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Sun 26th Sep 2021 - Weekend leisure stories and restaurant reviews
Pub chiefs have warned WHO plan for target to cut drinking by 20% will hit jobs: Pub bosses have slammed an ‘arbitrary’ World Health Organisation plan to slash alcohol consumption by a fifth – warning it would cost tens of thousands of jobs in the UK. The WHO’s draft ‘global action plan’ says governments should be targeting a 20% reduction in drinking per capita by 2030. But the hospitality industry has warned that would be devastating as it reels from the impact of the pandemic, while critics said the focus should be on harmful drinking levels. Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association told MailOnline its analysis suggested lost sales would hammer employment. “Reducing beer consumption by 20% will result in over 83,000 jobs in hospitality and supply chain businesses being lost for good in the UK,” she said. “Our sector has just faced 18 months of lockdowns and restrictions that have destroyed trade and viability. Now is the time to be supporting pubs and the hospitality sector, not proposing arbitrary targets on alcohol consumption that would hamper our recovery and further reduce trade.” The WHO has been working intensively on the alcohol strategy for well over a year, and it is expected to be formalised in time for next year. An early version of the proposals reportedly suggested barring pregnant women from drinking any alcohol, but that appears to have been watered down after it was branded paternalistic and sexist. The latest draft says one of the targets should be: “At least 20% relative reduction (in comparison with 2010) in alcohol per capita (15 years and older) consumption achieved by 2030.” Christopher Snowdon of the Institute for Economic Affairs think-tank said the WHO might be playing a “long game” and trying to secure legally binding targets later, as there was no chance of the 20% reduction being achieved. He said: “I think they are playing a long game here. The target cannot be enforced and it has got no chance of being met. Member states are being set up to fail. In the long-term they would like to see a framework for alcohol control with things like advertising control. They will say, ‘right, we have tried it the voluntary way, we now need to take tough global action’.” (Daily Mail)

‘Real ale’ vanishing from British pubs thanks to covid as beer sales plummet 40%: Beer sales are down 40% since pubs reopened and it is threatening to push already-struggling pubs out of business. Landlords fear drinkers have got used to supping canned ale at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite restrictions being lifted, people are still not back in the habit of popping down their local for a hand-pulled pint. As a result fewer pubs are willing to serve real ale because – as a live product – it has a shorter shelf life and if not drunk quickly it has to be poured down the drain. Brewers say the decline in real ale is putting a massive strain on the pub industry. The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) revealed 76 million fewer pints of cask have been sold in the nation’s pubs since the pandemic. From April to July this year 113 million pints of real ale were supped. That compares with 189 million during the same period in 2019 before covid hit, equating to a loss in revenue to pubs and brewers of £243 million in the last four months alone. Before the pandemic cask sales had already been declining – from 2014 to 2019 they dropped by 17%. A BBPA spokesman said: “Because it is a live product cask ale can only be purchased and consumed at a pub. This means cask ale plays a vital role in the well-being and viability of pubs supporting the communities they serve.” The association has declared the next seven days Cask Ale Week in a bid to boost sales. Chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “The plight of cask beer is a huge concern for our sector. Pubs are the home of cask beer so if sales of it are declining then it means the viability of our pubs are reducing too. We all missed a proper pint of cask ale in the pub during lockdowns. We cannot take cask beer for granted anymore. With the sector reopen once more it is vital we promote our pubs and the range they have on cask which they so expertly keep and serve. Doing so will help our brewers and pubs in their recovery and ensure this uniquely British style of beer can recover to the glory it deserves.” (Daily Star)

Takeaways threatened – customers may pay extra £2bn after tax hike: Consumers could end up paying an extra £2bn for takeaways, ahead of rises in VAT, the British Takeaway Campaign has warned. VAT for hospitality is to rise to 12.5% next month, ahead of another hike up to 20% in March next year, to the frustration of beleaguered food bosses. Takeaway operators were worried that they would have to pass the extra cost onto customers to keep their businesses going. Businesses face rising overheads and issues recruiting staff, the British Takeaway Campaign said. The industry body estimated the price of a fish and chips meal could rise from £9 to £10.30 while a kebab could rise from £9.50 to £10.90. The group wrote to chancellor Rishi Sunak to urge him to scrap the VAT increase next year and freeze VAT at 12.5% permanently. Business rates relief should also be extended until 2022 and a visa to help the sector’s shortage issues should be introduced, the group said. It also asked for an extension of grant support into next year and for the Kickstart jobs scheme to be extended and opened up to small businesses. Total spending on takeaways in 2020 hit £15.1bn with many months where restaurants were closed for customers to dine-in. Ibrahim Dogus, chair of the British Takeaway Campaign said it was a “real kick in the teeth” that VAT would be hiked as thousands of operators were struggling with supply and labour challenges. He added: “The government must use the upcoming budget to protect our restaurants, not slap them down with costs they can’t afford. Without support, restaurants will be forced to pass the costs onto the consumer if they want to survive, meaning millions of families could end up paying more for their favourite curry, pizza or pho.” (City AM)

Government plan to fast-track visas for 5,000 HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers is like ‘throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire’: More than 10,000 temporary foreign visas will be fast-tracked by the government as ministers rush to solve the supply chain crisis that’s threatening Christmas. 5,000 HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers will be given extraordinary three-month visas allowing them to work in the UK until Christmas Eve. The move comes amid a nationwide panic-buying spree at petrol stations and growing fear inside Downing Street that supermarket shelves could remain barren until Christmas. Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the changes, with the visas available from next month, would “ensure preparations remain on track” for the festive season. But the Road Haulage Association warned the announcement “barely scratches the surface”, while the British Chambers of Commerce said the measures were the equivalent of “throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire”. Retailers had warned the government that it had just ten days to save Christmas from ‘significant disruption’ due to a shortfall of about 90,000 drivers in the freight sector. It comes as thousands of desperate drivers ignored government pleas for calm as they jammed roads – with fears mounting over the impact of lasting fuel shortages on the economy. Furious motorists were seen fighting on Saturday as the nationwide rush for fuel continued amid calls for calm from the government because less than 100 petrol stations were empty. Meanwhile, Grant Shapps, writing in the Mail on Sunday today, said some firms were offering more than £70,000 to encourage people to get into the HGV industry. He wrote: “First, there are nearly one million people with HGV licences across the country. So we are launching a call through the media to re-recruit inactive lorry drivers all over the UK. These are people who have left the industry but still hold a licence. In the next few days, letters will hit doormats throughout the land, reminding them that they can support the country during this crucial time while earning a salary never before available for expertly driving a lorry.” (Mail on Sunday)

No barrel of laughs for innkeeper: Mary Galer reels off the shortages affecting the 18th-century coaching inn she runs in Oxfordshire, which she puts down to the UK-wide wave of staff shortages. Her list starts with the lack of draymen to help with deliveries of beer. They usually lower the barrels into her cellar at The Miller of Mansfield hotel but the brewery has been sending couriers to deliver the beer instead. It is usually a two-person job, with one at the top and one in the cellar receiving the beer lowered down on a rope, but she has had to use her own staff to bring in the barrels. Galer, is also experiencing staff shortages of her own, with a job still vacant for a receptionist at the 13-bedroom hotel: “It’s not easy – I wanted someone with industry experience who could work weekends and was keen to be part of a hospitality team.” She is now hearing about another shortage: of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. This time colder than expected weather seems to be to blame. “I’m hoping we’ll have an alternative grape variety that we can say, ‘this is similar’,” she said. “It’s a big seller.” While covid is responsible for issues at the ports, others point to Brexit for the problems their businesses are facing. Alex Shannon blames Britain’s exit from the EU for “crippling” his ten-year-old cooking and culinary storage equipment supplier Gastronomy Plus. Shannon, has advertised four jobs for operatives in his Lancaster warehouse for two months. Two candidates from Britain lasted only a week. He said shortages would persist for another 12 months “unless the government do something to allow people to come back in from Europe to be able to work here, which they [ministers] don’t seem to be willing to do”. He is also feeling the pain of the crisis in the shipping industry. He said freight costs for special imported products such as his compostable vacuum pouch, which keeps foods such as fish fresh for almost twice its usual shelf life, have increased £2,500 to £15,000. This has knocked his profits by a quarter. The business has taken on some of the cost, but has passed on some rises to big customers such as Lakeland and Amazon. (Sunday Times)

Sadiq Khan – London battles ‘potential existential threat’ post-restrictions: London has been “hollowed out” amid the pandemic, which has pushed people away from city centres faster than ever before, London mayor Sadiq Khan has said. Covid-19 restrictions and economic uncertainty has made penny pinching Brits more reluctant to make use of the capital’s bars, restaurants and theatres, he added. “It’s been hollowed out because people are working from home, leisuring from home, eat at home. That poses a potential existential threat to cities,” Khan told The Times. “If you’re an investor or a business person, you choose London rather than Frankfurt because of the activity in the centre: pubs, bars, restaurants, theatre, live music.” But the UK’s recovery relies on London’s recovery, Khan explained, as national GDP eeked out a 0.1% rise in July, according to the Office for National Statistics. “If you look at all the businesses in the borough of Westminster, they pay more in business rates than all the businesses in Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Newcastle, Manchester and Sheffield added together. So, if the centre of London doesn’t come back in a big way, it’s a big problem for the country.” (City AM)

Cineworld boss Mooky Greidinger – I’ll screen Netflix films in cinemas: Roughly 18 months after Daniel Craig was due to appear in his final instalment of James Bond, No Time to Die will finally hit cinemas this week. Although Mooky Greidinger could have used his position as chief executive of the world’s second-biggest cinema chain to get an early look, he’s decided to wait. “I want to see Bond in a cinema, sitting with the audience,” says Greidinger. It is an important moment for him and Cineworld, the company he leads. When Bond was delayed for the third time in October last year, Cineworld closed all its screens in the UK and America, putting 45,000 jobs at risk. It had been the latest in a string of big-ticket movies to be pulled by film studios, leaving cinemas with nothing to show. Despite spending the past 18 months battling with film studios, his lenders and shareholders, Greidinger looks surprisingly relaxed when we speak over video call this month. He is fresh from a trip to London and before that a jamboree with 500 Cineworld managers in Las Vegas. His message there was that “cinemas are not going anywhere”. “It’s still the most affordable form of entertainment today,” he says proudly. “And the social event of watching a movie with others on the big screen is still one of the best options to going out.” Despite Greidinger’s optimism, the industry that Cineworld emerges into post-pandemic has changed dramatically. The delicate relationship between the film studios and movie theatres has been pushed to the extreme. Cinema bosses have been battling with film studios over their decision to release some big films directly to on-demand, available to families watching at home instead of in cinemas. Historically, cinemas have enjoyed a window of a few months to show films exclusively before they are released to viewers at home. In May, Greidinger insisted he would refuse to show any films that were not released exclusively into cinemas first. Today, Greidinger is more sanguine. “It’s not going to be the long window we’re used to,” he says, adding that it was likely to be about 45 days (compared with 90 before), which was a “good solution”. Watching at home is “nothing like” the experience of sitting in a large theatre with 200 people. “I’m confident there is a room for the theatrical window and I’m happy the studios are behind it,” he says. (Sunday Times)

Odeon boss heralds a big autumn comeback: James Bond has been billed as the only man who can save the cinema industry from its covid doldrums – and judging by the demand to see 007’s latest blockbuster, No Time To Die, it is set to be mission accomplished. Carol Welch, who runs Odeon’s 124 cinemas in the UK and Ireland, says customers have bought more than 100,000 tickets since bookings for Thursday’s release opened last week. As further proof of Bond’s box office firepower, 40% of these have been bought by customers returning to cinemas for the first time since the pandemic struck in March last year. “Bond comes at the perfect time,” Welch says. “What we were finding is that families and some of our younger viewers were all coming back over the summer – and coming back more often. Because Bond is such a mass-market film, it’s tempting those slightly older age groups back.” Odeon has had more than seven million people through its doors since reopening in May, and audience numbers were back to 70% of pre-pandemic levels by the summer holidays. But the release of Bond after an 18-month delay has pushed customer numbers to 10% higher than 2019 and increased the number of people signing up to Odeon’s monthly film subscription service. Welch hopes No Time To Die, the 25th Bond instalment, will pave the way for strong box office takings for this autumn’s other big releases: sci-fi film Dune, Spiderman 3, The Matrix 4 and a remake of West Side Story. She says: “It’s fantastic news for the British cinema industry because it’s making people feel confident about the return to cinema – and that bodes well for the last three months of the year. We’re already bouncing back, but Bond will help that momentum.” Sales of food and drink, which can be ordered through an app or online, are up between 20 and 30% on 2019 levels. Welch says: “People didn’t associate the cinema with a big night out. But we are seeing more people buying alcohol and hot food as they go in. So rather than thinking, ‘I’ll go to a restaurant then I need to be out in time for the cinema’, it’s a fully immersive experience’.” (Mail on Sunday)

SSP’s airport cafes satisfy analysts at Peel Hunt: Traders had the whiff of travel in their nostrils as they tried to put a positive gloss on an otherwise difficult day. At least airlines were perky, so, analysts at Peel Hunt wondered, could it be time to take another look at SSP, the group that specialises in cafes at airports and railway stations? The company has been poleaxed by travel restrictions, temporarily closing many of its Upper Crust and Ritazza outlets, but the gloom may be overdone. With global flight numbers down 32% compared with pre-pandemic levels in the latest quarter and rail passenger numbers down by 43%, SSP should comfortably be able to meet expectations of sales being down by a thumping 60% when it reports next Wednesday. However, with office workers returning to their desks and the airports business skewed mostly to leisure travellers, SSP looked an attractive ‘buy’ on a three-year view, Douglas Jack, an analyst at Peel Hunt, said. SSP shares rose 9p, or 3.4% higher to 277¼p. That compares with the 184p paid for the shares in the £475 million rights issue in March. Peel Hunt has a 350p target price. (The Times)

Jay Rayner reviews Erst, Manchester: A restaurant menu can be the sweetest kind of promise: we have these ingredients; we have ways to prepare them; what would you like? But they are not straightforward documents. Some menus get it so very wrong. Then there is the menu at Erst, located amid the blocky red brick lanes of Ancoats, England’s first industrial suburb, not far from Manchester’s city centre. Like the polished concrete floors and the breezeblock walls, the menu is sparse to the point of minimalism. I count just ten savoury items. One of those is a bowl of olives with pickled chilli peppers. Two of them are bread-based. Another has a line through it. The mackerel didn’t arrive, apparently. So nine dishes. Kind of. Because, as I say, one is olives and two are bread. Less the sweetest kind of promise and more of a shy whisper, perhaps. There’s only one thing to do. We order the lot. The result, in its quiet, unshowy way, is one of the best meals of the year so far; a succession of modestly priced platefuls, which bring on low groans and delicate sighs of happiness. And that’s even allowing for the fact that the olives and chillies are bought in. It starts quietly with a couple of Carlingford rock oysters dressed with a precisely judged spoonful of mignonette, that simple dice of vinegared shallots with cracked black pepper. How very bracing. Erst describes itself as “a natural wine bar and restaurant”. (The Observer)

Giles Coren reviews the NoMad, London: The NoMad people don’t want critics lingering on the location’s drab legal past. They want us swooning over the thrilling arrival of this famous New York hotel in London – a first for the brand outside America, I am told. But, a), hotels are for making TV shows in, not writing about, and, b), I had never heard of NoMad until last week. The fact of its having been big news in the States for many years does not impress me. I’ve been to New York a few times, didn’t like it much and found the hotels terrible. Now that I don’t do drugs or sleep with strangers any more, I have no plans to go back. I’ll eat with strangers though. Which is how I came to be dining with Laura and Steven Forbes of Edinburgh, generous purchasers of my company at the height of the pandemic in 2020, in a charity auction aimed at securing adequate PPE for NHS workers. I say “my” company. What they paid for was mostly Sue Perkins; I was just there to sort dinner. I needed the place to be grand and exciting and expensive because Steven and Laura were flying down specially and staying at Claridge’s. I couldn’t very well take them to Nando’s. I also needed the place to be new, so that I could write about it. The NoMad, with its “jaw-dropping” dining room described by one paper as “a three-storey, plant-filled atrium capped with floating lanterns and a towering glass ceiling” and by Vanity Fair as “devastatingly chic”, seemed to fit the bill. Sue ordered the “Nomad Plateau Grand Fruits de Mer” (£38), expecting… a plateau de fruits de mer. But she got five saucers of extruded shellfish in icy green goo. Not at all what you want for a main course, or any other time. Laura and Steven appeared to enjoy a brisk little tranche of confit suckling pig (£39) with green leaves and bacon jam, and some pan roasted monkfish (£31) with corn, chanterelles and clams in a creamy sauce. But to my mind the menu, like everything else here, is scattergun, random and a bit deracinated. Which I guess is what happens when you pull something up by its roots and move it – especially a restaurant. (The Times Magazine)

Marina O’Loughlin reviews Pulperia in Birmingham: Which brings me to Pulperia, a new restaurant from Aktar Islam, better known for his Michelin award-winning Opheem. This, apparently based on “regional Argentinian cooking”, is quite a departure from the intricate Indian cuisine at his original. Islam is apparently a big fan of the food of Buenos Aires and Mendoza, and wanted to have a stab at recreating a sceney South American-style steakhouse himself. Why not? We kick off with smoked octopus – inspired, they say, by renegade chef Francis Mallmann – a decoratively coiled tentacle served with a layered potato cake heavy with paprika. There are various main courses – confit lamb, spatchcocked chicken, pumpkin risotto – that don’t issue the most powerful siren songs. Because there’s no doubt what’s centre stage: steak. The more familiar (Herefordshire fillet, perhaps) and cuts reserved for serious beef fetishists: Galician Rubia Gallega, older cattle dry-aged for 50 days, or Salamancan Aberdeen Angus. Meat is superb; the contrast between the leaner, more mineral Argentinian and the lusciously marbled, almost suave Finnish is quite something. Grilling is expert, too: almost-black crusts cutting through to juiciest, rosiest interiors, served with nothing other than tiny blobs of burnt onion puree and black garlic – more punctuation than garnish. I’d like more of an option to try different cuts and different origins but price points preclude too much experimentation, especially between two. As it is, having ordered one individual and the smallest sharing option, we feel as if we’re on the point of mooing when we leave. There’s been no expense spared here – the restaurant is a blinger. A shower of expensive Tala bulbs drips from the ceiling; backlit trompe l’oeil arches are framed with a froth of (fake) flowers; we’re sitting under a bower of autumnal-shaded “leaves”; vitrine walls display wines as though precious artefacts. My dears, the drama, the conspicuous consumption. But for all that, sides come across as afterthoughts: pedestrian chips; a handful of what taste like bottled pickled onions given a turn on the grill. Churros with “el submarino” sauce (a play on the rich, chocolate-bombed Argentinian hot drink) are saturated in their oil, fried at too low a heat. And the kitchen needs to cool down on the wild over-salting of that fine meat unless it wants to give the carnivorous population of Birmingham chronic hypertension. But the steaks, the steaks. (Sunday Times Magazine)

Tom Parker Bowles reviews Shu Xiang Ge Hot Pot, London: It’s a family ritual as smooth and polished as a river pebble, one of those rare places where culinary differences are put aside and harmony rules OK. Because we all agree that Shu Xiang Ge Hot Pot – perched at the top of West London’s Goldhawk Road – will never let you down. So we troop, as always, into that bright, clean room, and sit down at a table by the window. I take the small pencil and tick those boxes on the paper menu, choosing our cooking broth, what will go into it, and things to have on the side. We know exactly what we want and while seasons may change, the song remains eternally the same. A few minutes of delectable anticipation, before the great silver hotpot is fitted into its special indentation, and the induction heater turned on. A thin metal sheet divides the liquids. On one side, chicken broth, pale, fragrant and light, with plump red dates and tiny goji berries. This is soothing, gently savoury, medicinal stuff, in contrast to its neighbour, a seething, blood-red beef fat Sichuan inferno, livid with dried chillies and enough Sichuan pepper to numb the tongues of the entire Terracotta Army. It’s yin and yang, pleasure and pain, happy heaven and delectable hell. As blip blip turns to hubble bubble, the real fun begins. Oyster mushrooms, bean curd skin and squidgy prawn balls go in first, ready when they float to the top. Fat beef is wrapped around pickled chillies and needs only a second or two, just like the tissue-paper-thin slices of Iberico pork and rib-eye beef, the latter served on a mound of ice. Swish swish, then into lettuce leaves, with more chillies, a jolt of vinegar and garlic mashed in sesame oil. There’s offal too (beef tendon, duck stomach, three kinds of tripe and two sizes of brain is just the start), but I’ve yet to convince the children of the textural joys found on the menu’s wilder shores. Hey ho. By now, my lips tingle, my tongue throbs and my brow is beaded with sweat. The children revel in my pain. But the best is still to come, a bowl or two of those broths, lustily slurped, now containing echoes of everything cooked within. This is messy, joyous, life-affirming eating. And proof of the eternal appeal of the communal pot. (Mail on Sunday)

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