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Fri 8th Jul 2016 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Gastro Taverns opens seventh pub in partnership with Enterprise Inns, targets 15-strong estate: North Wales-based pub operator Gastro Taverns has opened its seventh site in partnership with Enterprise Inns – The Moreton Inn, Wrexham. The pub has been relaunched following a combined investment of nearly £80,000. Gastro Taverns, led by managing director Sean Le Tissier, has built up its portfolio in less than two years with the help of Enterprise and aims to build a 15-strong estate. Having opened its first site with the pub company – The Red Lion in Penyffordd in 2014 – it has since taken on six other Enterprise sites with a total joint investment of £400,000. Le Tissier said: “I started off my career as a chef but moved away from the hospitality industry to pursue other business ventures. Two years ago the landlady at my local, The Red Lion, approached me regarding business and the rest is history. Enterprise has been instrumental in helping me grow my portfolio and a combination of its segmentation tool – a unique system that assesses local competition, among other things – and my local knowledge has helped construct bespoke models for each venue. So far, the visitors have been very receptive to the menus and trading has been good across the business. As a result, I’m looking to take on more pubs with Enterprise.” Enterprise regional manager Matthew Croft added: “Sean has a very clear vision of how he wants each venue to be and we help him make it happen. With our support, he has been able to put together a portfolio of pubs in a very short space of time, in an area many would say is hard for operators. He has a lot of ideas and is always proactively driving the business forward, introducing new menus that his customers love. We’re looking forward to maintaining our very close relationship and helping him reach his goal of 15 pubs in the local area.” Gastro Taverns’ other sites are The Crown Barn, Rhyl; The Morgan Lloyd, Caernarfon; Black Dog, Waverton; Bridge Inn, Chester; and GT’s Bar and Grill, Connah’s Quay.

Industry News:

Propel partners insights firm Horizons for Casual Dining Study Tour: Propel is partnering with insights firm Horizons for the first Casual Dining Study Tour. The “food of the world” study tour takes place on Wednesday, 7 September and features a full-day tour, on foot, around Shoreditch and Spitalfields sampling the casual dining scene in an area packed with innovation. The tour, which runs from 10am to 4pm, will visit Dishoom (Bombay-style street food with vintage decor and upscale touches), Porky’s BBQ (a taste of Memphis with fuss-free food and authentic slow-cooked meat), GB Pizza Co (wood-fired pizzas topped with seasonal British ingredients served in a cool, casual environment), The Real Greek (healthy seasonal menus and meze sharing platters), Leon (Mediterranean flavours packed with variety and natural healthiness), Wahaca (Mexican market eating from little treats to long-marinated pork and zingy salsa), Byron (better burgers – a simple thing done well), The Breakfast Club (traditional dishes and unusual offerings), Galvin Brothers’ HOP (craft beer, classic pub dishes and premium hotdogs), and Comptoir Libanais (wholesome, healthy Lebanese food in a souk-like setting). Tickets are £345 plus VAT for ALMR members and £395 plus VAT for non-ALMR members. To book your place, call Jo Charity on 01444 810304 or email jo.charity@propelinfo.com

Beer sales fall 3% in sports pubs as wet weather prevails, non-sports venues down 6%: Beer sales in sports pubs were down 3% last week compared with last year, despite many televised sporting events, including Euro 2016 and Wimbledon, as the wet weather prevailed, according to beer quality and insight expert Vianet. The company has partnered with Propel to analyse the effect of the Euro 2016 tournament on pubs. However, sports pubs fared better than non-sports pubs, which were down 6% on last year when the country enjoyed temperatures of 30 degrees celsius. Vianet’s snapshot of the week that saw England crash out of the tournament showed the nation got behind the team’s final game with a 56% increase on beer sales across all sports pubs, with an average volume of 184 pints per pub served on the day, compared with 118 the year before. This represented an increased value of £231 to sports pubs, based on pints being served at £3.50. The Wales game last Friday failed to attract the numbers, with a 7% decline in volume sales compared with the previous year. Welsh pubs showed more support with a volume increase of 32% on the match day, with an average of 359 pints sold per pub compared with 273 the previous year. The England match didn’t have the same appeal in Welsh pubs, with volume sales down 5% on the previous year. Overall, this represented a 1% decrease in beer sales in Welsh sports pubs year-on-year. The entire sample comprised more than 3,000 pubs showing the football, versus more than 3,000 non-sport-focused pubs.

Hearing charity urges restaurants, pubs and cafes to take background noise off the menu: Restaurants, pubs and cafes have been urged to reduce background noise after a survey found more than three-quarters (79%) of diners left because a venue was too loud. The findings by hearing charity Action on Hearing Loss also showed 81% of people – including those with and without hearing problems – have had difficulty holding a conversation because of noise while dining out. 77% thought hospitality venues had become louder during the past five years, while 27% said they had received the wrong order because of noise. The charity’s Speak Easy campaign is calling on the hospitality industry to take action over background noise. It said the problem was exacerbated by recent interior design trends that had seen venues turn to industrial, minimalist aesthetics with hard surfaces and high ceilings instead of soft furnishings that absorb sound. Action on Hearing Loss chief executive Paul Breckell said: “Through our campaign we want to help the restaurant, cafe and pub industry to create a more welcoming dining experience for all customers. Whether you’re out for a meal with friends or if you’re on a date, you should be able to enjoy it without having to repeat yourself, raise your voice or receive the wrong order due to high levels of background noise. There are 11 million people in the UK with hearing loss so, financially, it’s a no-brainer for the industry to help make dining out even more enjoyable and accessible. Three-quarters of people believe restaurants, cafes and pubs have become louder in the past five years and we look forward to working with the industry to help take noise off the menu.”

Simon French – Whitbread’s hub by Premier Inn King’s Cross sale sets ‘high watermark’ for budget hotel transactions, pubs and restaurants should ‘prepare for worst’ following Brexit: Cenkos Securities leisure analyst Simon French said Whitbread’s £84.5m sale of its hub by Premier Inn site in King’s Cross, London, has set a “high watermark” for budget hotel transactions. Issuing a ‘Buy’ note on the shares, with a target price of 3,452p, French said: “Whitbread has announced the sale and leaseback of its partly-built 389-bedroom hub by Premier Inn in Kings Cross to Legal & General for total proceeds of £84.5m, including an initial payment of £46.5m. This produces a net initial yield of almost 4% against an annual rent of £3.5m and also represents £217,000 per room, which appears to set a high watermark for budget hotel transactions. The stock has been badly hit by Brexit – down 18% since 23 June – to trade on a CY2016E price-to-earnings ratio of 14.0 times and an adjusted EV/Ebitdar of 9.1 times on our existing estimates, which assume 1.5% revpar growth this year (quarter one -1.0%) and 3.0% next. In the last recession, Premier Inn revpar fell 6.0% in the first full year following the financial crisis. We estimate every 1% revpar is worth circa £9m to Ebit pre any cost savings initiatives. We do not view the weak pound as a massive driver of increased international tourism given ongoing terrorist concerns. However, we do see the likelihood of increased staycations as a driver of increased demand to regional hotels. This should also support the predominantly co-located restaurants business and to a lesser extent Costa, although footfall on the high street is likely to trend lower. Indeed our view for the wider pub and restaurant industry is to plan for the worst (ie a re-run of 2008-2010). We see two potential demand shocks from higher unemployment – PWC estimates 950,000 – (and more importantly those who are worried they will become unemployed who therefore curtail spending until the worst has passed) and less disposable income through higher prices for essentials due to imported inflation on petrol, utilities and clothes. Higher imported supermarket prices appear likely to be offset by a seemingly inevitable price war among the majors and perhaps an acceleration in shift towards discounters. Other things to consider for operators include the potential for a VAT increase to fill a wider hole in the public finances and an increase in fuel, drink and gaming duties. This could potentially be offset by the abolition of the National Living Wage ‘target’ of £9 by 2020, which would appear to be unwise to pursue in the prevailing economic climate, particularly given restrictions on movement of labour will likely rebase wages from a supply and demand perspective. Furthermore, we expect the property market to rebalance with premiums seemingly evaporating overnight and rent reviews should remain benign over the medium-term. From a trading perspective, we expect branded operators to outperform independents as consistency of offer once again becomes more important to a less confident consumer, although clearly there has been a dramatic increase in branded supply with branded restaurant, fast food and managed pub units up 11.4% since 2012 (source: Allegra – The UK Restaurant Market 2015). In the financial crisis consumer confidence fell to -39 from -2 (close to the -1 it was in June 2016, pre-Brexit survey). In addition the household savings ratio of 5.9 is close to the 2008 nadir of 4.3, albeit above the recent quarter one 2015 low of 5.5. We therefore expect the priority for consumers will be to rebuild balance sheets (by quarter three 2010 household savings ratio had reached 11.2), particularly given expected house price falls.”

Company News:

Bettys & Taylors Group reports 5% turnover increase: Family-owned Bettys & Taylors Group has reported a 5% increase in turnover to £163.4m for the year ending 31 October 2015. The company, which runs the Yorkshire Tea and Taylors brands as well as the iconic Bettys tea rooms around Yorkshire, saw pre-tax fall to £9.6m from £10.8m the previous year. Group finance and resources director Paul Cogan told the Yorkshire Post: “This has been a year in which competitive pressures in our core markets continued to grow. We have responded to the competitive challenge by listening carefully to our customers and developing new and innovative products to delight them. Throughout the year we also continued to invest strongly to support our core brands. These results demonstrate the success of this approach and our genuine passion for delivering high-quality products that reflect our Yorkshire heritage.” A bonus scheme has been operating for more than 30 years and over the course of the year, staff received the equivalent of an additional five weeks pay through the scheme. The group also contributed £364,000 to charitable and community projects in Yorkshire and in tea and coffee-growing countries. Based in Harrogate, Bettys & Taylors comprises the six Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms, tea and coffee merchants Taylors of Harrogate, Bettys Craft Bakery, Bettys Cookery School and bettys.co.uk.

London-based boutique patisserie L’Orchidee to open fourth site, first outside capital: London-based boutique patisserie L’Orchidee, which is undergoing a £200,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, has secured its fourth site – and first outside the capital. The company, founded in 2010 by Elias Dayub and Daniel Garcia, will open the kiosk-style venue at the Bicester Village shopping outlet. Dayub said: “We are delighted to announce the opening of our fourth store in Bicester Village in about four weeks. This opportunity will be an interesting trial as small kiosks like the one we are building for Bicester cost about £20,000 and could be another cost-effective way for expanding our concept.” L’Orchidee, which currently has sites in Westfield Stratford, Westfield London and Canary Wharf, is offering a 10% equity stake in return for the £200,000 investment. So far, 24 investors have pledged £10,900 with 26 days remaining. The pitch states: “We aim to become the go-to place for French macarons, luxury cakes and desserts – a national brand that is recognised by unique style and designs, with shops around London first, nationally in the future, as well as internationally as we grow. We currently have a number of other retailers and trade partners who we supply products to. We are also looking to grow this part of the business to fully utilise the production facility, which opened last year in Barking.” The company forecasts Ebitda of £42,081 in January 2017, increasing to £182,989 the following year and £466,748 in 2019.

Food writer and chef Ravinder Bhogal to open debut restaurant in Marylebone: Food writer and chef Ravinder Bhogal will launch her debut restaurant – Jikoni – in Blandford Street, Marylebone, this September after partnering with restaurateur Ratnesh Bagdai. Jikoni, meaning “kitchen” in Swahili, will feature flavours from Britain, East Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The menu will be split into snacks, small plates, big plates and desserts. Scotch eggs, a signature at Bhogal’s pop-ups, will take pride of place, including quail scotch egg with banana ketchup and pickled cucumber. Small plates will include an Indian take on the American “sloppy Joe”, made with Herdwick mutton keema, pickled onions and mint chutney, while big plates will feature comfort food such as shepherd’s pie and ras hal hanout lamb with mujadarra. There will also be a daily changing rice plate celebrating curries from around the world. Bhogal said: “I have had residencies at both Trishna and Carousel in Blandford Street, and could not have imagined that one day I would be opening my own restaurant among them. I am so excited to welcome guests to Jikoni and what I hope will just be an extension of my home and kitchen.” Bhogal has also worked with Le Café Anglais and Mark Hix for a series of residencies and stars in her own television series, Ravinder’s Kitchen, on BBC Worldwide. Her debut book, Cook in Boots, was awarded “best debut cookbook” at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

Coya to open second London site as part of international expansion plans: Coya, the Peruvian restaurant and members’ club concept, is set to continue its international expansion by opening two new sites this year and three more in 2017, including its second London venue. The company currently has sites in London, Miami and Dubai. Following the success of its Dubai venue, the group will expand in the Middle East with a new venue in Abu Dhabi. Coya will also launch in Asia, with restaurants planned for Shanghai, Singapore and Seoul, while a second London site is also set to open. Coya’s new venues will offer a similar schedule of entertainment to the current flagship restaurant in London. Chief executive Adam Bel Hadj Amar said: “We attract an international crowd in our current venues so we seek out cosmopolitan cities around the world where we know the brand will fit and be welcomed. There is a global appetite for Peruvian cuisine given its light, fresh and modern approach and we look forward to introducing the brand to cities across the world. At Coya London we have a schedule of many DJs booked each year, including international acts such as Martin Buttrich, Seth Troxler and Sasha. We also host more than ten seasonal parties a year, 16 art exhibitions, various fashion shows, and bi-weekly masterclasses and tastings. It is this busy annual schedule that ensures there is always something fun and new for our members and other guests alike to experience – and this is something we are very proud of.”

Boston Tea Party to open sixth Bristol site this autumn: Cafe group Boston Tea Party is set to open its sixth site in its home city of Bristol this autumn. The company has agreed a deal for a 4,556 square foot unit at The Square, a mixed-use development in Cheswick Village, on a 15-year lease. It will begin fitting-out shortly and is expected to open in the autumn, joining the Co-op, Barnardo’s, Happy Days Nursery, and Fair and Fresh Produce, which have all opened in the past six months. Agent Alder King negotiated the letting on behalf of Havard Estates. Rebecca Harries, of Alder King’s retail agency team, told Insider Media: “With Boston Tea Party now confirmed and two other units totalling 2,062 square feet in solicitors’ hands, this 29,500 square foot development is now almost 50% let or under offer. Here we have a diverse and complementary occupier mix, providing goods and services which are much valued by the local community and Boston Tea Party will make an excellent addition.” The Square was developed in 2015 to provide a community focus for the 1,000-home Cheswick Village development close to the University of the West of England and Abbeywood.

Twisted Bars lodges plans for second site, in Ilkley: Twisted Bars, set up by Yorkshire entrepreneurs Adam Lewis and Paul Glendinning, has lodged plans to open its second site, this time in Ilkley. The company has applied to Bradford Council to convert the former Kipling’s restaurant in Station Plaza into the new bar. Agent Rollinson Planning Consultancy told the Ilkley Gazette the venue would create 15 full-time and 20 part-time jobs. Lewis, who also owns Yard bars in Ilkley and Malton and has 20 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, joined forces at the end of last year with Glendinning, chief executive officer of Guiseley-based insurance broking group JM Glendinning, to launch Everybodys All Day Social in Guiseley under the Twister Bars brand. The company previously said it plans to grow to a ten-strong estate in the region.

Restaurateur Ibrahim Dogus to open new venue Westminster Kitchen on South Bank this month: London restaurateur Ibrahim Dogus will open his new venue – Westminster Kitchen – on South Bank at the end of this month. The new restaurant and bar will be in Belvedere Road, close to Westminster Bridge, offering “something for everyone, from classic British fare, to more modern dishes”, The Handbook reports. On its website, the venue is described as: “An upscale dining room with grand horseshoe booths, a wide theatre kitchen and a tap bar, offering local office workers, Parliamentarians and tourists a buzzy and contemporary eclectic British eatery. Concrete and brick, timber and steel, leather upholstery and a mix of furniture combine with the rich colour palette to give diners a warm and memorable experience.”

Marco Pierre White set to open 15th Steakhouse Bar & Grill, in Lincoln: Celebrity chef Marco Pierre White will open his 15th Steakhouse Bar & Grill, this time on Lincoln’s waterfront at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, on Saturday, 30 July. Lincoln is the fourth DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel to partner with Marco Pierre White Steakhouse, which is operated under franchise by Black and White Hospitality. Hilton general manager Richard Metcalfe told the Lincolnshire Echo: “Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels have a lot in common and we’ve worked incredibly hard to bring the restaurant to the city. I think it’s going to add something very different to the current dining scene, which people will love. With its fantastic views of Lincoln Cathedral, the castle and the Brayford waterfront, our fifth-floor restaurant offers a unique view of the city.” Black and White Hospitality chief executive Nick Taplin added: “Lincoln is a fast-growing city, steeped in history, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, many of whom stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. We’re very excited to be opening another restaurant, which will be our 15th Steakhouse Bar & Grill.”

Former Artubus general manager opens second Picture site, in Marylebone: Tom Slegg, manager of Michelin-starred Artubus, has opened the second site for his restaurant concept Picture. Slegg, who launched Picture in Fitzrovia in 2013, has opened the venue in New Cavendish Street in Marylebone. The restaurant seats about 45 and, like the original, has an a la carte menu alongside the tasting menu for lunch and dinner every day. Dishes feature lightly smoked pork, turnips, apricot and red onion as well as cod with young artichokes, orzo and barigoule dressing. The six-course tasting menu is seasonal, changing completely a few times each year with a few tweaks along the way. Slegg said: “We love the area and think it is a perfect fit for the neighbourhood-style of restaurant we are passionate about.”

Derby-based bar and restaurant Seven targets two new sites in next three years: The owner of Derby-based bar and restaurant Seven is targeting two new sites for the concept in the next three years. Helen Salloway, who launched Seven in Pride Park two-and-a-half years ago, is eyeing the West Bridgford suburb of Nottingham for its next opening and is actively looking for sites. She is also considering an opening in Birmingham in the Brindley Place area. Salloway told The Business Desk: “I’d always said I’d like to have more than one place. We’ve been looking at West Bridgford for our next opening but every site we’ve seen hasn’t been quite right as yet. I’m very conscious that I don’t want to spread ourselves too thinly or lose any of the quality we’ve become renowned for here in Derby. We attract quality customers and we want to give them quality back. We don’t want to run before we can walk, however. I’d like to be in a position where we have three places in (our first) five years. We’re also considering Birmingham – I think the Brindley Place area is excellent.”

Chipotle considers ‘TastyMade’ name for new burger concept in US, first site scheduled to open this summer: Chipotle Mexican Grill is considering the name “TastyMade” for its potential burger concept under development in the US and could open its first site this summer. A source close to the project reportedly told Eater a trademark application for the phrase TastyMade was filed in May through an attorney who has worked with the Denver-based company. Two Twitter accounts – @tastymade and @tastymadeburger – were also created, along with similar Facebook and Instagram accounts. Eater’s source also said the first TastyMade was scheduled to open later this summer in central Ohio, possibly Lancaster. The menu would focus on burgers, fries and milkshakes. Earlier this year, Chipotle attempted to trademark the phrase “better burger” but later dropped the application. At the time, the company confirmed the burger concept was a growth seed idea it was exploring.

Cafe-restaurant antiques house concept to launch in York city centre: A new cafe-restaurant concept with the ambience of a French antiques house is set to launch in York city centre. Florencia Clifford and partner Hugo Hildyard plan to open Partisan And The French House at a grade II-listed building in Micklegate later this month, on the former site of the Sheesh Mahal restaurant. Hildyard said the aim was to offer high quality and locally sourced food, with a strong emphasis on vegetarian dishes as well as meat and fish. Antiques featured in the venue’s decor, from tables and chairs to lighting and mirrors, will all be for sale. The couple said they might use the basement of the building for special functions and larger parties. The couple have submitted a licensing application to City of York Council. Hildyard told The Press: “We already have a licence to operate as a shop and restaurant – we are just applying for an alcohol licence.” Stephen Hazell, who owns the building, runs antiques business The French House in Huntington and will provide antiques for the venture.

John Burton-Race launches Grumpy Chefs partnership: Celebrity chef John Burton-Race and Chris Sherville, who runs a Devon-based private dining and fine catering company, have launched new venture Two Grumpy Chefs. The pair, with two Michelin stars and 60 years of know-how between them, will organise and cook for private and corporate events in the UK under the new banner. Burton-Race and Sherville said they would curate parties from the “intimate to the outrageous”, including “weddings, launch parties, prestige sporting events and private parties at home, at top venues, or on the yacht, delivered with style and a great deal of distinctiveness”. The chefs added they would use the best possible produce available each season to create classically inspired dishes that were inventive, as colourful as themselves, and sometimes maverick. Burton-Race and Sherville will provide their services in London and throughout the West Country, providing menus, wine and waiting staff, plus a top sommelier and distinguished butler if required. Two Michelin-starred Burton-Race won a coveted Catey Award in 1995 and has appeared on numerous television shows, including I’m A Celebrity.

Portland restaurant owners to open second site next month, in Fitzrovia: The owners of London-based restaurant Portland are set to open their second site next month, in Fitzrovia. Will Lander, co-owner of The Quality Chop House, and Daniel Morganthau, previously of 10 Greek Street, are launching Clipstone in Clipstone Street. The restaurant will have capacity for 52 diners while some al fresco seating is also planned, reports Hot Dinners. It will be open for lunch and dinner and also serve brunch on Saturdays. The menu will be seasonal but to start with will include juniper-cured pig belly with salt-baked golden beetroots, raw beef, and smoked crème; and oven-baked brill with summer vegetables and dulse butter. There will be a list of wines on tap and by the bottle. Lander and Morganthau opened Portland in great Portland Street in January last year.

Rum Kitchen to open third site, in Brixton next month: London-based Caribbean food and cocktail concept Rum Kitchen will open its third site in the capital and biggest to date, in Brixton next month. The company is launching the 2,500 square foot restaurant in Coldharbour Lane on Monday, 1 August on the site formerly occupied by Brixton Cycles. It will seat 110 covers inside with a small outside terrace area for another 20 covers, reports Brixton Buzz. In the kitchen, a mix of charcoal and wood-fired ovens, a custom grill and a smoker will turn out items including jerk chicken, chilli cheeseburgers and island-spiced baby squid. Ross Clarke, who previously worked for Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck, developed the menu for the new site. The drinks menu will include more than 200 types of rum and 40 house cocktails. The company’s two other restaurants are in All Saints Road in Notting Hill and Carnaby Street in Soho.

BrewDog partners with Tesco to launch homebrew contest: BrewDog has partnered with Tesco to launch a homebrewing competition, with the top prize a job with the Scottish brewer and retailer. The winner will also receive an all expenses-paid trip to BrewDog’s headquarters in Ellon, Aberdeenshire, where they will rebrew their beer to be launched on BrewDog’s online shop and as an exclusive listing with Tesco. The winning beer will also be available on draft at BrewDog’s UK bars. The company stated on its blog: “Many a BrewDog crew member began their interest in beer by brewing their own at home – not least James and Martin themselves (founders Watt and Dickie). In 2008, they entered beers created in Martin’s garage into a Tesco competition and ended up taking first, second, third and fourth prizes. So we are paying this forward as we partner with Tesco and launch #HomeBrewDog – the ultimate competition for homebrewers.” Watt and Dickie will judge the entries alongside beer writer Pete Brown. Entrants have to drop three bottles of a single beer off per person at any UK BrewDog bar or post them to the company’s brewery after filling in an online form. Entries close on Friday, 16 September.

Shoreditch nightclub and restaurant put on market for £10m: Shoreditch nightclub and restaurant Beach Blanket Babylon has been put on the market for £10m. The 9,000 square foot building at 19-23 Bethnal Green Road is fully let to Arrowchange, which operates the venue at a passing rent of £215,000 a year. The original Beach Blanket Babylon opened in Notting Hill in 1990, with the Shoreditch sister venue opening in 2007. The building contains a champagne lounge, cocktail bar, restaurant and event spaces across four floors, Property Week reports. It is being marketed as a development opportunity, with the possibility of extending the upper two floors or adding another floor. Paul Belchak & Co is acting for owner Sardar Properties.

Bao starts expansion with Taiwanese street food restaurant in Fitzrovia – second London site: Taiwanese street food concept Bao has started expansion with the opening of its second site in London, this time in Fitzrovia. The restaurant in Windmill Street offers a similar menu to its Soho site, which opened in April 2015, of Chinese snacks and steamed buns, along with new sharing dishes. The no-reservations policy still applies, with the restaurant seating 45. There is also an expanded drinks list to include cocktails and champagne. The Fitzrovia menu includes beef cheek and tendon nuggets, day boat-caught mackerel with aged white soy, and razor clam with tobiko and century egg. Sharing dishes include squid noodles in trotter sauce and lamb with sour green chilli dip, while there are some new rice dishes such as sweet potato with pork and egg congee and a new dessert – a Choc Horlicks ice-cream stick. Wai Ting Chung, who started Bao as a street food stall with her brother Shing Chung and his wife, chef Erchen Changold, told Hot Dinners: “We were overwhelmed by the success of Bao Soho but the small space always meant we would be restricted in the dishes we could offer.” The enterprise is backed by JKS Restaurants, whose venues include the Michelin-starred Gymkhana in Mayfair.

Yotam Ottolenghi pastry chef opens dessert-focused restaurant in Norwich: Pastry chef Jaime Garbutt, who has worked at a string of Michelin-starred venues in London, has opened a dessert-focused restaurant in Norwich. Garbutt, who has worked with Marcus Wareing and Yotam Ottolenghi, has launched Figbar in St John Maddermarket. The restaurant serves cakes, croissants and savoury items such as chorizo pork pie but the desserts take centre stage. Among the options are a twist on Norfolk strawberries and cream, featuring homemade ice cream, gin and tonic jelly, elderflower Chantilly, and candied pistachios; and yuzu brulee with passion fruit curd, blackberry sorbet, yogurt mousse and crispy rice shortbread. Garbutt told the Eastern Daily Press: “The whole point of this was to bring desserts into focus. Unless you go to the pub there’s a lack of places you can go later in the evening and have anything like a snack or a dessert that’s not in a traditional pub setting. Hopefully people will embrace this kind of way of eating.”

Gloucestershire-based multi-site operators open ‘fusion’ tapas bar in Nailsworth: Gloucestershire-based multi-site operators Caroline and Greg Saturley have opened a “fusion” tapas bar in Nailsworth. The Saturleys have launched The Vault in George Street on the site of a former HSBC bank. It features a 50-seater tapas bar on the second floor offering an “authentic and fusion-style” menu from across the world. As well as a taste of Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Cyprus and Spain, it also incorporates flavours from Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine. There is an expansive cocktail and wine bar downstairs, featuring antique furniture and comfortable sofas. Operations manager Emma Stafford-Michael told the Stroud News Journal: “We think it’s going to be an incredible addition to the town. One thing we really concentrated on was keeping as many of the bank’s original features intact as possible. We really wanted to preserve the history of the building.” The Saturleys also own the The Hog pub in nearby Horsley and The Canteen café in Nailsworth.

Restaurant Group to open Frankie & Benny’s venue in Hartlepool: The Restaurant Group is set to open a Frankie & Benny’s site in Hartlepool, the brand’s first venue in the north east town. Work on the former Burger King site at Anchor Retail Park is under way, with Hartlepool Borough Council confirming the work would include extending the premises. A Frankie & Benny’s spokesman told the Hartlepool Mail the new restaurant would open later this year or early next year. Burger King closed suddenly 12 months ago, with bailiffs moving in to repossess the premises. It had been run by a franchise, Windmill (NI) Restaurants, which was wound up. The nearest Frankie & Benny’s restaurants to Hartlepool are in Middlesbrough and Teesside Shopping Park in Stockton-on-Tees.

London-based Ashley Hotels acquires Corby site: London-based operator Ashley Hotels has acquired the Rockingham Forest Hotel in Corby, Northamptonshire. The company has acquired the 71-room venue in a deal overseen by agent Christie & Co. All staff will remain in place and there is an option to add 35 rooms to the venue subject to planning permission. Lee Howard, Christie & Co’s regional director for the Midlands and Anglia region, told Insider Media: “This is a property with huge potential for a new operator to develop the hotel’s already large and diverse offering. This is a great acquisition for the purchaser’s continued expansion and investment outside of London and shows the nationwide appeal of the Midlands for hotel operators.” Ashley Hotels operates four other sites – two in Victoria in London and one each in St Albans, Hertfordshire, and Andover in Hampshire.

London-based brewer IntelligentX launches world’s first beer ‘brewed’ by artificial intelligence: London-based brewer IntelligentX has launched the world’s first beer “brewed” by artificial intelligence (AI). The company, co-founded by former Oxford University academic Rob McInerney in Bermondsey, uses “machine learning” to create “self-improving” beer. IntelligentX uses a machine-learning algorithm called ABI (Automated Brewing Intelligence) to determine what consumers like about its beers, then brews new versions. After trying one of IntelligentX’s four bottle-conditioned beers, consumers give feedback to the algorithm, which uses the data to tell IntelligentX’s master brewer what to brew next and “learns” from the experience. IntelligentX is a partnership between McInerney’s Intelligent Layer start-up and 10x, an innovation and creative agency founded by former M&C Saatchi director Hew Leith. ABI’s beers, which have evolved 11 times so far, are available at open brewery UBrew in Bermondsey in golden ale, bitter, pale ale, and porter-style recipes. IntelligentX plans to open-source every recipe created by the algorithm, allowing others to recreate the beers at home. Leith said: “Our beer is one of the world’s first uses of AI to improve physical products. We think it’s an area that has huge potential. Imagine emotive products like perfume, coffee or chocolate which are finely tuned to people’s tastes by machine-learning algorithms.” 

Full speaker schedule for Bar and Nightclub Conference revealed: The full speaker schedule for this year’s Bar and Nightclub Conference, organised by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) and Propel, has been revealed. It takes place on Tuesday, 11 October at Bafta, Piccadilly, and follows the successful launch of the event last year. ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls will provide an update on political and regulatory developments. Phil Tate, chief executive of CGA Strategy, which has retailer specialist CGA Peach as a division, reveals details of new research of usage, areas of growth, food and drink trends, and evolution within the UK bar and nightclub market. Toby Smith, chief executive of bar, nightclub and restaurant operator Novus Leisure, will talk about how the company is meeting the needs of customers in London’s evolving bar and nightclub scene, including offer evolution and social media developments. Luke Johnson, sector investor and executive chairman of Brighton Pier Company and investor in Grand Union Group, will speak about his career in the late-night sector starting at Oxford University, set out his reasons for investing in the sector, evolving the offer at the company, and his perspective on the future for the bar and nightclub sector. Serial sector entrepreneur Roy Ellis will talk about the launch of the ground-breaking Albert’s Schloss concept in Manchester a year ago, its USPs, versatility, first-year performance and roll-out potential – and set out the scope of the involvement of his Mission Mars business in Manchester’s late-night scene. Jimmy Bernstein will talk about his 14-strong US bar and live music concept Howl at the Moon. Bernstein was the keynote speaker at this year’s Bar and Nightclub Convention in Las Vegas. Howl at the Moon has sites in key US cities, including Chicago, New York and Orlando, Florida – the company has also licensed the concept to Norwegian Cruise Line, which operates it on four ships. John Leslie, chief executive of Intertain, will talk about evolving the Walkabout brand and opening new sites, working with new comedy partner Comedy Loft, the regulatory regime, its new Birmingham concept 6 on Broad Street and the company’s relationship with backer Better Capital. Leading licensing barrister Philip Kolvin QC will provide a personal perspective on the key legal issues and developments facing bar and nightclub operators in the current climate. There will also be a panel hosted by Nicholls with Alan Miller, chairman of the Night Time Industries Association, Mick McDonnell, national co-ordinator of Best Bar None, Paddy Whur, of Woods Whur, Peter Marks, chief executive of Deltic Group, and Richard Stringer, chief executive of Kornicis, about the challenges, opportunities and threats to the bar and nightclub sector. Tickets are priced £95 for operators who are ALMR members and £145 for non-ALMR members. Supplier tickets are £145 for ALMR supplier members and £195 for suppliers who are not ALMR members. Tickets can be booked by emailing Jo Charity at jo.charity@propelinfo.com

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