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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Sun 24th Oct 2021 - Weekend leisure stories and restaurant reviews
Booster jabs will prevent lockdown, says Rishi Sunak: Shops, pubs and restaurants must not shut again to deal with covid, Rishi Sunak has said, as he insisted that vaccines meant there could be “no more lockdowns”. In an interview with The Times, the chancellor said there must not be a return to “significant economic restrictions” despite warnings from some health experts that the virus could overwhelm the NHS this winter. His comments are the strongest signal yet that the government intends to face down pressure to reimpose restrictions beyond those already laid out by Boris Johnson. Polling for The Times suggests that 69% of the public would support bringing back the work-from-home edict and 76% would back compulsory masks. 22% support shutting pubs and restaurants. Sunak said the vaccine scheme and booster jabs meant that Britain had moved into a new phase of controlling the virus that did not involve widespread economic disruption. “I think we’re just in a very different place to where we were a year ago because of the vaccine,” he said. “There’s this enormous wave of protection, and that changes things. That’s our first line of defence.” He added that ministers had always said the winter would be “challenging” but that did not mean resorting to policies that would harm the economy. “There’s a range of options that are available, and those are not options that involve lockdowns or very significant economic restrictions,” he added. Johnson also suggested yesterday that further lockdowns were unlikely. “I’ve got to tell you at the moment that we see absolutely nothing to indicate that that is on the cards at all,” he said. (The Times)

Covid passports and face mask wearing move step closer to stop cases rising over the winter: Controversial coronavirus curbs moved a step closer last night in a bid to stop cases rising over the winter, a leaked Whitehall document warns. An urgent document detailing Winter Plan B proposals – such as jab passports and face mask wearing – was distributed on Friday demanding to know if there was backing for an “immediate” roll out. The e-mail, marked Official Sensitive, was sent from the UK Health Security Agency to town hall leaders and directors of public health the previous day. An official wrote: “I have been asked to canvas opinion on the level of support for immediate roll out of the Winter Plan – Plan B.” It lists a “menu of measures” including introducing vaccine passports in nightclubs, crowded indoor settings and outdoor venues with more than 10,000 attendees that could be brought in by ministers. There would also be the need for “legally mandating face coverings in certain settings” under plans being considered. The message adds that the public would have to be told “clearly and urgently” that the risk level had increased with “the need to behave more cautiously”. This would include measures such as working from home. Local authority chief executives and council leaders were asked whether they “supported” Plan B with responses being fed into the Cabinet Office. But Tory MP Mark Harper, chair of the Covid Recovery Group, last night said: “This leaked memo directly contradicts the assurances given by ministers only a few days ago. Our vaccines work, covid will be with us forever and we must start to live with this virus as ministers have suggested. If we shut down the economy to manage pressures on the NHS this year, then restrictions will become a seasonal event every year in the future. There are no ‘low cost’ covid restrictions. Plan B would herald the beginning of the end for many businesses across the country. Ministers need to get a grip.” (The Sun)

Sunak in row over Treasury’s failure to cut business rates in Budget: Rishi Sunak is at the centre of a Cabinet row over the Treasury’s failure to cut business rates, despite an explicit Conservative manifesto pledge to do so. A senior minister complained that the chancellor appeared to have been “captured by the Treasury” – which is said to be institutionally opposed to an overhaul of the tax – after it emerged that the Budget would not deliver the Tories’ promise to “cut the burden of tax on business by reducing business rates”. Only minor changes to the system are expected to be announced this week, despite Mr Sunak pledging in March 2020 that a “fundamental review... into the long-term future of business rates” would conclude last autumn. A government spokesman insisted that business rates helped to fund “vital public services”. However, senior Tories have described a potential cut to the levy as the “best single policy” to revive the country’s high streets. The Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto said: “We will cut the burden of tax on business by reducing business rates. This will be done via a fundamental review of the system.” In November 2019, a month before the election, Boris Johnson told a nursery owner: “We will also be doing what we can to support businesses like yours through business rate cuts and other measures.” One Cabinet minister expressed exasperation that “we have been talking about business rates for ages”, without delivering cuts or significant reforms. The minister suggested that the policy had been kicked into the long grass because Treasury civil servants were opposed to the move due to the £25 billion per year yield of the tax in England. “Even brilliant people get captured by the Treasury,” the minister said, in a swipe at Sunak. Sunak is expected to announce more frequent valuations of premises. However, more significant changes have been postponed until next year, along with a decision over an online sales tax to help level the playing field between online and high street retailers. Another government source pointed out that the Conservatives had been promising a meaningful review of business rates since at least 2015. (The Telegraph)

Hospitality leaders urge Rishi Sunak not to hike VAT rate in his autumn budget: More than 200 hospitality industry leaders have written to Rishi Sunak urging him not to up their VAT rate. Ahead of Wednesday’s Budget, they have warned the chancellor they face devastation if the tax is returned to its pre-pandemic level of 20%. It rose to 12.5% this month and is due to return to the 20% rate in April. The business leaders – including the heads of PizzaExpress, Caffè Nero and Travelodge – argued in a joint letter it was ‘vital’ to the industry’s recovery to keep the tax at 12.5% permanently. Any rise would lead to increased prices for families and destroy the sector’s ability to create jobs and boost the recovery, they said. “A reduced rate of VAT empowers us to help deliver your ambitions to “level up” our high streets and communities,” they added. Trade body UKHospitality and the business chiefs also urged Sunak to ‘fundamentally reform’ business rates. (Daily Mail)

Businesses will not survive another winter of lockdown, chief executive of UKHospitality warns: Businesses will not survive another winter of lockdown restrictions, the chief executive of UK Hospitality has warned. Times Radio Presenter Jenny Kleeman asked Kate Nicholls if she thought businesses would survive if the government goes ahead with Plan B. Consumers will not go out and socialise if the government puts a work-from-home order in place, the chief executive of UK Hospitality has warned. Kate Nicholls told Times Radio that when restrictions are in place “consumers do stay at home, they don’t go out and socialise”. She added: “If you move towards vaccine passports, we know from Ireland and other places that they have affected footfall. We could be looking at a second winter where hospitality is running at half its revenue.” (Times Radio)

How covid changed the hospitality industry: Over the past 18 months, restaurants have been reckoning with how they attract, retain and treat their staff. Labour shortages are rife, particularly in the UK post-Brexit. Morale and welfare have become key concerns. For teams returning from furlough, restaurants have been throwing parties as a means of rebuilding community and letting off steam. Among them was HonestFest, staged in a field in Reading for Honest Burgers’ 600-plus staff: it featured live music, street food, CBD cocktails, dodgems, a dunk tank, a “Total Wipeout” obstacle course, even a tattooist. “I don’t know if anyone got a burger tattoo,” co-founder Philip Eeles reports. “I kind of hope they didn’t.” Some positive measures first seen before covid-19 make even greater sense now. Restaurateurs have been reducing opening hours (sometimes closing two days a week) and overhauling rotas, so staff aren’t overworked and have a better work/life balance. Proper training, even at the “low skill, no skill” end of the business, has become a priority, too. Honest Burgers recently overhauled its programme to give new starters at least two days of front- and back-of-house training. Shamil Thakrar of Dishoom has staff development at the heart of his business with programmes such as “Pakshala” (food school) for junior chefs and “Babu Masterclass” for training managers (named after a self-effacing Indian term for leader). “It’s an article of faith that if we look after our people, other things like revenue and customer happiness ultimately look after themselves,” he says. Longer term in the UK, where hospitality can no longer rely on young Europeans with free movement, Tim Siadatan of Padella and Trullo sees the need for a national campaign to sell the industry to the next generation. “Historically, a lot of people have gone into hospitality by default, because they weren’t good at school,” he says. “In countries like Italy, France, Australia, it’s not a tertiary option. It’s taken very seriously. They have quality academies and apprenticeships. We need to change the way we recruit in this country. We need to expose kids to all the wonderful avenues that are possible, from working as a chef to becoming a sommelier, a baker, a cheesemaker. Because hospitality shouldn’t be a plan C. It’s an exciting place to work and a really viable career.” (The FT)

Raab – Ex-cons will be trained to pull pints to help hospitality ‘thrive’ this Christmas: Ex-offenders will be trained to help run pubs, cafes and restaurants following concerns of labour shortages in the run-up to Christmas, Dominic Raab has announced. The new scheme will take place across several prisons, encouraging “vetted and appropriate ex-offenders” to play their part. It comes in an attempt to help the hospitality sector bounce back, after having been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with previous staff forced to adapt and change careers. The Justice Secretary announced that both ex-convicts and existing inmates would be called in to help with the HGV driver shortage too. He told LBC that he wanted to draft them in to support the economy instead of relying on the “old addiction” of foreign labour. “It’s a rewarding career for someone in need of a second chance and a way businesses can help us cut re-offending,” Mr Raab told the Evening Standard. “I’m determined to use more prisoners to keep London’s hospitality industry thriving whilst ensuring its streets are safer than ever before.” He added: “Business owners have told me ex-offenders are among the most reliable and motivated workers in their team – they have a desire to prove themselves trustworthy and they have something to lose.” HMP Wandsworth is one of ten prisons in England and Wales on a recruitment drive to fill gaps across different sectors while also enabling inmates to learn new skills. As part of the scheme, hospitality leaders will visit the prisons urging offenders to apply ahead of the Christmas period. (Evening Standard)

‘Burnt out’ and ‘exhausted’ social care staff quit to fill hospitality and tourism roles: Desperately needed social care staff are quitting their jobs to work in the tourism and hospitality sector because they are ‘burnt out’, the sector has warned. Exhausted staff are leaving the key worker roles to fill shortages in other sectors, as pubs and restaurants struggle to find enough staff. Urgent action is needed to stop a “tsunami of unmet need” rippling across essential services this winter, the care regulator has warned. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) says health and care staff are “exhausted and depleted” and working under intense levels of pressure. CQC chief executive Ian Trenholm, said social care staff suffering for burnout are moving into tourism and hospitality jobs sector. (ITV News)

Deliveroo share plunge triggers hunt for new broker: It’s been a bumpy ride for Deliveroo since its keenly awaited stock market float in March. Shares in the restaurant delivery app company, whose teal-coloured riders on bikes and mopeds have become a staple of life in British cities, crashed 26% on their debut in one of the worst flotations in the history of the London Stock Exchange. The inquest quickly began into which of its army of banks – including Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan – was to blame for the dreadful flotation. Despite a recovery over the summer lifting the shares to the float price, the stock is back in free fall. Deliveroo, founded in 2013 by chief executive Will Shu counts former chancellor George Osborne’s fiancée as chief customer officer. It has been caught up in the sell-off of shares in online companies as life returns to normal after the pandemic. Perhaps it’s in need of a helping hand. Prufrock hears the company is currently holding a beauty parade of banks clamouring to become its house broker. A mole whispers that a decision on the victorious firm is likely to be made next month and could help the company with its investor relations. Prufrock can’t help wondering why it has taken Deliveroo this long to find a broker, however – given that no fewer than six banks helped usher it to market! (Sunday Times)

Go Ape founders to give staff control of business: The husband and wife team who founded Go Ape are handing control of their business to their 1,000 staff in what its co-founder Tristram Mayhew called an “experiment in social capitalism”. The outdoor adventure company, which Mayhew and his wife Rebecca set up 19 years ago, will be sold to a John Lewis-style employee ownership trust after the entrepreneurs decided staff should be trusted with the future of the business over professional investors. “We knew deep down we would never be comfortable selling the business to investors,” Mrs Mayhew said, adding that the deal would allow staff to “share more fully and equitably in the future direction and success” of the company. The business, based in Bury St Edmunds, offers activities such as zipwiring, climbing trees and axe throwing and has 35 sites in the UK. The Mayhews set it up in 2002 after they came across a family “having the time of their lives” swinging through the trees while holidaying in France the previous year. After quitting their corporate jobs they set up their first adventure site in Thetford Forest on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk. The company now welcomes more than a million customers a year and also has 16 sites in the US. The Mayhews, who owned 61% of Go Ape, had considered selling part of the company to professional investors in 2018 but Mr Mayhew said: “We realised we would never feel comfortable. A buyer would rip it up. They don’t care about the whole. We heard about employee ownership trusts. We care deeply about the business and feel that this is a better way of transitioning, rather than selling out to the highest bidder.” There will be no immediate windfall for most Go Ape staff but employee ownership means they stand to share in the proceeds of the company’s success as it grows. (The Times)

Pub to hold girls-only night every week amid fears of injection spikings: A Nottingham pub is set to introduce a weekly girls-only night following reports of spiking in the city. The Playwright, located near Nottingham Trent University’s city campus, will hold its first event for female customers only on 3 November. No men will be permitted entry and it will be staffed by an all-female team. It comes after reports of women being spiked by injections inside nightclubs in Nottingham. Josh Wheelhouse, the manager of the pub, told Nottinghamshire Live: “We are just very excited to do it. I have already spoken to a couple of societies at Nottingham Trent University, and we will actually organise workshops to educate women on what to do in situations that would put them at risk.” Wheelhouse said, at first, he was hesitant to introduce the women-only night, worried he might be perceived by others as “the guy who is trying to make money out of this terrifying thing that happens to women”. But he added: “I felt like I needed to do something. I do not think it is fair for women to stay home – we should be the ones to do that. So we are making moves and I am in discussions with other pubs who are considering to implement this.” (The Independent)

Marina O’Loughlin reviews Oxheart, Warwickshire: In this game, it’s a fine line between shining a light on a tiny new restaurant and killing it stone dead. Sometimes small indies simply aren’t equipped for the attention they’ll attract in the wake of a rave – not least an avalanche of online review site fans hoping to lock and load their Operating Thetan-level accounts. So I’m apologising to chef Mark Ramshaw in advance. There’s no upside to giving the little guys a right shoeing – for anyone concerned. It’s taking a piledriver to a drawing pin. But praise can be every bit as tricky. Mom’n’pop joints usually find their own levels, unless they’re remarkable at either end of the scale. They’ll die natural deaths on the one hand; on the other, up looms the likes of me. Oxheart isn’t so much mom’n’pop as just … pop. The night we breeze in, Ramshaw, the chef and owner, is working entirely solo in his mini kingdom (he calls it a “micro restaurant”; there are, I think, about 14 covers between the small dining room and kitchen counter, and it’s currently open only on a Friday and Saturday evening). There’s no front of house, nor, peering into the kitchen, do I spy so much as a plongeur. It’s a curious set-up all round, but then Ramshaw has taken a curious route to fine dining: he’s a former journalist and editor – digital and gaming, I believe. Given that beat, the solitary life shouldn’t be too much of a departure. Will this review kill Oxheart? I doubt it. Ramshaw isn’t arrogant – he comes across as quite shy despite the task he has set himself. But he’s confident in what he’s offering. The restaurant’s earlier URL read, which made me laugh before thinking, “Go, you!” For the amount of time, effort and sourcing that goes into every dish, the price is as atypical as the rest of the place. I can’t remember the last time I had such an assured ten-course tasting menu with wines – even a martini each – where the bill didn’t cost north of a ton a head. Ramshaw is evidently up for the acclaim, so here it is. I’m pretty sure he can handle it. (Sunday Times Magazine)

Jay Rayner reviews Chakana, Birmingham: Something odd is going on. It’s a very good kind of odd, but odd all the same. It is as if my brain, the reflective, processing part of me, is lagging far behind my tongue, the boisterous, bluntly sensing part of me. I’m being knocked sideways by the bold hit of citrus and chilli; by flavours with the brightness turned up to maximum, alongside the bash of seaweed and the softness of sesame. And then there are the dizzying visuals. The plate in front of me is a ravishing blast of crimson and green. There are lozenges of the deepest purple overlaid by lacy fronds of micro herbs. There is an awful lot going on in this plate of tuna Nikkei ceviche, and it’s all kinds of fabulous. It has been served to me at Chakana, a Peruvian restaurant in Moseley, Birmingham, that opened two years ago. I am quietly ashamed of myself for taking so damn long to get here. The chef Robert Ortiz has serious credentials. He grew up in Peru’s Amazonian hinterland, near the Marañón River, cooking with the family matriarchs before starting to cook professionally. He moved to London where he trained at some of the city’s biggest hotels. After a stint back in Peru, he became head chef at the Peruvian restaurant Lima in London’s Fitzrovia, where he won a Michelin star. Struck by my shining positivity, one reader recently suggested I had become prone to hyperbole. Nonsense. Whatever the caricature, I am just a naturally sunny individual who looks only for the good. Certainly, if I experience the good, I damn well say so. And Chakana is very good indeed. It’s that rare thing: a genuinely exciting restaurant. Don’t miss out on the ride. (The Observer)

Tom Parker Bowles reviews the White Rabbit, Oxford: Wilding seems like a fine place to eat on the most filthy of north Oxford days, all dreich gloom and bitter, driving rain. There’s a serious wine shop as you walk in and, further on, booths leading to a huge terrace at the back. We arrive, my daughter and me, drenched, starved and soaked to the bone. Pizzas await, and trout tartare, and burgers, carpaccio and steak. But there’s a problem. Thanks to the staff crisis that is crippling the entire hospitality industry, their chef is on a much-needed break. So would we mind awfully waiting half an hour before he gets back. Of course, we say, and settle into our booth, nibbling on fat, briny olives and smoked almonds. I glug a cracking glass of Greek white. This place looks very good indeed. Thirty minutes later, chef is back. But alas, no pizza. They simply haven’t got the staff. The problem is, I had promised Lola pizza. So it is with heavy heart that we move on, with huge apologies from the very kindest front of house. They refuse to let me pay for the drinks. I will be back. In the meantime, we step out into the deluge and trudge to The White Rabbit, just off Gloucester Green. It’s little more than a pub, with loud music, and wobbly tables, but it’s warm and welcoming, and they serve good beer. Pizzas too. About 30 different varieties, plenty enough to send the purists mad. No Neapolitan-style pizzaiolos here, or authentic wood-fired ovens. And all the better for it. We order at the bar, as The Who wail in the background, and eat fluffy doughballs dunked in garlic butter, and chew decent salami, with pickles, and revel in being out of the cold. Pizzas, ostensibly Roman style, are generous, with a base that sits between the crisp and chewy, and decently puffed-up crust. Tomato sauce is fresh and sharp, the mozzarella sitting in molten puddles. My Diavola is piled high with pepperoni, peppers and a good handful of saltily intense anchovies. Lola keeps it pure, just a Margarita. Better than PizzaExpress, she says. Better than The Oak in Shepherds Bush, too. We like this place very much. Outside, the rain hammers down. I order another pint. (Mail on Sunday)

Giles Coren reviews José Pizarro at the Royal Academy: I do so wish they wouldn’t hide really good new restaurants in those buildings – which is happening more and more these days – because it drastically reduces my chances of finding them. Like José Pizarro at the Royal Academy, for example, which is that big building on Piccadilly that looks like Hogwarts and has parties in the summer where elderly Rolling Stones squelch up to barely dressed teenage supermodels and it all ends up in the back of Tatler, and which we all know has paintings in it, but aren’t really sure which ones. Still, I went off to JP at the RA full of good intent this morning, attracted by the fact that it opened at 11.30am – the restaurant, not the gallery – which is unusually early and meant I could eat and get back to my office in Fitzrovia to write it up and file the same afternoon. From the list of two dozen hot and cold tapas on the single A4 list brought to my comfy corner spot by a lovely Spanish lady over the next hour, I had some of the mouthfuls of my year so far. This was proper food. Wonderful ingredients, masterfully prepared. I’ve met José a few times and he is a lovely, lovely man, and I have eaten a couple of times in one of his places on Bermondsey Street, but I somehow hadn’t grasped what an utter genius he is. The marriage of food and place here is a thing of timeless wonder. There can be no better room on earth in which to eat such food, nor better food to eat in such a room: the architecture elevates the tapas to a higher plane just as the immaculate tapas slap the vertiginous space into a bit of humility. I’ll be back, over the coming days and weeks, to eat the rest of the dishes and marvel at the wonder of it all from my little spot in the corner. Who knows, I may even pause to look at the pictures next time. But, frankly, this perfect exhibition by José Pizarro is all the art I need. (The Times Magazine)

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