snob. Still, it works here. There is nothing elegant or poised about the cooking at the Pigs. That is a positive. It is solid, unselfconscious and, yes, hearty fare. It is there to feed you and keep feeding you until you lay down your cutlery and realise you’ve been roundly overfed. I’m told that the building has expanded somewhat since first it opened. Now there are a series of interlocking rooms stretching in all directions, but the staff have no problems servicing the brisk trade that fills them. The laminated menu appears to be more a symptom of these complicated covid times than any attempt to place the business alongside other wipe-down food pubs. The bill will not make you gasp, and if you have a Norfolk Passport, a scheme giving discounts across the region, you’ll get 10% off. Do note that from this month they will continue to open for breakfast, but not for lunch Monday to Friday, because of overly familiar hospitality sector staff shortages. But they remain open for dinner and all weekend, and it’s very much worth going there to discover just how well the Pigs lives up to its name. I mean, they could have called it Sexy Pigs. But that sounds like the title of an episode of Black Mirror penned by Charlie Brooker. And no one would want to eat there. (The Observer)

Giles Coren reviews Jiji, London: The first part of the menu is headed “Life’s too short to eat bad sushi” and offers “Salmon with sweet soya and furikake spices”, “Tuna & avocado tartare with creamy truffle sauce”, “Sea bass with jalapeño dressing”, “Jiji fish tartare with truffle and ponzu vinaigrette roll”… So it might as well be called “Life’s too short to eat sushi at all”. Except, it does look like sushi, in a way. The rice is warm and sticky and the fish is fresh, but with all the jams and relishes and sweeties all over it – taking every mouthful to somewhere between 9.5 and ten on the flavour scale – it’s rather more like eating a bag of Haribo than anything else. But then sometimes Haribo sushi is what you want. Along with Haribo kebabs (“Pulled lamb in Jiji spice mix with yoghurt tahini, tomato jam and zhug”), Haribo beef (“Honey soy marinated onglet”) and Haribo root veg (“Heritage beets marinated in sweet white balsamic on whipped feta”), all served very quickly by handsome fellows in hoodies, and as much of it obsessively instagrammed by the recipients as greedily gobbled down. Jiji comes at you from the makers of Sumosan, where I took Esther on a very early date, 14 years ago, and which we both loved, though she puked discreetly in the loos, twice, because she wasn’t used to such rich food. The fact that they can still make us laugh and shout and find the joy in life nearly a generation later (with no puking from either of us) is all the context I need to celebrate this place to the rafters. (The Times Magazine)

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