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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Sun 31st Oct 2021 - Weekend leisure stories and restaurant reviews
Greggs sues Zurich Insurance for £100m over unpaid covid claim: Greggs has mounted a £100 million legal claim against the Swiss insurance giant Zurich after a disagreement over a covid-related payout. The chain, which has more than 2,000 shops across the UK, claims it is owed the payout as compensation for when its stores had to close due to government-enforced lockdowns. But according to filings lodged in the High Court last week, Zurich instead thinks Greggs should receive just £2.5 million. The court battle is the latest clash between companies and their insurers during covid. Last year, a group of businesses that had cover through Hiscox launched legal action after it told hundreds of businesses that they were not insured for a pandemic. But in January, the Supreme Court ruled that in most cases insurers should pay up. According to the latest filing, Greggs wants Zurich to compensate it for business interruption costs and expenses, as well as costs associated with public relations crisis management. It wants £100 million, or at least £50 million. Last year Greggs benefited from £18.8 million in rates relief and £87 million of furlough support while its shops were shut. It has said it will repay about £5 million of the furlough support. The company made pre-tax profits of £55.5 million in the six months to 3 July, compared to a £65.2 million loss last year. Zurich said it is “confident we have responded to this claim fairly and consistently in line with the test case last summer.” Greggs declined to comment. (Sunday Times)

Roadchef could be about to change hands for up to £1bn: Motorway services giant Roadchef could be about to change hands for up to £1 billion. City sources said its owner – a French infrastructure and private equity firm called Antin – has appointed advisers from Australian investment bank Macquarie to find a buyer for the business. Roadchef is the third largest motorway service area operator in the UK after Welcome Break and Moto. It runs around 30 service stations across Britain. The company was originally set up in the early 1970s by Lindley Catering Investments and Galleon World Travel. Roadchef then grew through a series of takeover deals, including the acquisition of Take A Break and Blue Boar, the fourth largest operator of service stations in Britain. Antin bought Roadchef – where motorists can refuel, use the toilets and buy food from brands ranging from McDonald’s to Leon and Krispy Kreme – for £153 million in 2014. The business has grown substantially since then, with the company forecast to generate operating profits of around £50 million in 2022. The sale of Roadchef comes shortly after Antin floated on the Euronext Paris stock exchange, with the company raising around €550 million from the listing. The company runs four funds that invest in infrastructure in Europe and North America, with a focus on energy, the environment, telecommunications and transportation. (Mail on Sunday)

Parkdean Resorts owner hires bankers to cash in on staycation boom: Britain’s biggest holiday park operator is on the verge of being put up for sale as a boom in staycations fuels its owner’s hopes of achieving a bumper price for the company. Sky News understands that Parkdean Resorts and its Canadian owner, Onex Corporation, have begun working with bankers from Morgan Stanley on a strategic review of the company. City sources say a sale process is likely to be launched in the coming months, although a refinancing under the current owner remains a possibility. Onex bought Parkdean in late 2016 for £1.3bn, and has seen its more than 60 parks operating at near-full capacity this year, according to insiders. The sector as a whole is benefiting from a post-covid bounceback in sales, prompting a string of corporate takeovers in the sector. Insiders say that Onex will hope to fetch significantly more than it paid for the business. On Monday, four bidders – including the Universities Superannuation Scheme, one of Britain’s biggest pension schemes, private equity firm PAI Partners and Starwood Capital, a real estate investor – are expected to table final offers for Park Holidays, another big player in the industry. Park Holidays is expected to be valued at about £850m. Other recent deals in the sector have included CVC Capital Partners buying Away Resorts – the owner of well known holiday parks such as Whitecliff Bay on the Isle of Wight and Sandy Balls in the New Forest – and subsequently combining it with Aria, another operator. Bourne Leisure, the owner of Butlin’s and Haven, was sold in February to Blackstone, another major buyout firm. Parkdean declined to comment. (Sky News)

Why activists say Just Eat Takeaway must slim down after takeover spree: Jitse Groen is not one to shy away from a fight – just ask Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi. In April the US ride-hailing app unveiled plans to take on FTSE 100 food delivery giant Just Eat Takeaway in Germany and Groen, the chief executive, let his feelings be known. “Interesting way of trying to depress our share price @dkhos,” Groen wrote on Twitter, copying in his rival. Khosrowshahi responded by telling him to focus less on his share price and more on his technology and operations. But six months on it has become increasingly difficult for Groen to ignore Just Eat Takeaway’s dismal stock market performance. Over the past year the shares have slumped about 40%, dragging the valuation down to £11 billion. The value of Groen’s 7.2% stake is now below €1 billion. European companies such as Just Eat pioneered the takeaway delivery scene. As lockdowns fuelled a boom in orders, Groen sought to expand his empire by swallowing Grubhub, a takeaway delivery business in the US. Across the pond, those deliveries took longer to take off and the Dutchman hoped to get a slice of a potentially huge market. That deal is now under the microscope and is being blamed for the bulk of the share slump. Last week Cat Rock Capital, the activist US investor with a 5% stake, called on the company to sell Grubhub, months after buying it for £5.3 billion. While many view demands to offload Grubhub so soon after the deal as unreasonable, Groen faces tough questions over whether he has bitten off more than he can chew. David Buttress, the former Just Eat chief executive, wonders whether the three bosses – Groen, chief financial officer Brent Wissink and chief operating officer Jörg Gerbig – are the right people to fend off the might of Uber and others on a global stage. The UK division, Just Eat, used to act as purely a tech platform linking customers to restaurants that could already do their own deliveries. With the growth of Deliveroo, it has hired thousands of previously self-employed riders on employee contracts – a big shift in the business model and one that has hit profit margins. Groen is targeting a longer-term profit margin of above 5% of total order value, which is expected to be €28 billion to €30 billion this year. However, margins will still be negative next year at between -0.6 and -0.8%. (Sunday Times)

City ups bets on Bank of England interest rate rise next week: The City’s biggest investment banks have upped their forecasts of an interest rate rise this week amid the grim outlook for inflation. Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley all moved to predict a small climb in the cost of borrowing at the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee (MPC) meeting. Predicting a 0.15% rise – 15 basis points in City jargon – they argue that the Bank is likely to downgrade its forecasts for the UK economy’s growth and warn that shortages of workers and the supply-chain crisis will drive up prices. In a note to clients, Deutsche said: “We now expect the MPC to deliver its first post-pandemic rate hike – 15 basis points.” It also predicted that the Bank would end its current quantitative easing policy – a month earlier than expected. Markets have begun pricing in a rate rise of about 0.1% for this week, with JP Morgan saying: “A failure to act at all ... would cause unnecessary volatility in market pricing, which could have been avoided with clearer communication.” Some banks, such as Nomura, think that the Bank will wait until December to increase rates, but Nomura predicts that the cost of borrowing will continue to rise next year, hitting 1% by the end of 2022. (The Times)

Sunak to reconsider UK beer tax cut after it excludes small producers: The Treasury is reconsidering a limit to the size of beer barrels that will be included in a new tax cut after an embarrassing photo shoot in which Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak posed with kegs that were too small to classify for the relief. Since the chancellor announced in his Budget speech on Wednesday that draught beer served from containers of more than 40 litres would be subject to a 5% tax cut from 2023, pub industry trade bodies have been lobbying the UK government to reduce the limit to 20 or 30 litres. They argue that leaving it at the larger size excludes the majority of craft brewers and hands a beneficial tax cut to multinational producers. “The 5% draught beer relief is good but the clanger is the size of the container,” said James Calder, chief executive of trade body the Society of Independent Brewers, who pointed out the discrepancy with the barrels used in the ministers’ picture. The trade body, along with the British Beer and Pub Association and the British Institute of Innkeeping, is pushing for a reduction in barrel size despite concern from Treasury officials that reducing to 36 pint kegs – about 20 litres – could encourage consumers to buy containers intended for pubs and use them for private consumption in order to benefit from the relief. The government said on Wednesday that a 5% relief on draught beer would cut 3p from the price of a pint. The changes are subject to a consultation ending in January. The vast majority of craft beer brewed by independent beer producers, who make up about 7% of the brewing industry, is sold to pubs in 20 and 30 litre kegs. Popular beers from large brewers are traditionally sold in a firkin, which is 72 pints or about 40.9 litres. Similarly, lager from multinational breweries is generally sold in 50 litre containers. But increasingly pubs have opted to take the smaller kegs of craft beer to give consumers more choice on the bar. Combie Cryan, co-founder of Round Corner Brewing in Melton Mowbray, said the 40 litre limit on draught relief would put craft brewers “at a massive competitive disadvantage to the bigger multinationals by a margin of 5%”. (The FT)

Alcohol monitor app slammed for wiping users’ drinks tally: One of Britain’s leading alcohol charities has been criticised over the relaunch of its popular lifestyle app that wiped the drinking history of its users along with red-flag warnings of harmful consumption. Funded by the industry, Drinkaware promotes its alcohol consumption app to help curb excessive drinking and monitor consumption. The app, which was launched in 2014, has had more than 600,000 downloads. But since the relaunch on 30 August, some users have complained that more than four years of drinking consumption logged on the app have disappeared, along with the estimated financial cost of heavy drinking sessions. The app has since had more than 100 one-star reviews, the lowest possible rating, on the Apple app store. David Eckhoff, 59, a public relations executive and author of the novel The Royal Factor, said: “[The app’s] totally unusable and I’ve given up recording my alcohol consumption on it. I lost all my data. If they are serious about helping people with alcohol consumption, this is a complete dereliction of duty.” The charity said it had received more than 540 complaints from users after the relaunch. It admitted “sensitive” data did disappear, but said it was not permanently deleted and that it had been working to restore the information. The developers have told hostile reviewers on the Apple app store and the Google Play store that the wiped data is being “migrated” back to the apps. “We apologise for the lag,” said a Drinkaware response posted on 22 October. “There was a large amount of very sensitive information that we took lengths to protect.” “Absolute shambles,” said one user. “Like many other reviews, I have lost all my previous data.” Another wrote: “Why did you update the app with no warning and lose all my data? Some of us really rely on that data as a means of keeping track and empowering ourselves not to drink.” Another said: “Where is the motivation to track week after week, month after month, year after year, when you only show a two-week comparison?” Others said they were ditching the app because it no longer provided a monthly comparison of alcohol intake or carried warnings on previous excessive consumption of more than 50 units a week, equivalent to about five bottles of wine. The charity said the cost of drinking was removed because it was not a popular feature with users. (The Guardian)

Cost of weekly shop to rise after farming minister voices support for meat taxes ahead of Cop26 summit: The cost of a weekly shop is set to rise after a top politician signalled his support for meat taxes – days after the government said there was no chance of such a levy. Ministers drew up secret plans looking at how to clobber Brits with the new tax, all the while telling the public the move would never happen. However, the farce came to light earlier this month when bungling civil servants published plans for the new tax online. And now farming minister George Eustice has backed the bonkers proposal – and says it’ll force farmers to go green. Worryingly, he’s warned there may be more hikes to come as the UK looks at “moving into the realms of things like carbon taxes”. Research papers ordered by the Department for Business laid out how the government hopes to put Brits off eating meat – by making it prohibitively expensive. The Nudge Unit – which is partly owned by the Cabinet Office – recommended whacking millions with taxes on their much-loved bacon, bangers and roast dinners to try and force the public to eat less. They said “interventions” from ministers might include “substantial taxes or regulations” to push them into eating more veggie burgers and salad. In an interview, Mr Eustice said steps are likely to be taken when existing EU agricultural subsidies are finally phased out. He finally admitted the government is already working on a new tax system for parts of the food sector that contribute most to global warming, including meat and dairy. Levies will be placed on high polluters – like cattle farmers – in the hope that it’ll cut emissions, he said. However, any new tax is likely to raise the price of products like burgers and steak. According to the government’s own models, prices are already set to rocket in real terms by 10% over the next five years. (The Sun)

Food party isn’t over, says Street Feast boss after collapse: The founder of Street Feast has said that the London-based food festivals group will return and that its supporters will not be forced to foot losses as he blamed the pandemic for its closure. Jonathan Downey said that he had lost an estimated £25 million from the street food company’s collapse but he was determined that it would return. Supporters of Street Feast included Gary Lineker, the former footballer-turned-television presenter, Giles Coren, The Times restaurant critic, and Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Thomasina Miers, the television cooks. Many of the investors, Downey said, had backed the business through the government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme. The company, founded in 2012 and incorporated with London Union in 2015, was renamed as 100 Clifton and was forced to close with debts of more than £2 million. Of the £2,167,848 owed, £52,531 is in wages, pensions and holiday payments that remain outstanding. The business focused on turning disused industrial spaces around London into street-food markets that were popular with a young crowd. Street Feast held its Eastival event this summer on Three Mills Island, near Bromley-by-Bow, and in September it hosted its last event, in Lewisham, southeast London. Downey, a former corporate lawyer, told the Evening Standard: “A lot of our backers were already rich and successful and weren’t investing for financial gain but were giving us their support as we tried to create something great for London.” However, covid hit hospitality businesses hard. Just over a year ago, Downey closed Milk & Honey, his bar in Soho, blaming the curfew rules in place at the time. He said that Street Feast “was killed because of the lockdowns and government restrictions. We also had some very difficult landlords”. At its height, Street Feast was a millennial touchstone with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and annual revenues above £12 million. Downey said he lost eight years of his life and a paper fortune pegged at £25 million from the collapse but nevertheless intends to revive the concept once the threat of further lockdowns has fully lifted. With the majority of Street Feast’s sites now back in the hands of their landlords, and the founders bruised by their experience, it is possible this will be outside the capital. (Evening Standard)

Covid Plan B – £750m-a-month WFH blow to central London: Moving to the government’s “Plan B” set of measures to counter the spread of covid, including a recommendation to work from home, would cost the fragile central London economy £750 million a month, a study revealed. Analysis for the Standard by a leading City economist highlights the scale of the damage that would be caused on the West End, City and Docklands. The government outlined its contingency plan for the winter last month but said it would only be triggered if rising hospitalisations “put unsustainable pressure on the NHS”. The main elements are compulsory vaccination passports for nightclubs and major events, a legal requirement to wear facemasks in crowded indoor places and advice to work from home. Simon French, chief economist at Panmure Gordon, said: “This analysis shows the challenge the London economy would face from a move to Plan B. Whilst businesses have shown admirable adaptability over the last 18 months, there are considerable costs that are impossible to avoid.” He said of the three measures, the vast bulk of the direct harm would be caused by the work from home order. Since the last of the restrictions were lifted in July, London has seen a slow but steady recovery in footfall, spending and consumer confidence. (Evening Standard)

Rail commuting in Great Britain at less than half pre-pandemic level: The number of train journeys made by commuters in Great Britain remains at less than half of pre-pandemic levels, figures show. The industry body Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said in mid-October the number of railway journeys made by those going to work was just 45% of what it was before the coronavirus crisis. That represents an increase from 33% in late August but highlights the difficulty city centre businesses face in attracting customers as many people continue to work from home. The slowest recovery in commuting trips was in the capital, with demand in London at just 41% of pre-covid levels compared with 54% across the rest of Great Britain. Meanwhile, leisure journeys are at about 90% of what they were before the pandemic, accounting for 55% of all rail journeys, compared with 33% in autumn 2019. The rail industry is running a marketing campaign with the strapline “let’s get back on track” to encourage more people on to trains. It is aiming to create a “sustainable, more passenger-focused future” for the railways, particularly within the commuter market. Operators were continuing to conduct enhanced cleaning of trains, the RDG said. They are also providing information to help passengers avoid the busiest times to travel. It added that four out of five carriages on the railways had systems that refreshed the air every six to nine seconds. The RDG commissioned research by the consultancy firm WPI Economics, which estimates that before the pandemic, train passengers travelling for leisure or work spent an average of £94 a trip excluding their train fares, such as in shops, restaurants, hotels and galleries. That totalled an estimated £133bn a year. (The Guardian)

James Martin says ‘we’ve only ourselves to blame’ on sustainablity of the restaurant industry: A stark picture has emerged as the UK is growing less produce, with self-sufficiency levels in fruit and vegetables steadily falling since the 1980s. Just under 40 years ago, the nation produced 78% of its food needs, according to the National Farmers’ Union, but today, that figure sits at just 64%. Celebrity chef James Martin, who is from Malton in North Yorkshire, grew up on a farm and is under no illusion of the difficulty of making the UK more self-sufficient when it comes to food production. He told The Yorkshire Post: “We don’t grow anywhere near enough food to enable us to be self-sufficient even if we did just eat seasonal produce. The British public are used to having cheap food and a massive choice all year round and I just don’t think they would pay the cost for something that was produced locally and seasonally. The Italians, the Spanish and French are prepared to pay for great produce, but the Brits just aren’t. They want cheaper and cheaper prices and that’s what’s happening in the supermarkets and so the small suppliers don’t get a chance to compete. To understand food properly is to understand how difficult it is to produce. We only have ourselves to blame. The smaller restaurants might be able to become self-sufficient, but I have an 85-room hotel doing 450 covers a day. How is my veg plot supposed to feed all those people? It just isn’t possible to grow enough food to feed all my guests however much I might want to. I am all for helping the environment – I’ve just bought an electric car – but there’s talking about it and doing it. It’s much easier just to talk about it, things have got to change.” (Yorkshire Post)

‘We refuse to become vaccination police’: In-N-Out Burger: West Coast burger chain In-N-Out is refusing to check diner vaccination cards, catapulting itself to the centre of the US’s covid debate. “We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government,” said Arnie Wensinger, In-N-Out’s chief legal and business officer. In early October, the San Francisco Department of Public Health closed the city’s In-N-Out location for violating the city’s health mandates that require proof of vaccination for indoor dining. Health officials in Contra Costa county also indefinitely shut the Pleasant Hill In-N-Out restaurant on Tuesday after failing to check if customers had vaccination cards. Warnings have been given to restaurants in Pinole and San Ramon for similar violations of mandates. In-N-Out, in Irvine, also refuses to adopt the checks. “It is unreasonable, invasive, and unsafe to force our restaurant associates to segregate customers into those who may be served and those who may not, whether based on the documentation they carry, or any other reason,” Wensinger said in a statement to The Independent. “We fiercely disagree with any government dictate that forces a private company to discriminate against customers who choose to patronise their business. This is clear governmental overreach and is intrusive, improper, and offensive,” continued In-N-Out. California governor Gavin Newsom implemented vaccine mandates weeks ago with a pledge to lead the nation in vaccine uptakes, which are slowing as many Californians rebel against what they consider draconian policies. At the beginning of October, Mr Newsom told diners to keep their face masks on between bites of their meals: “Don’t forget to keep your mask on in between bites. Do your part to keep those around you healthy,” he tweeted. (The Independent)

Heston Blumenthal and Yotam Ottolenghi call on diners to help homeless with bill donation: Leading London restaurants are encouraging diners to help the homeless while they eat out. Venues including The Ned, Fergus Henderson’s St John Bread and Wine and Ottolenghi Spitalfields have signed up to the StreetSmart appeal, which sees participating restaurants add a voluntary £1 donation to diners’ bills, with every penny going to good causes. It comes as figures show more than 2,500 people are thought to be sleeping rough in the capital. The effect of the pandemic is seen in statistics from the latest Greater London Authority quarterly report which identified 1,177 people who were sleeping rough for the first time. Chef Jackson Boxer, who runs Orasay in Notting Hill and Brunswick House in Vauxhall and has just opened a new bar on Shaftesbury Avenue, said: “Winter, as we gather in warm, comforting restaurants, should also be a time to think on how we can provide the most basic and essential human needs for every person: food, shelter, care.” His restaurants are among 400 across the country that have signed up to this year’s campaign, from Heston Blumenthal’s Michelin-starred The Fat Duck to a Peckham pizzeria. (Evening Standard)

Marina O’Loughlin reviews The Pack Horse, Derbyshire: The pal who has been very insistent about the Pack Horse has made sure this beautiful corner of the world has its finest togs on. He has booked our table for early evening so the awe-inspiring landscape that surrounds our destination – Hayfield: “Gateway to the Peak District” – is illuminated by rosy fingers of sunset, the typically no-nonsense Pennine architecture stained a blushing pink. In pride of place is the village pub. And, dropping the whimsy for a minute, the sort of place that often sells burgers, steak and chips and chicken goujons, and has pie or curry nights facilitated by commercial catering companies. Let’s not kid ourselves: areas of natural beauty are not always where to come for food of equal loveliness. The audience is either rambler-transient or more interested in pints than pithiviers. When the young couple Luke Payne (kitchen) and Emma Daniels (FOH) took over the Pack Horse five years ago, they started off with the crowd-pleasers, the fish and chips, prawn cocktails and burgers, before gradually morphing into something a whole lot more ambitious. First the burgers were quietly sidelined in favour of pork fillet wellington – tragedy, eh? – then steadily the whole menu followed suit. And now? Wow. Seriously. The food is so good, so classically good, it’s hard to believe the backstory, astonishing to find out that Payne is self-taught. He came from a background in the sort of pub chain where the ping of the microwave is more usual than cries of “Oui, chef”. He’s the full autodidact, learning from books, from the restaurants he admires. His menus are the sexiest things, short enough to reassure but rammed with loveliness. Last words I’ll leave to Thom, the determined pal (with my thanks for the pestering): “The thing with the Pack Horse is that it’s not a fine-dining restaurant that happens to be in a pub – if you can’t have a pint at the bar you’re no longer a pub, just like a restaurant in an old church or school building is no longer a church or a school. It’s a pub that happens to do seriously great food. It has a community, locals who drink in it, dogs, a quiz night, and it welcomes one and all. That doesn’t sound like a rare thing, but it really is.” (Sunday Times)

Tom Parker Bowles reviews Maru, 18 Shepherd Market, London: Pure and pristine. Two words that encapsulate Maru, a new omakase (or ‘we do the choosing, mate’) restaurant hidden away in the back streets of Mayfair’s Shepherd Market. It’s there in the six seats at the immaculate blonde wood bar; the gleaming fridges, where various cuts of fish are artfully dry-aged to intensify their taste; the ceramics, cool and austere, many made by chef proprietor Taiji Maruyama; his flashing blades, and the economy with which he wields them. Even his hair, thick and glossy, piled high on his head. And the food, too. Pretty much everything is sourced in the United Kingdom, with the obvious exception of the tuna. But Maruyama manages to coax, tease, flatter and cajole the most remarkable flavours out of every single course. All 20 of them. Many are no more than a mouthful of nigiri sushi, passed over the counter from his hand to mine; a lozenge of otoro, the fattiest part of the tuna belly, the rice warm and whisperingly vinegared, each grain plump and fecund, the fish deliriously rich. ‘Five-day ice-bath-aged cuttlefish and Exmoor caviar nigiri’ is richer still, like Poseidon’s roar, a stirring symphony of piscine tastes and textures; sea urchin (from Iceland) that combines lascivious filth with perfumed poise; the startling purity of the Cornish ‘red vinegar cure’ mackerel. And a ‘nine-day dry-aged Balfego tuna tamaki’, all crisp smoky nori, soft rice and cool, profoundly flavoured flesh of the deepest red. It’s not just raw fish. There’s a neat pile of Cornish king crab, sweet as young love, entangled in a brown meat jelly that intensifies that crustacean allure. Clear cockle clam soup has a whisper of fennel, and a gasp of pepper. Lobster and summer truffle ‘chawan mushi’ custard is so light it almost floats. Yet still growls with umami depth. All this joy comes at a price. £170 per head, to be precise, plus an extra £85 for the excellent sake pairings. We had to book months in advance (well, my friend Giles did), and sit down to dinner at 5.30pm. There is a later sitting at 8.30pm. It’s not the place for our usual scurrilous gossip either. Still, in a town where people will pay £850 for a hunk of cow wrapped in gold foil, served up by a human salt cellar, Maru doesn’t just offer value. It offers joy, inspiration and pure culinary art. (Mail on Sunday)

Jay Rayner reviews The Seafood Bar, London: It starts badly; terribly, terribly badly. We order the calamari, a sizeable plateful at a sizeable price of £10.50. It is very much old school: a pile of those hefty rings of golden battered mature squid that the British came to associate with the sun-kissed exotica of 1980s Mediterranean holidays. Sangria, sunburn, the glamour of deep-fried calamari. I merely have to glance at them and soft waves of nostalgia wash over me. I can almost smell the Nivea After Sun. Now I bite in and what comes away with the meaty ring is a slippery spittle-thread of something sickly white and troubling. The squid hasn’t been de-membraned before being battered and deep-fried. It looks as if it’s producing dribbles that need to be wiped up with a tissue. It’s cack-handed and a terrible waste. The newly opened Seafood Bar on London’s Dean Street makes a lot of noise about the sustainability of its business in general and the ingredients it uses in particular. But there’s no point bigging up your ethics if you’re not going to attend to the essentials. Happily, it turns out to be an aberration, because we will eventually get to our main courses and they will be magnificent. They will more than make the case for the restaurant’s recent opening. Which is good, because I was beginning to wonder whether it had a hope in hell of surviving. So what of the Seafood Bar? What’s it for? After all, the menu includes a fruits de mer for two at £87.50. That puts it firmly in Sheekey territory, doesn’t it? This is where it gets interesting. It is most definitely about seafood platters for sharing. The thing is, the sharing might not quite be in the way the restaurant itself intended. I am aware that what I’m about to say might undermine their business model, but as this is what I’d tell a close friend, I really ought to tell you this, too. Their platters for one are enough to feed two. But do come for those seafood platters. I will simply have to keep my fingers crossed that they don’t now rethink their portion sizes and prices as a result of what I’ve said. Because what they’re offering deserves a good crowd. (The Observer)

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