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Sun 7th Nov 2021 - Weekend leisure stories and restaurant reviews
YO! Sushi owner puts £750m stock market float on ice: The company behind the sushi chain YO! has halted plans for a £750 million stock market listing amid growing unease among investors. Snowfox Group, which controls YO! along with brands such as Bento and Taiko, had appointed bankers at Numis to advise on a flotation, which was expected imminently. But heightened market volatility has put the brakes on its plans (as reported in Propel Premium last month). Snowfox, majority owned by Mayfair Equity Partners, is the latest leisure chain to be spooked. PureGym and the steak chain Hawksmoor have also cooled on plans to list. YO! was founded by the entrepreneur Simon Woodroffe in 1997. Mayfair Equity invested in 2015 and has pushed expansion overseas. It bought Canada’s Bento Sushi for £59 million. In 2019, YO! merged with Snowfox, which operates sushi kiosks in the US. Today, Snowfox has 2,000 in-store kiosks in grocery chains such as Tesco, Asda and Kroger in the US. It declined to comment, but may revive its plans in the new year. (Sunday Times)

Recovery under threat as Britons refuse to spend: As the harshest of covid restrictions came to an end this spring, the Bank of England and the Treasury wanted to persuade the public to start eating into their savings. Spend, spend, spend was the rhetoric. As Andy Haldane, then chief economist at the Bank, said in March: “I very much want as much of that to be spent as possible, because that’s what creates the jobs for those who might have lost their jobs.” It has not yet happened. In fact, deposits with banks and building societies and cash saved in National Savings & Investments accounts rose by £9.4 billion in September, nearly twice the £4.8 billion average increase in the two years before the pandemic, said Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. Rob Wood, chief UK economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said it had to be assumed that the public was now saving by choice. And that could be a troubling behavioural trend when it comes to spending longer term. Charlotte Duke, a partner at the consultancy London Economics and a behavioural economist, said that spending habits changed during the pandemic, with more shopping online and less spending in, for example, restaurants and high street shops. And now, she added, those habits are changing again. “Cautious spending” is now her description – caution about our financial security, but also about the way in which we live our lives more generally, having been through the collective shock of the pandemic. “As lockdown eased – we’re social beings – we wanted to be with people, so we saw an increase in our spending behaviour,” Duke said. “But as we settle back down again, and perhaps learn to live with covid, we’re also now in a broader world of uncertainty. It’s not just covid – it’s climate change, it’s energy prices, it’s healthcare ... We will continue to be cautious.” Businesses, though, do report some signs of extravagance. Gordon Ker, the owner of Blacklock in London, said he wondered whether some “revenge spending” was taking place, where consumers make up for the time lost during the pandemic or even perhaps fear another lockdown. “People are spending a bit more than they were – spending a bit more on alcohol than they might have done or having the starter where they might not have done,” Ker said. (Sunday Times)

Chicken grown in vats is the next frontier of food: A smiling chef called Daniel, sporting glasses, unruly beard and a baseball cap, pinched a yellowish piece of meat that looked like a fleshy doorstop between his thumb and index finger. He dropped it into a pan, where it sizzled and issued the familiar aroma: chicken. Uma Valeti, a cardiologist-cum-entrepreneur, recorded me on his iPhone as I watched the piece of flesh brown before me. “You’re one of about 1,000 people who have had this experience,” he said. I was about to eat a piece of “cultured” chicken created by Upside Foods, his six-year-old start-up based in Emeryville, California, across the bay from San Francisco. This chicken had never clucked. It had no beak nor feathers. It was never, in fact, a bird. Two weeks prior, my chicken was a primordial soup of cells, amino acids, fats, vitamins and growth factors. This solution, with the consistency of chunky soup, was dropped into what looks like a brewer’s stainless steel vat to ferment. The cells doubled and doubled and doubled until they bumped into each other and connected, forming fibres of flesh that were then harvested for my delectation. Welcome to the future of meat: animals without the slaughter. Meat for everyone, with none of the planet-killing side effects of the global agro-industrial complex. That is what Valeti and his many competitors are promising, and the pitch has worked. Nearly 100 start-ups across Europe, America and Asia have hatched to develop cultivated or cultured fish, duck, beef, pork, chicken, tuna and virtually any other animal you can think of. Since 2020, venture capitalists have poured in more than $1 billion (£740 million) in over 50 start-up financing rounds, according to data from Pitchbook. Upside has raised more than $200 million from investors including Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates, chicken giant Tyson Foods and Japan’s SoftBank. The rush is founded on a core breakthrough: after years of laboratory tinkering, the industry has cracked the fermenting of animal flesh. But now it faces a bigger test – turning these science experiments into global businesses. (Sunday Times)

Edinburgh nightclub scraps covid vaccine passports amid huge decline in footfall: Owners of an Edinburgh nightclub have announced customers will no longer need a coronavirus vaccine passport to enter the establishment. Scottish government laws had come into force in October which legally required all those attending certain large-scale events and clubs to have official proof of both vaccinations. As a result, all nightclubs in the capital have taken on the law, with customers requiring confirmation on the NHS Scotland covid status app. However, this week George Street club Lulu’s announced that they would be scrapping the scheme altogether after a complete “crash in sales”. To remain legally compliant, the venue, owned by the Montpellier’s group, confirmed to Edinburgh Live that they have removed the dance floor in the club. With customers unable to congregate in one area to dance, and instead being more confined to their tables, the dancefloor has also been turned into a new seating area with additional furniture. From this weekend, the club will run its Buddha Friday and Tipsy Saturday events without the need for vaccine certification. Speaking about the changes, Innes Bolt, managing director, said: “We have experienced a significant decline in footfall resulting in a crash in our sales which meant that Lulu was running at a loss. To protect our staff, promoters and business, we have removed the designated dance floor and reconfigured our space. Instead, we have created a new seating area, bringing in additional furniture to occupy that space and repositioning our DJ Booth. This change will allow us to maintain a safe and controlled environment throughout.” (Edinburgh Live)

Business owners forfeit mental health for financial gain, poll reveals: Nearly two thirds of SME business owners admit to ‘deprioritising’ their mental health in favour of financial success, according to a poll. A poll of 500 SME owners found 63% have overlooked their personal well-being due to the pressures of running a business. More than one in five have sacrificed friendships in order to set up their company while 16% have taken out personal loans. Others have been forced to dip into their savings, skipped doctor’s appointments and worked in bed at night – all to make ends meet. While one in five business owners have also missed key milestones like their child’s first steps, sports days and parents’ evenings. But nearly all respondents said they keep the stress of running a business bottled up with a further 68% feeling like they have nobody to talk to about their problems. Kris Ambler, Workforce Lead from the British Association for counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), which commissioned the research said: “We know how testing the last 18 months have been, especially for small business owners who have had to adjust to new business challenges. The fact so many business owners have deprioritised their own mental wellbeing in favour of financial matters and business success is alarming. This survey highlights the importance of seeking qualified counselling support for small business owners. It may just impact your bottom line.” The study found keeping customers and/or clients happy, cashflow and balancing all the different duties were among the main struggles of running a business. Of those that felt like they had nobody to talk to, 43% claimed it was because no one understands the pressures of running a business, while a further 35% don’t want to burden others with their problems. Almost three quarters agreed they often pretend to family, friends and even work colleagues that everything is okay. Over one quarter said that competition has been their biggest set-back as a business owner and 19% saying they often feel like giving up running their business on a daily basis. (The Independent)

Coffee chain Christmas drinks contain up to whopping 63 grams of sugar: Chains are selling festive drinks containing as much sugar in a single cup as almost eight McDonald’s doughnuts. Caffe Nero’s mint choc chip hot chocolate – which the chain started serving last week – has a whopping 63g of sugar and 414 calories in each 473ml ­serving. That’s the same as 15 ­teaspoons of sugar and the equivalent of more than seven McDonald’s doughnuts, which each contain around 8g. It’s more than double the daily sugar allowance recommended for UK adults, who are advised to eat no more than a total of 30g of sugar a day, while children aged seven to ten should have no more than 24g. Sun nutritionist Amanda Ursell said: “These should not be regarded as drinks – we should see them like a pudding because of the amount of sugar and calories in them. They are a very occasional treat, not something you have every day.” Costa – Britain’s biggest coffee chain – also began selling festive drinks in its 2,422 outlets last week. Its Terry’s Chocolate Orange winter warmer has 45g of sugar per 340ml medium cup and 379 ­calories – the equivalent of 10.7 teaspoons of sugar. Its Quality Street themed hot chocolate, The Purple One, contains 36g. Costa’s baristas even give away more sweeteners – a free chocolate with each of the drinks. Our probe found many of this year’s festive hot drinks contain more sugar in a single cup than the NHS’s total daily recommended allowance. Greggs’s large mint hot ­chocolate has 43g of sugar and 350 calories per 479ml cup – equivalent to 10.3 teaspoons of sugar, while Pret A Manger’s 360ml hot chocolate has 35g of sugar and 256 calories. Starbucks says it has cut the sugar content in its Christmas classics, the toffee nut latte and the eggnog latte – which both have 32g of sugar – but are still selling ­festive drinks crammed with even more sugar. Its fudge brownie hot chocolate contains 41g of sugar and 364 calories per 354ml drink. Chair of the National Obesity Forum Tam Fry last night warned the drinks being served across the UK were “quite simply irresponsible”. (The Sun)

One in five people were turned away from late night venues last weekend due to invalid vaccine passports: Speaking to the Scottish government’s covid-19 recovery committee on Thursday, deputy first minister John Swinney said vaccine passports, which apply to large events and late night venues, would be in place until 16 November, when ministers would review whether they would remain depending on covid case numbers. However, he described Wednesday’s rise in cases as “unsettling to ministers” and warned of possible further increases as a result of the COP26 climate summit. Mr Swinney said the scheme could be extended to other sectors, including workplaces, where he said that employers “have to make that judgement”. At the same meeting, public health expert Professor Jason Leitch revealed up to 20% of people were turned away from late night venues in Scotland at the weekend due to not having a valid vaccine passport. Mr Swinney pointed to more stringent measures in Wales, where passports will soon have to be shown to enter venues such as cinemas – and where leaders have warned the hospitality industry to prepare for the possibility of vaccine certification there too. He said: “There is the possibility that baseline measures could be relaxed. There is also the possibility that baseline measures could be expanded and covid certification could potentially be extended to other sectors, or it could have no role to play within our measures, but that will be dependent on our judgement of proportionality, which is the legal duty we have to fulfil.” Prof Leitch said there could be stronger enforcement brought in to ensure that people wear face coverings in public indoor spaces: “And I hear the night-time industry over the weekend saying ‘we turned away 10 to 20% of people’. That sounds to me like covid certification is working.” (The Scotsman)

Horrifying news for Richard Caring’s Mayfair pals: Members of the exclusive George club in Mayfair must have got a fright when an email landed in their inboxes on Friday from owner Richard Caring. “Now that London has come back to life, following the last year and a half of what has proven to be a difficult time for all, I have some good news, and some bad news,” warned the perma-tanned clubs tycoon, 73. Caring, whose Birley Clubs empire also includes Annabel’s, told them he was expanding the dining area inside and improving the terrace, too. However, the venue will shut just before Christmas for the refurbishment and will not reopen until autumn. It is the first time the George has had a makeover since it opened 20 years ago. Round the corner at Annabel’s, Caring hosted a lively Halloween fancy dress party, where guests included the actor Idris Elba. Accompanied by his wife, Patricia, 40, Caring looked terrifying as a creepy ringmaster. His farewell party at George on 7 December is likely to be an emotional affair for some. Spare a thought at this difficult time for former M&S boss Lord (Stuart) Rose, Lord (Michael) Spencer, and other regulars. (Sunday Times)

Taking the piste at festive Just Eat: If you think there are too many Just Eat riders clogging up the roads, just wait till you hit the ski slopes. Staff at Just Eat Takeaway, the curries-to-pizzas courier, are gearing up for possibly the biggest corporate ski trip around. The Takeaway.com founder Jitse Groen, 43, has been whisking his staff off to the Alps since the company was a start-up. But after his £6 billion takeover of Just Eat, he now has thousands of staff to look after – so many, in fact, that he’s doing three separate trips towards the end of this ski season. (Sunday Times)

Graeme Green reviews the DogHouse, Manchester: The innovative Scottish beer company BrewDog has opened northern England’s first craft beer hotel, which is also Manchester’s first carbon-neutral hotel. BrewDog is Europe’s largest craft brewer and the emphasis is on letting the good times roll, which means guitars, turntables and vinyl in the 18 rooms, and lots of beer – in the bar, on the rooftop, in rooms and even in the showers. Beer is central, but it’s all playful and creative, rather than blokey and boorish. The welcome drink, a choice from the bar’s 30 craft offerings, certainly beats cucumber water. There’s a very “Manchester” industrial feel to the interiors. Dimly lit corridors are brightened with jars of free pick’n’mix, and spacious bedrooms, named after BrewDog headliner beers such as Hazy Jane and Punk IPA, are painted dark grey, with red-brick walls and exposed concrete ceilings. Red neon signs hang over the beds, and the record player comes with a stack of vinyl by Joy Division, Elbow and other Manchester artists. Fridges are packed with beer and cider, with BrewDog’s rum, vodka and gin on shelves. Pay £150 extra for the TopDog package and you get your own in-room beer tap and a shower beer fridge, as well as breakfast (you’ll need it) and a beer-school tasting session. Guest happiness (hoppiness, they’d say) is helped along by friendly, on-the-ball staff who also know their beer, and novel offerings such as free hot dogs (vegan or meat) available 24/7. The carbon-negative beer company has wrapped the hotel’s exterior in a “living wall” of 26,000 plants, and motivates guests to reduce laundry with beer-token rewards for reusing towels. On the rooftop the taco hut has ten craft beers on tap – and heaters and blankets – and the main downstairs bar and restaurant is buzzing. The menu, which lists dishes’ carbon emissions, focuses on burgers, bowls and wings, served at tall tables, sofas and booths. Children, vegans and veggies are catered for, breakfasts are substantial enough to soak up the previous night’s indulgences, and the restaurant doubles as a daytime workspace. (The Times)

Marina O’Loughlin reviews The Eagle, London’s first gastropub: From the top deck of the bus I spot a legend painted on the Eagle’s windows: 30 years. How can this possibly be? I remember being blown away by this most influential of boozers not long after it first opened, and I’m only 23. Thirty years? You could knock me down with a featherblade. Seems I’m not the 23 I think I am. And the Eagle today has aged far more imperceptibly than I have: it’s exactly as I remember. Here it still is in its bare-boned beauty. The food still delivering “Big Flavours and Rough Edges” – their first cookbook, a title filched from an early review by Jonathan Meades. So cuttlefish stew with peppers, thyme, potatoes and chickpeas defines “no looker”. But it’s satisfaction in a terracotta cazuela, the seafood mochi-tender, the broth abundantly seasoned and herbed, soaking wholeheartedly into the spuds and pulses. Every day the menu will change, sometimes mid-service. Yes, there are proper-pub beers and ales. But, for me, another massive draw is the blackboard wine lists, particularly the small one bearing the legend “Premium wines by the bottle” – our Mâcon-Charnay-lès-Mâcons Les Piliers, for instance – sexy numbers at sober mark-ups. Only a pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart) provides the tiniest buzzkill, a few hours past its best. Redeemed by “Andrea’s chocolate boom-boom cake” a deathly rich slump that’s the less manicured cousin of the River Cafe’s legendary chocolate nemesis. But none of this is faffed-about-with. Despite pundits announcing the death of the gastropub, despite the pillaging of the term by the ready-meal market, despite a million inferior outfits doing their best to give the sector a bad name, the original – which has always disavowed the word in any case – is not only going strong but bursting with baller vitality. I give it at least another 30 unchanging years, serving workmen, architects, fashionistas, journos, men with dogs whose lead harness reads “Neeta, proper lady”. Wait, though – there has been one innovation: from the many little tickets on other tables, it seems they now take reservations. Finally. (Sunday Times Magazine)

Giles Coren reviews Apothecary, London: Last week I was handfed omakase in W1 by a brilliant young chef from Fukayama and next week I’ll be at a new place in W12 from a favourite Japanese chef of mine, whose domestic delivery service in lockdown saved my tenth wedding anniversary from disaster. And this week it’s an izakaya in EC2, with no Japanese people involved in it at all, so deeply has their way of eating filtered into the northern European mainstream. It’s on the site of the much-missed Merchants Tavern, a casualty of lockdown, which former co-owner Dominic Lake (who was in it with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick) has resuscitated in partnership with the brilliant Rohit Chugh of Roti Chai (he is one of the great menu development men of our time) and chef Jude Sam, formerly of Villandry, and named Apothecary for the old Victorian drugs business that used to operate here. Now, listen, I have known Dominic for 30 years. We worked a bar together in the early 1990s and I ran into him again when he was co-founding Canteen in the middle Noughties, that small chain of very British brasseries that seemed to be absolutely the way forward for a few years, and then suddenly wasn’t. I liked Merchants Tavern and I hear good things about Spiritland, a booze and music operation of his that I haven’t investigated (because one of those two just isn’t my thing – and it’s not booze), but if you want to ignore my good opinion of the place because I love the guy, that’s fine. It’s totally fine. (Although I love a lot of guys with very bad restaurants, believe me, and I do not recommend or review them.) And, anyway, it may just be that when someone says to you “Japanese inspired but with Hoxton energy” you reach for the sick bag and go elsewhere, and I couldn’t blame you for that either. But you’d be missing out, honest. (The Times Magazine)

Jay Rayner reviews L’Artisan, Cheltenham: And so to L’Artisan in Cheltenham, a French restaurant that, whether consciously or not, channels another age and beautifully so. That age is, I think, about the mid-1980s, when Howards’ Way defined the grandly upholstered aesthetic. The walls here are rag-rolled in daffodil shades of yellow and there are high-backed velour chairs in candy-cane stripes. Some of the plates are square and the menu is a sturdy leather-bound affair written in a fine italic script. The sounds of La Vie en Rose waft across the small, brightly lit room. The clientele the night we visit is mostly couples of a senior age whose conversation will circle around whether their young adult children are safely launched or a bit of a worry, actually. We all settle back into a warm, soapy bath of a restaurant experience; one we adored the first time around and adore still. L’Artisan belongs to Yves and Elisabeth Ogrodzki, who left behind their restaurant in Provence 15 years ago in favour of a village in Leicestershire. I’d insert the literary equivalent of a raised eyebrow here over the decision to leave the sun-kissed, lavender-clad hillsides of Provence for the East Midlands, but I don’t wish anyone to think I’m insulting lovely rural Leicestershire. There they established what they described as a French country inn, which won many regional awards, before they decided to relocate here. Yves cooks. Elisabeth serves and works the room and makes sure everyone is happy, which they clearly are. When she asks whether you would like a small glass of calvados between starter and main to “clean the palate”, the phrase “It would be rude not to” takes on new meaning. Who could refuse such encouragement from Elisabeth? With starters at around £10 and mains at £20, the bill in the evening may not be small, though at lunchtime there is a three-course menu for £20.95. It often includes French onion soup. Elsewhere the menu also offers a “genuine” beef bourguignon. It would be easy to roll your eyes at that one, but in truth you just know Yves and Elisabeth’s version of the old stager really would be the one you would benchmark all others against. They know what they are doing and they do it extremely well. Yes, L’Artisan feels at times like a love letter from the past. But boy is that letter beautifully written. (The Observer)

Tom Parker Bowles reviews Trattoria Brutto, London: A scrumptious, bluffing place that is built to last Smithfield has a part that’s forever Tuscany. Well, that’s what restaurateur Russell Norman is hoping to create at Trattoria Brutto. Formerly patrono of the Polpo group which was all about Venice, he’s now moved south and west, towards Florence, Siena and the rest. A shuttered and empty site from his past sits in his place, reminding us that not all restaurants are as successful (and I enjoyed his first two). Norman, who is a friend, is back. He is lean and grissini. Brutto, with its tablecloths made of red check, linen napkins, and a menu written in an old-school Olivetti 101 font, is knowingly referencing, but never concocted. The room already seems stained with the fug of gossip and bonhomie, feeling as if it’s been here for decades, rather than a mere four weeks. Fans whir above the room as wall art, including drawings, photographs, and paintings are adorning it. Olly Smith (my friend) cools the white wine in an old caterer’s tin filled with La Carmela plum tomatoes. The list is a big hit with him. Cantabrian anchovies rich in Medici-era riches are ordered. They’re served cold with butter and bread. Chicken liver crostini is a faintly Tuscan-inspired dish. There’s a cool, elegantly discreet pork loin tonnato, and soft, deep-fried dough balls called ‘coccoli’ (the Italian for cuddles), which are torn apart and stuffed with silken prosciutto and coldly lactic stracchino cheese. Cuddle isn’t the only thing you can do, but full-blooded affection. The homemade pasta is light and fluffy, just as you would expect, with the addition of a lemon-spiked sauce for rabbits. And a sonorous, slow-cooked ragù that involves pounds of flesh, litres of wine and days of bubble, bubble, blip. This ragu tastes of succour and cheer. The peposo is a classic Tuscan beef stew with plenty of fresh peppercorns. It is the perfect menu for making you smile. This menu is cooked by chefs who are experts in their field, with staff that seem happy to be there. Tuscany’s spirit is full of warmth and hospitality. But Trattoria Brutto doesn’t just feed you. You feel nourished, satisfied and hopeful. If you need further proof, your favourite restaurants offer so much more than just food. (Mail on Sunday)

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