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Sun 30th May 2021 - Weekend leisure stories and restaurant reviews
Table ordering rule in pubs to be ditched as No10 seeks to axe social distancing on 21 June: Pub-goers look set for a boost as ministers are prioritising the return of ordering at the bar over ditching face masks. The Sun understands that No10’s biggest priority is to scrap social distancing on 21 June over other restrictions. Getting punters back into packed boozers and restaurants is seen as absolutely crucial for businesses – and the Treasury’s coffers. Whitehall insiders reckon this “big ticket” goal of scrapping the one metre rule would have the biggest impact on Brits’ lives and the economy. But they will only press the button on the massive lockdown easing if the covid data looks good enough. The revelation comes as Brits anxiously wait to see if Boris Johnson goes ahead with his plan to ditch lockdown measures on 21 June amid concerns about Indian covid. In a boost to the nation’s hopes, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said “there’s nothing in the data that suggests to me that we should move the day” restrictions are lifted. But he cautioned that he “cannot guarantee” the unlocking will not be delayed. The government is looking at four different crunch issues – or “baskets” – it must decide on by 21 June. Scrapping social distancing is the first and biggest of these decisions. On masks, ministers are mulling over whether to keep them across the country, just in covid hotspots or leave it up to individuals to decide whether or not to wear them. Downing Street is also examining whether to bring in covid certificates – dubbed vaccine passports – to unlock mass events, and whether work from home orders should stay or go. Ministers will only make a final call on what measures – if any – can be ditched on 21 June nearer the time when they have all the health data. But there are some very early signs that covid cases in Bolton – the worst hit by Indian covid – are starting to plateau. While several scientific experts said the picture looks good. (The Sun)

Nando’s dodges £300m debt default: The chicken chain Nando’s has been given breathing space by its lenders to avoid defaulting on a £300m debt mountain. Banks including NatWest, Barclays and Santander have agreed to waive the testing of loan covenants in May. Failure to adhere to the covenants – strict rules that govern loans – risked leaving Nando’s in default. Nando’s warned in December that the fast-food chain would breach covenants the following May under “base and worst-case scenarios”. Sources at the time had insisted that the company was confident of striking a deal with its banks. The leisure sector ranks among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Dick Enthoven, the billionaire South African insurance tycoon that owns Nando’s, injected £100m into the business in September – allowing it to draw down £125m from lenders. The operator spent £20m last year on PPE to make its sites covid-secure. Nando’s has been one of the best performing restaurant chains in recent years, defying a squeeze on the casual dining sector prior to the pandemic. Its UK arm employs almost 17,000 people and operates nearly 400 sites. Insiders said that bosses had been buoyed by trading during the third lockdown, with sales boosted by strong demand for takeaways. Nando’s declined to comment. (Sunday Telegraph)

Legal challenge to restructuring of Caffè Nero to go to trial in July: A legal challenge to a restructuring of Caffè Nero will go to trial in July after a judge rejected an attempt by the chain to strike it out. Caffè Nero secured approval for a company voluntary arrangement last year under which its 650-plus landlords will get 30p for every pound they are owed. More than 90% of creditors, including the “overwhelming majority” of the chain’s landlords, voted to approve the CVA. However, it was contentious and attracted a challenge from some landlords because shortly before the vote last November the Issa brothers, the billionaire buyers of Asda, offered to repay landlords’ debts in full as part of an attempt to take control of the chain. The chain is run by Gerry Ford, who founded the business in 1997. Nero Group, which also owns Harris + Hoole, employs 6,000 people across about 800 sites in the UK, with between 650 and 700 sites affected by the CVA. The Issas want to acquire Caffè Nero to expand the chain into EG Group, their petrol forecourts business, and potentially into Asda. All but one of the nine landlords who joined a legal challenge to a restructuring of Caffè Nero have dropped out of the battle. In a judgment yesterday, Mr Justice Michael Green said the remaining landlord “was not willing to be bought off, despite repeated offers to settle, including an open offer to pay his rent arrears in full”. A spokesman for Caffè Nero said: “Our attempt to have the court case dismissed ... has not been successful. This is unfortunate as we had hoped not to have this as a further distraction for our business or the other landlords who had hoped to collect their arrears.” (The Times)

Calories on menus ‘will cost thousands of pounds’: Restaurants say plans to display the calorie content of food on menus in England should be delayed while the sector recovers from the pandemic. There are fears that the move will add extra costs to businesses at a time when they are least able to afford it. The new rules will affect restaurants, cafes and takeaways employing more than 250 people and are due to come in from April 2022. The change is part of a drive by the UK government to tackle obesity. With 11 restaurants, Mowgli Street Food’s founder Nisha Katona says making the changes by next spring will mean a significant investment. “It’s thousands of pounds and weeks of work,” she says. “It’s a shame for anyone to have to take on another cost right now.” However, she supports the idea that people should take a greater interest in how many calories they consume when they eat out, and says her restaurant has already looked into displaying calories on its menus. Despite this, she believes it’s crucial that ministers stick to the idea of only applying the new rules to larger businesses such as hers. “Personally, I can see the value in it, and it’s something my business will manage to do – but it’ll see the end of small restaurants if they’re ever compelled to do it,” she says. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality, says that while the industry shares the government’s objectives in improving public health, the timing could prove difficult. “The majority of operators are in survival mode,” she says. “We urge the government to consider delaying the implementation of any legislation rather than layering on new costs for businesses in a sector that has been hardest hit by the pandemic and risks prolonging their recovery and business’ ability to invest and create jobs.” That’s a view echoed by Nick Collins, chief executive of Loungers, who run the Lounge and Cosy Club chain of more than 140 cafe-bars. “The timing really is dreadful,” he says. Having only just been able to fully reopen, he says businesses like his are focused on their recovery and their staff – and a change like this will take time to implement. “I support the objective of helping our customers eat more healthily,” he says, “but I’d like to see it put back. It’s red tape we could really do without.” A spokesperson from the Department for Health acknowledged the impact of covid-19 on the hospitality sector, and pledged to “work with businesses and local authorities to ensure the out of home calorie labelling regulations are implemented as smoothly as possible”. (BBC News)

Restaurants will toast a summer of takeover deals as sales rebound, says boss of Franco Manca: Hospitality bosses and investment bankers are predicting a takeover deals bonanza this summer as pub and restaurant sales rebound sharply after the pandemic. Mike Saul, head of hospitality and leisure at Barclays Corporate Banking, said he has around two dozen potential deals on the table, ranging from £10 million to £250 million, as investors race to inject millions into pandemic survivors set for rapid growth – or buy them outright. Saul said private equity firms are now ‘running the rule’ over further businesses, ranging from pubs to betting shops, casinos, hotels and caravan parks. He said: ‘There is a general acquisitive atmosphere out there. Some people really want to try to grow quite quickly – they see opportunity coming out of recession.’ His prediction was echoed by an array of hospitality bosses, including Young’s pub boss Patrick Dardis. Last night, City takeover speculation focused on Franco Manca, the fast-growing sourdough pizza chain run by ex-Pizza Express boss David Page. One industry source claimed 68-year-old Page is keen to find a buyer for the chain after building it up through his Aim-listed Fulham Shore restaurant group over the past six years. Industry insiders said Franco Manca, which has 54 restaurants across the UK, could be a takeover target for The Restaurant Group, which owns Wagamama. One source said: ‘Page would definitely sell, and The Restaurant Group are looking to buy something as well. It would make perfect sense to me.’ The Restaurant Group declined to comment and Page said no talks had taken place. ‘Nobody has made an approach to us,’ he told The Mail on Sunday. However, he added: ‘I think there will be quite a lot of merger and acquisition activity in the sector. There is a lot of money out there chasing really good assets to help them expand. We hope the survivors who emerge fittest from the pandemic will command premium prices.’ Dardis predicted a huge appetite for mergers and acquisitions over the next two years. He said: “It’s going to be very busy, and when it does happen it will be a very interesting space to be in. The word is: watch this space.” Page has also been approached in recent weeks by two venture capital investors who are each raising between £10 million and £20 million to invest in pubs and restaurants. He said he is considering investing six-figure sums in the cash shells, which plan to list on the stock exchange within two years. ‘Three or four years ago, I would have put them [the investment proposals] in the bin,’ he said. ‘But now I can see there are opportunities.’ (Mail on Sunday)

Welcome back, diners – and for your first course, enjoy this price increase: L’Enclume in the Lake District is Britain’s best restaurant, according to The Good Food Guide, offering “hand-picked ingredients” that “harness the powerful connection between food and nature”. Since it reopened a fortnight ago, diners have also tucked into a 10% price rise: the cost of its tasting menu has risen from £159 to £175 in six months. L’Enclume is far from alone. An analysis of menus for 50 of Britain’s best-known restaurants found that 30 have increased prices since they closed for lockdown last autumn. The research compared menus at the end of 2020, stored on the Internet Archive website, with current prices. At Claude Bosi, a Michelin-starred restaurant in South Kensington, London, the set lunch menu has risen from £75 to £105. High street restaurants have also pushed up the cost of dining out. The Nando’s chicken chain, which counts Ed Sheeran and Adele as admirers, has upped the price of many customer favourites in the past six months. A whole chicken, £12 in November, is now £13.95. It blamed “several factors outside of our control, including the continued rise in the cost of ingredients”, as well as VAT rate changes. Côte Brasserie, which has 84 branches, has added a pound to many dishes. At its Barnes branch in west London, the price of moules frites has risen from £12.95 to £13.95 since November. A side of chips has risen 27% from £2.95 to £3.75. The restaurant chain declined to comment. (Sunday Times)

Deliveroo cuts ties with key adviser Finsbury Glover Hering after float flop: Deliveroo has severed ties with one of its key City advisory firms after last month’s disastrous float. The Mail on Sunday can reveal the takeaway giant has severed links with Finsbury Glover Hering (FGH), a PR firm run by Remain campaigner Roland Rudd, just weeks after £2 billion was wiped off its value on its stock market debut. The debacle saw the firm nicknamed ‘Flopperoo’ and sparked a flurry of finger-pointing. The flop was all the more surprising because it came after a series of successful stock market listings, including personalised greeting card maker Moonpig and shoe manufacturer Dr Martens. Sources said FGH’s contract for the initial public offering had concluded and the firm was no longer working for Deliveroo. Tulchan, a PR firm run by former Tory party chairman Lord Feldman of Elstree, will take on the financial PR work, with public affairs adviser Hanbury Strategy retained. The Mail on Sunday can also reveal Deliveroo has heeded calls from investors to withhold discretionary fees of about £18 million to the banks that worked on the float: Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citi, Numis and Jefferies. The delivery app slashed its valuation ahead of the listing from £8.8 billion to £7.6 billion after investors raised concerns over its hefty price tag, as The Mail on Sunday revealed. FGH, Deliveroo and Tulchan declined to comment. (Mail on Sunday)

Landlords and restaurant bosses say furlough is destroying work ethic and must end now: Pub and restaurant bosses are demanding Chancellor Rishi Sunak ends furlough – to combat a spiralling recruitment crisis. They are so short-staffed, some have been offering £1,000 joining-up bonuses to coax back uncertain workers. They blame the £63 billion government pay scheme, as would-be recruits prefer to stay home and take state cash. The Sun on Sunday can reveal UK-wide there are 700,000 job vacancies, including 188,000 in hospitality alone where more than 250,000 remain on furlough. The scheme does not stop until the end of September, amid uncertainty over the economy. But experts fear some have now lost the will to work. Professor Len Shackleton, from the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Furlough has been a great success but has gone on for far too long. We should wind it up and get back to reality. We should not be holding back new businesses which need workers in a vain attempt to keep old businesses alive.” Furlough began in March last year to stop firms laying off staff, or collapsing, during lockdown. Some 11.5 million workers have been furloughed, with 4.2 million still on the handout at the end of March this year. It has helped keep unemployment at around 5%. A Treasury spokesman said: “Furlough means two million fewer people will have lost their jobs. We went long with furlough to avoid a cliff edge and ensure as many jobs as possible are protected.” But it is down to employers to stop the payouts, by ceasing to apply for the state to pay 80% of a worker’s wages. Meanwhile, trade body UK Hospitality says 15% of its workers, or around 270,000, are reluctant to come off furlough, over fears of another lockdown. UK Hospitality’s chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Furlough is still essential, helping to make sure jobs are protected over the summer. But it could be tightened up to ensure it is not masking problems in our economy and protecting jobs that are no longer there. Lots of people are trying to recruit and in some parts of the country there are vacancies that they cannot fill.” (The Sun)

Your restaurant bill is about to jump as global food prices sizzle: The oil in your pan does not normally get a huge deal of consideration, but things are different in a restaurant. First, chefs tend to put more thought into every ingredient, including the fats. Second, cooking at scale means buying in volume, and that means the price of this base ingredient is more noticeable too. The cost of food oils last month were twice their level a year earlier, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Rapeseed, palm and soy oils drove the latest increase, with strong global demand, tight supply and competition from the biofuels industry all pushing prices to their highest levels in a decade. And it’s not just oil. Sugar is up 58pc. Cereals and dairy are each up by around one quarter. Meats have made a more modest jump, rising only 5pc on the year, but overall food prices are up one-third, their most rapid rise since 2011. Kate Nicholls, chief executive at industry group UK Hospitality, says pubs and restaurants are being squeezed on several fronts. “It is a mix of the normal type of cost pressures we see where you have a bad harvest or there is an environmental impact which pushes up the price of certain commodities, which is what we are seeing with cooking oil,” she says. “But also there has been Brexit and trade disruption as a result of covid and Suez, so all of these cost pressures are coming through and operators are now seeing them hit significantly.” A survey from UK Hospitality found 85pc of businesses are looking to hire chefs while 80pc need front of house staff. In total there are an estimated 188,000 vacancies in the industry. The shortage of staff means companies are paying in excess of the national minimum wage which was itself hiked in April, also adding to pressure on the bottom line. “It is something operators are really struggling with – they don’t have any cash in the tank,” says Nicholls. It means the price of eating and drinking out is set to rise, even as consumers are still cautious about going out. (The Telegraph)

Wendy’s shares full menu ahead of UK return: Ahead of the highly-anticipated return of Wendy’s to our shores is not far off, with their Reading branch due to open on 2 June. Ahead of that auspicious occasion, the chain has revealed what’s going to be on the UK menu. Wendy’s patrons will be able to get their hands on such signature items as the Baconator, Dave’s Single, the Spicy Chicken Sandwich and the famed Frosty shake (in chocolate or vanilla). Their 100% British beef burgers will be available with one to three patties, and the bacon for their Baconators is made using Applewood smoked bacon. There will also be items available only in the UK, such as the Veggie Stack, Veggie Bites, and Avocado Veggie Salad. There will also be salads made fresh daily, like the Chicken Caesar or Apple Cranberry. For early risers, Wendy’s will be serving breakfast until 10:30am, offering the likes of The Breakfast Baconator, Croissant Sandwiches and the Classic Egg & Cheese Sandwich with optional bacon or sausage, in addition to a range of coffees including flat whites, cappuccinos and lattes. (The Metro)

Marina O’Loughlin reviews Chameleon, Lurra and Dimsum & Duck: I was drawn back to Basque-style Lurra – as I have to so many places recently – by its outdoor space, an almost secret courtyard. The menu is brutally short. The pastel chic of the restaurant might lead you to suspect small plates and tweezered microherbery. But no. The USP here has always been old cows: retired Galician milkers, as ripe and uncompromising as Seventies club comics. Biting into a slice of our 14-year-old dry-aged Rubia Gallega steak, almost purple meat, its fat a deep ochre, I tasted the years, the life, the grass-feeding. It had a unique pungency. You could describe it as a cross between long-hung beef, blue cheese and cultured butter; or you could, as the pal did, describe it as “rank”. Grilled langoustines were sweet and smoky, crab pintxos laden with flawless crabmeat. And God, Basque cheesecake was angelic, so delicate it was barely kept together by its own structure: hedonistically rich, top blackened, sides oozing seductively. But spendy? Hell, yes. Landing like an explosion in a confetti factory is the newcomer Chameleon. The aim is to dazzle – from its location in the neoclassical church designed by Sir John Soane at 1 Marylebone Road to tables set in a series of plant-decked greenhouses. I was astonished to find myself dazzled by the food. Dips were thrilling, honking with garlic, coriander, chilli (zhug); nutty and sultry with tahini and sweet harissa. Breads were stellar. Too-clever-sounding stuff – aubergine carpaccio, tahini, grape molasses, crispy onion, goat’s cheese, pistachio – was as considered and irresistible as its description was overwrought. The third restaurant, Dimsum & Duck, quietly opened on the unlovely King’s Cross Road. You don’t expect a great deal from outfits like this: busy menu on the window, lots of delivery service branding, decor … well, least said. But everything I’ve eaten from here has been astonishing. (Sunday Times Magazine)

Tom Parker Bowles reviews The Berkeley Beach Huts: So here we are, sitting in a smart wooden beach hut, all bright stripes and faded timber. But instead of screeching gulls, there’s the incessant beep of horns. While the gentle lap of wave upon sand is replaced by the rather less soothing din of drill upon hard concrete. Along with the insidious cacophony of an eternally reversing truck. Because this is London’s Belgravia rather than Norfolk’s Brancaster, although things could be a whole lot worse. There’s a roof over our head, heaters to blast through the unseasonal chill, and a couple of glasses of the palest pink rosé, icy as a North Sea dip. If you are going to take lunch in an urban beach hut, then make sure it’s one built by The Berkeley hotel. Smooth, slickly smiling service, a mainly piscine menu to please even the prissiest of palates. And the easy company of an old friend. First, a toasted sandwich, oozing with Tunworth cheese and a few chopped asparagus heads. Green shoots of hope, still held firmly in winter’s grasp. Very spring 2021. Spiced snapper wings turn out, after a little initial confusion, to come not from poultry, rather fish, more specifically the bits of flesh around the gills, deep fried. Damned good they are, too, while scallops, still opaque in the middle, are sweet and fat and buttery. Hardly cheap, at £24 for two, but they are big old bruisers. And this is The Berkeley, after all. Sea trout, so much better than the environmentally ruinous farmed salmon, is pristinely cooked, and comes with a Sicilian-accented orange and fennel salad, while langoustines, gloriously fresh but a touch overcooked, come bathed in garlic butter. We pick at some artichoke hearts, baked with tomatoes and broccoli. Perfectly OK, but with chips on the side, crisp and hot, to balance out too much clean-eating smuggery. By this time, though, the food is all but irrelevant, as we sink deeper into a decent (and decently priced) claret, well-aged gossip and two-bottle philosophy. A final glass of Calvados, then a covid-friendly hug (is there such a thing?) and a gentle totter home. And while I can’t wait to get back indoors, a faux beach hut outside one of London’s most civilised hotels will do just fine. (Mail on Sunday)

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