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Thu 9th Mar 2023 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Hornby – I am confident our main shareholders are behind our strategy, seeing proper volume growth: Andy Hornby, chief executive of The Restaurant Group (TRG), the Wagamama and Brunning & Price owner, has said he is confident that the company’s main shareholders are behind its strategy and “they certainly think we are really delivering”. TRG announced a three-year plan to reduce debt and improve margins in what was widely viewed as a riposte to criticism from activist shareholder Oasis Management Company. It led to some speculation that the company might announce plans for a significant disposal, such as the sale of its pub business Brunning & Price. Hornby told Propel: “We are in constant dialogue with our top 20 shareholders. I am really confident that they are behind our strategy and they certainly think we are really delivering. No one is saying your results are not really creditable in the industry backdrop. We equally say in this morning’s update that we continually review our strategic options, and ultimately, I’m a FTSE chief executive, and I can't say no if someone knocks on the door with a knock out price. What life is about is delivering value constantly, and I think by having shown that we will increase the value of all four of our constituent parts over the next three years, we’ve gained some credit today. That’s certainly been the feedback. We haven’t made a radical announcement, which is why the share price has gone up in the past two weeks, and we always knew there would be some correction on the day. It feels like the people think we are right. Anyone can say ‘sell an asset’, what you have to do is make sure you are increasing the value of all four constituent parts, and that will give shareholders long-term optionality. If we don’t deliver on our plan over the next few years, people should be hard on us. Our responsibility is to say this is how we're going to improve the business, and particularly after both covid and the cost-of-living crisis, where everyone in the sector has taken an Ebitda margin hit. We have put our necks on the line by being really clear how we're going to recover a good portion of that.” The business did announce it would exit from about 35 uneconomic sites in its leisure division. He said: “We are in effect downsizing leisure at the same time as we grow Wagamama, grow Barburrito, and hopefully when asset prices start adjusting again, grow pubs. It is not a slash and burn approach, it is us saying we will take those lease opportunities when they emerge, and that means that we will probably get out of around 30 sites by the end of 2024. Bear in mind, in that same time period, we will open five or six Wagamama a year, probably two or three Barburrito a year. Our total portfolio mix is what's changing, not our absolute numbers.” Hornby said there are “definitely more people going to eat out in January and February this year than they were last year”. He said: “When you look at the Wagamama mix, you have delivery down 17% and dine-in up 16% on a VAT adjusted basis. There is proper volume growth there. I think that 17% decline in delivery is about normalised. The thing that is really encouraging is that you only have to look at both Wagamama and Brunning & Price’s numbers to see how strong dine-in demand has been. I am genuinely surprised by it and just hope it continues.”

Industry News:

Martin Williams to speak at first Propel Multi-Club Conference of 2023, three free places per company for operators: Martin Williams, chief executive of Gaucho and M Restaurants, will be among the speakers at the first Propel Multi-Club Conference of 2023. The conference takes place on Thursday, 23 March, at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London’s Kensington, and is open for bookings. The all-day conference will focus on “challenges and opportunities”. Williams will talk about rebooting the business, taking a leading role on sustainability, rising to the recruitment challenge and returning to the expansion trail. Operators can book up to three free places per company by emailing

Latest edition of Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book to feature updated figures for 45 companies: The latest edition of Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book will feature updated figures for 45 companies. Premium subscribers will receive the next edition of the Blue Book tomorrow (Friday, 10 March), at midday. It now features 709 companies that are turning over a total of £40.2bn. The Blue Book shows 455 companies in profit and 254 reporting losses. The Blue Book is updated each month and ranks companies by turnover, profit and profit conversion, listing directors’ earnings for the past five years. Premium subscribers also receive access to four other databases: the Propel Multi-Site Database, produced in association with Virgate; the New Openings Database; the Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage; and the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £445 plus VAT for operators and £545 plus VAT for suppliers. Email to upgrade your subscription. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers are also to be given exclusive access to the recording and slides to Propel Multi-Club Conferences. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before; regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel group editor Mark Wingett.

Sector vacancies drop but wage bills climb: Labour shortages at Britain’s top managed hospitality groups may be starting to ease, the 2023 Business Leaders’ Survey from CGA by Nielsen IQ and Fourth has shown – but rising wage bills are piling more pressure on some fragile businesses. The survey shows one in 11 roles (9%) are currently vacant and open for application. It marks a drop of two percentage points since the last survey of leaders in October 2022. The rate of churn – the proportion of staff leaving a business in the last three months – has, meanwhile, dipped by three percentage points to 16%. Despite improvements, vacancy and churn levels continue to cause concern. Only a third of leaders (33%) said they feel confident about their ability to recruit. Attracting and keeping staff has also come at a significant cost, with hospitality businesses raising their pay by 12% and 11% for new and existing staff respectively in the last 12 months – just ahead of the rate of inflation. More than half (57%) of business leaders said cultivating the right working culture has been effective in improving retention, while a high level of communication with staff (41%), a focus on staff well-being and mental health (33%) and creating learning and development opportunities (33%) have been impactful. Industry collaboration – including via the Hospitality Rising campaign – has also helped to improve the reputation of pubs, bars and restaurants as places to build a career for younger workers, leaders said. Sebastien Sepierre, managing director – EMEA at Fourth, said: “While the pressures related to labour shortages might be starting to ease, it is apparent that workforce related challenges are very much continuing to keep operators awake at night.” Karl Chessell, CGA’s director – hospitality operators and food EMEA, added: “Hospitality is one of the UK’s most dynamic industries for job creation and it can kickstart the economic recovery, but first it needs targeted government support on labour shortages and cost challenges.”

Just Eat launches carbon labelling trial: Just Eat has launched a carbon labelling trial in Brighton in a first of its kind for a UK food delivery platform. Alongside My Emissions, a provider of food carbon calculations and labelling, Just Eat is working with five restaurant partners for the next 12 weeks to display a “traffic light” carbon rating next to main meals. The ratings take into account the farming, production, transport and packaging of the dishes. Participating restaurants will display a carbon label rated from A (very low carbon impact) to E (very high carbon impact) by incorporating a traffic light colour system on their Just Eat page, meaning consumers will be able to better understand the carbon impact when choosing a meal. The trial is initially taking place with Smoque Burger, No Catch, BrewDog, Fat Pizza and Fat Burgers and Desserts. Fat Pizza and Fat Burgers and Desserts is expanding the trial to more than 40 stores nationwide on the Just Eat platform. Just Eat estimates 80% of the wider marketplace carbon footprint is generated by food and food production. The trial aims to address this by helping consumers better understand the environmental impact of their food choices and by supporting restaurant partners in offering more sustainable options. Jaz Rabadia, head of responsible business and sustainability at Just Eat Takeaway, said: “We are committed to building a more sustainable future for the food delivery industry. This trial, with the support of our restaurant partners, aims to empower and educate our consumers on the impact food choices can have on our planet.” Just Eat said the results of the trial will help Just Eat assess how the initiative could be scaled more widely.

Purple Story makes L&D acquisition: Entrepreneurial learning consultancy Purple Story is to acquire the learning and development division of workplace culture business Purple Cubed. Purple Story was founded in 2019 by Karen Turton, former director of Nando’s and Turtle Bay Restaurants. Turton said: “I’m a huge fan of the work that [founder] Jane Sunley, [managing director] Jo Harley and the team at Purple Cubed do and couldn’t be more delighted to carry on their great work in the learning and development arena. We will continue to work closely together as they develop their new Hendrick & Hyde consulting brand and Korero, a company set up by Purple Cubed employees who recently carried out a management buy-out of the Talent Toolbox talent and performance management software.” To support its growth, Purple Story has restructured, with Lynda Merryweather promoted to chief operating officer and Kelly-Anne Coyle promoted to head of operations. Karen Turton will be speaking at the Propel Multi-Club Conference on Thursday, 23 March at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London’s Kensington. Operators can book up to three free places per company by emailing

End in sight for rail strikes as RMT holds pay deal referendum: Rail strikes are a step closer to being cancelled after the RMT said it will ask its members whether they want to accept a new pay deal. The Telegraph reports that the RMT said it was not making a recommendation on how to vote on the offer, which is not conditional on accepting Network Rail's modernising maintenance agenda, which the RMT does not endorse. It also involves a salary increase of 14.4% for the lowest paid and 9.2pc for the highest paid staff. There is an additional 1.1% on basic earnings and increased backpay. The newspaper said RMT members in Network Rail will now decide whether to accept the offer in a referendum starting on 9 March and concluding on 20 March at midday. Network Rail’s strike on 16 March will not go ahead while union members vote on the ballot. However, passengers still face disruption on that day and on 18 and 30 March and 1 April as RMT members with 14 train operating companies go ahead with planned walkouts in their separate dispute over pay. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Network Rail have made a new and improved offer and now our members will decide whether to accept it. We will continue our campaign for a negotiated settlement on all aspects of the railway dispute.”

SPBA calls on sector in Scotland to make its voice heard in advertising consultation: The Scottish Beer & Pub Association has called on the sector in Scotland to make sure its voice is heard, as the consultation on alcohol advertising and sponsorship closes today (Thursday, 9 March). A spokesperson said: “It is vital Scotland’s pubs and bars have their say by responding to the consultation, which could have widespread consequences and added costs for the on-trade. While a series of roundtables have been held by the public health minister, this remains the only opportunity at this stage for the publicans and other hospitality operators to feed in directly the impacts it would potentially have on their businesses. The far-reaching consultation could see legislation covering many elements of hospitality. That’s why it’s crucial as many as possible respond via the Scottish government website.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with an operator of venues and restaurants in London that is looking for an operations director. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “You will have the ability to help shape and contribute at an operational and people level. The business is looking for someone who will love being present on-site; engaging with general managers; observing and improving service through mentoring and guidance, and also someone who will easily help the team in peak service. As operations director, you will have a strong hold on financials and commerciality and will help to control and boost revenue. Ideally, you will have high-end/luxury experience in your skill set – this will sit across restaurants, bars, and clubs.” The salary is up to £100,000. For more information, email

Company News:

El Mexicana business acquired out of administration for £150,000: The bulk of the El Mexicana business, which was bought via a pre-pack administration by its former directors last week, was acquired for a total consideration of £150,000, Propel has learned. Propel revealed in January that the Mexican burrito brand, which was founded in 2011 by John Coverley, a former head of convenience stores at Sainsbury’s, had appointed advisors to explore its strategic options, including seeking further investment into the business. Administrators from Interpath Advisory completed a sale of a number of entities within parent company Elmex Group, which will see ten El Mexicana and Don Churro food outlets across the UK continue to trade. The business was sold to Cholco Consulting, which comprises Cloverly and Paul Stagg as directors. Propel understands that six initial expressions of interest were received by the administrators from five parties. Five of those offers were for the trade and assets of the companies which made up the El Mexicana business, with one high-level offer received on a solvent basis. The joint administrators said: “This solvent offer was not deemed to be viable, following further discussion with the interested party and the lender. Following the final bid deadline, there were two offers put forward on an insolvent pre-pack administration basis. The offer ultimately accepted was from the purchaser for a pre-pack sale of certain business and assets of the companies for a total consideration of £150,000, paid immediately upon completion.” The transaction has seen nine El Mexicana sites continue to trade – five locations with motorway services operator Extra – at Baldock, Beaconsfield, Cambridge, Cobham and Peterborough, plus sites in Romford, Stevenage, Swindon and Worcester. Further sites at Luton airport and in Chelmsford have closed. The joint administrators said: “The group’s trading performance continued to deteriorate through 2022, due to an increasingly challenging trading environment. These issues resulted in the group struggling to generate sufficient cash to continue paying its overheads, resulting in a cash flow requirement. The group was forecasting a funding requirement in excess of £350,000 by the end of February 2023.” Thincats previously supported the business with funding up to circa £2.3m but were “not willing to provide any more funding” prior to its administration.

Dodo Pub Company on a “journey of self-funded growth”, enthusiasm for “side hustles”: Oxford-based operator Dodo Pub Company has told Propel it is on a “journey of self-funded growth” and that its so-called “side hustles” have been met with enthusiasm. As reported earlier this week by Propel, the company, which is chaired by Patrick Henchoz, who set up the Esporta rackets and gym chain, will open its seventh site, and first in Bristol, this May after securing the Cross Hands in Fishponds. The pub will reopen under the new name, The All Inn. The company was founded in 2009 by Leo Johnson and Chris Manners. Johnson told Propel that the business is on a “journey of self-funded growth” and that it was aiming to have an estate of ten pubs within the next three years, as it continues to look to rescue “run-down and unloved pubs”. As a solution to empty and underutilised space above pubs, Johnson and Manners have developed “side hustles”, including co-working spaces and independent cafes housed in their existing sites. They established Dodo Works above The Bottle of Sauce site in Cheltenham in 2018, with a second Dodo Works, above The Part & Parcel in Witney, opening in 2021. The business offers 56 desks in Cheltenham and 26 in Witney, plus three conference rooms, and has more than 100 members. In 2021, it launched Caffeine & Cake – which currently comprises The Cake Hole at The Up in Arms, Oxford, and The Hatch, at The Part & Parcel in Witney. These are independently operated cafes that exist within the Dodo Pub Co venues, which open early seven days a week for artisan coffee, pastries and speciality cakes.

New World Trading Co moves closer to Brighton opening, Derry steps down as NED: Graphite Capital-backed pub restaurant group The New World Trading Company (NWTC) has moved a step closer to opening a site in Brighton. Propel understands that the 35-strong business has secured approval to open a site under its The Botanist brand in a first-floor unit in the city’s Churchill Square. The business, which recently opened a The Botanist in Barnsley, has sites in Edinburgh, Durham, Sunderland and a second site in Chester – which will feature new concept North Light – already in progress for 2023. The company, which recently closed its site in Didsbury, expects to open between five and eight sites per year. At the same time, Propel understands that Brasserie Bar Co chairman Mark Derry has stepped down as a non-executive director of NWTC. Derry joined the then Chris Hill-led company’s board at the start of 2019 and helped successfully steer the business through the past few challenging years for the sector.

Tonkotsu secures Bristol site, period of strong performance: Ramen restaurant group Tonkotsu, which is backed by YFM Equity Partners and chaired by Sarah Willingham, is to strengthen its regional presence with an opening in Bristol. The new site in the city’s Baldwin Street, which will open later this year, will be the group’s third outside London and 17th overall. The business, which was launched in Soho in 2012 by Ken Yamada and Emma Reynolds, currently operates regional sites at Selfridges Birmingham and in Brighton. With another London restaurant site in the pipeline for this year, Tonkotsu said it was making steady growth towards 20 sites, in a period of “strong performance” for the group. Yamada said: “After fighting through the last couple of years of Brexit, covid and inflation, we’ve come out the other side confident and excited about the future. With continued progressive menu development and strong operations, we’ve been outperforming the market for the last six months, and I’m sure this Bristol restaurant will add to the ongoing strong group performance.” Recent senior appointments to the business include Jaime Keeble, formerly of Honest Burgers, as head of brand, along with Igor Polok, who joined as operations manager from Bills in 2022, and Trieu Luu, who has been promoted to people and culture manager. This month, Tonkotsu will also be launching a range of smaller-sized ramen across all its sites, to give customers more choice of price point. The smaller size, of which a limited range has always been available as part of the lunch deal, will be expanded to include all ramen on the menu and be available throughout the day and night.

Bear to open sixth site: Midlands cafe bar concept Bear is to open its sixth site, in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. The business has acquired the former Bennetts store in St John Street, with the new outlet launching later this spring. Bear will also be bringing its new evenings concept, Later at Bear, to the space every Friday and Saturday from 4pm. The menu consists of fully stacked smash burgers, taco trays, loaded fries and “twisted cocktail classics”. Co-founder Craig Bunting said: “Bear was born on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border, so investing in such an iconic location in Ashbourne feels like a great way to pay homage to the space and our history across the two counties. We’re proud of our Midlands heritage – Bear combines our countryside roots with all of the best bits of our collective inner-city influences.” Last month, Bear, which was founded in 2016, closed a private equity fundraise with Clark Group to help it open new stores. At the time, Bunting told Propel the business has “global potential”.

Mildreds team to open second site for Mallow concept: Vegan restaurant group Mildreds will open a second site for its fledgling vegan concept, Mallow, in London’s Canary Wharf, this June. Mallow first opened in Borough Market in November 2021. Situated in Wood Wharf, the new restaurant will serve 150 covers – 100 inside across two floors and 50 across an outdoor terrace. Mallow will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner offering a “relaxed dining-style atmosphere, serving 100% plant-based dishes with a strong focus on sustainability, seasonality and provenance”. The restaurant will also feature a bar area for locals to enjoy evening drinks, serving a variety of handcrafted cocktails, vegan wines and beers. Sam Anstey, managing director of Mildreds, said: “Wood Wharf, Canary Wharf is a thriving, social and sustainable community where people live and work. It felt like the perfect location to open a second Mallow restaurant. We’re proud to be opening amongst some of London’s most iconic restaurants, bringing a vibrancy to the local area. We hope mallow will offer a welcoming space for local residents, office workers and visitors to enjoy plant-based dining, whether meeting for breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner.” Mildreds currently operates six sites under its eponymous brand across London and is understood to be in talks on a further opening in the capital for later this year. 

Barrie brothers close Liverpool restaurant after landlord dispute: Brothers Liam and Ellis Barrie have closed their Lerpwl restaurant in Liverpool’s Royal Albert Dock after its landlord demanded a £30,000 payment in a dispute over pandemic rent debt. In an open letter, Liam wrote: “The business plan for Lerpwl, developed well before any sight or sound of a pandemic, has proved no match for the voracity of covid, nor the challenges of the post-covid trading environment.” He claimed lawyers for Lloyd’s Bank, the restaurant’s landlord at the Royal Albert Dock development, had demanded the £30,000 following an arbitration process. Liam added: “It cannot continue that the Lerpwl team over-reach to meet our standards of delivery, only for the revenue created to be absorbed in the legal entanglement. The losses incurred in the initial phase of launching, having been delayed and disrupted by covid, depleted vital resources and hindered the ability to react to the different obstacles faced in the periods since. The menus, team set-up and formation have been restructured time and time again to navigate the multiple challenges that hospitality has faced since March 2020. Ultimately, the business has never fully recovered.” Work has started to find employment opportunities for the team at Lerpwl, which opened in autumn 2020.

Bennett Hay promotes Zoë Watts to MD: Catering company Bennett Hay has promoted Zoë Watts to managing director. Watts will take the helm at the start of April and will be responsible for the independent hospitality business’ growth plans. She joined Bennett Hay as business development director in the summer of 2021 and has continuously secured new clients, retained existing business and led on marketing and innovation across Bennett Hay’s portfolio of workplace catering and reception contracts. Owner directors Robin Hay and Anthony Bennett will remain directly involved and take ownership of corporate governance, strategic planning and key partnerships. Bennet said: “Zoë has been instrumental in driving the business and reinforcing our culture and values. Robin and myself are delighted to be handing over the reins and to seeing her enthusiasm and tenacity take us to the next level. We will continue to be involved in the business by focusing on our specialisms and giving Zoë any support and mentorship she may require.”

New food hall coming to open at Salford Quays: Central Bay, a new, £3.5m independent waterfront dining and drinking destination, is to be located at Quayside MediaCity, Salford. Named after the original stretch of dock which was once a thriving loading bay during the industrial revolution, Central Bay will offer 25,000 square feet of food and drink experiences. The Blend Family – the operator behind the 2022 British Street Food Awards ‘Food Hall of the Year’, Cutlery Works in Sheffield and The GPO in Liverpool – has been brought on board to run and develop the food hall, which will be known as Kargo. The street vendor elements of Central Bay will be branded Kargo Mkt, aligning with the area’s rich history. Earmarked for a summer 2023 launch, Central Bay will be one of the biggest independent food and drink operations in the north. It will house four independent restaurants, 13 kitchens, pop-up events, indie markets, live music performances and recreation space for children, with more announcements set to be made in the coming months. Matt Bigland, founder and chief executive of Blend Family, said: “This is an exciting development for us, and the passion that the Quayside MediaCity team have for creating new, exciting experiences for everyone who lives, works, and visits the area is infectious. We can’t wait to announce Central Bay and Kargo’s first line-up of incredible food vendors and bring our offering to Salford.”

Zizzi unveils ‘biggest menu refresh to date’: Azzurri Group-owned Zizzi has unveiled what it said is its biggest menu refresh to date. Its new spring offer includes more than 20 new or refreshed menu options and drinks, including seven desserts. Dishes include chicken spiedini, wild mushroom brindisi and an Italian garden rustica pizza. For the first time, the Zizzi menu includes an exclusively shaped “00” fresh free range egg pasta, including truffle and pancetta carbonara. Kathryn Turner, director of Zizzi food development, said: “Listening to customer feedback and adding twists to Zizzi classics, we are excited to introduce new dishes and drinks appealing to different tastes and dietary requirements. This menu is bold, exciting, and full of delicious flavours.” Over the past twelve months, Zizzi has opened five new restaurants and revamped 13 sites. The brand has also launched its the Zillionaires’ Club loyalty platform, which to date has 235,000 members.

Joseph Holt opens first hotel: North west brewer and retailer Joseph Holt has opened its first hotel in its 173-year history. The company has acquired the former Premier Inn next to one of its pubs, the Cat and Lion in Stretton, and has renamed the expanded operation as the Cat and Lion Country Pub and Hotel. Joseph Holt has been in the same family for six generations and owns 127 pubs across the region. Seven of these venues do have rooms but are limited to eight bedrooms or less. Estates executive Dennis Maddocks told Business Live: “When we heard the property was for sale it was too good an opportunity to miss – offering a chance to turn our already popular and historic Cat and Lion pub into a venue for country house style accommodation too.”

Winchester pub operators acquire second site: Winchester pub operators Iain Warren and Jenny Small have acquired their second site. The duo are running The Willow Tree in Winchester following a £200,000 investment by pub owner Greene King. The pair also operate The Queen Inn in Winchester, which is owned by Greene King. The Willow Tree has been refurbished, including a new patio area and covered pergola. Warren and Small, who ran The Queen Inn for more than eight years as managers before becoming tenants, said: “We’re thrilled to become licensees of The Willow Tree and take the step up to becoming multiple operators.” Wayne Shurvinton, managing director partnerships and ventures at Greene King, added: “Our £200,000 investment in The Willow Tree has been transformational. I am delighted for Iain and Jenny, who with our support have taken the journey from pub managers to multiple operators.”

Mayfair Chippy set to open new Bicester pop-up: Mayfair Chippy, the fish-led concept, is set to open a new temporary site, in Bicester Village. The six-month pop-up will open at the shopping destination on Friday, 24 March and will be serving dishes such as the £14.50 Mayfair Classic (fried cod or haddock, chips, mushy peas, tartar and chip shop curry sauce or HP gravy). There will also be a selection of breakfast sourdough crumpets, served between 9am and 12pm, and sandwiches such as lobster and crayfish roll and soft-shell crab burger. Drinks will include beer, cider, coffee, tea and soft drinks, and there will also be ice creams and milkshakes. Pete Taylor, who co-founded the company in 2015 with Jamie Jones and George Hammer, said: “We are excited to bring our signature dishes to Bicester Village and offer guests a truly delicious experience during their visit.” 

Hot Stone team to launch modern Nepalese restaurant this month: The team behind Hot Stone, the steak and sushi bar in London’s Islington, will launch modern Nepalese restaurant The Gurkhas this month. The venue will open on Great Portland Street on Tuesday, 28 March. The Gurkhas is named after Nepal soldiers who have fought for Britain since 1815 and will serve sharing plates that blend “authentic flavours and spices with quality British produce”. The restaurant is the brainchild of Nepal-born Shrabaneswor Rai, who is also director and co-founder of Hot Stone, and from a Gurkha family. In the kitchen is head chef Joe Allen, whose wife is Nepalese, and father-in-law a Gurkha. Allen appeared on BBC’s My Million Pound Menu – attracting investment from restaurateur Jamie Barber to set-up Napalese concept Kitycow, which had a three-month pop-up at Hush Mayfair. Allen’s menu is divided into snacks, small and large plates, sides and desserts, with dishes such as Kukura ko Jhol Momo (steamed chicken dumplings in a tomato and soybean soup) and mutton Sekuwa with onion and coriander. There will also be a six-course tasting menu. The Hot Stone team is also launching Kikabo, a contemporary Japanese restaurant that will “blend traditional techniques with modern flair”, in Fitzrovia’s Windmill Street this month. It will take the place of its “creative multi-course concept” Raj, for which the team is looking for a new home.

The Columbo Group to reopen £3m north London acquisition under new name this month: The Columbo Group, led by Steve Ball and Riz Shaikh, will reopen its £3m north London acquisition under a new name later this month. Propel revealed in October that the group had acquired the freehold of The Oxford Tavern in Kentish Town, bringing its estate to ten venues, seven of which are freeholds. It will now reopen on Thursday, 23 March as The Parakeet, a 60-cover culinary-led pub and dining room offering a menu of locally sourced, seasonal dishes. The kitchen will be led by ex-Brat chef Ben Allen and sous-chef Ed Jennings, with dishes influenced by Allen’s experience at Brat and the two-Michelin star Steirereck in Austria. Main dishes will include lamb chop and artichoke; beef rump, braised turnips and nettles; trout, sea herbs and butter sauce; and wood roasted rabbit, kohlrabi and curry leaf. Allen said: “Our opening seasonal menu at The Parakeet is informed by a European style of cooking with lots of vegetables, light, clean flavours balanced with fatty and rich proteins and using high quality ingredients from local and sustainable suppliers. This, with the combination of cooking over fire, creates a unique dining experience that doesn’t overcomplicate great tasting food.”

Street food trader launches outdoor venue in Cardiff: Street food trader Helen Gorman has opened an outdoor street food venue in Cardiff. TwentySix is a custom-built, weatherproof seating area at The Bone Yard creative community in Canton and has a total capacity of more than 90 covers. Gorman is behind the breakfast and brunch concept Toast, which has previously operated at festivals around South Wales. Her menu, which includes American pancakes with crispy bacon and maple syrup; and spicy, smoky vegan beans on sourdough toast; is on offer at TwentySix. There is also a fully licensed bar, while a regular rotation of street food traders will be taking over the kitchen from 3pm-10pm, every Thursday to Sunday. Gorman said: “I hope I’ve built somewhere that people can create great memories this summer and beyond. I’m buzzing to get all the different street food traders in and eat their amazing food.”

Marugame Udon to open The Strand restaurant this weekend: International udon noodles and tempura restaurant brand Marugame Udon will open its tenth site on Saturday (11 March). The 518 square-foot restaurant with 98 covers is launching at 449 The Strand. Keith Bird, who leads the brand in the UK, said: “With The Strand welcoming thousands of tourists each year, we’re excited to be expanding Marugame Udon once again, introducing udon to all. Our great value fast-casual dining concept is key for the hustle and bustle of The Strand.” The menu at Marugame Udon features more than 20 dishes that are under £5, including udon bowls, tempura, omusubi rice balls and desserts such as dorayaki pancakes and unlimited soft serve ice cream. Marugame Udon made its UK and European debut in London in 2021 with its flagship site off Liverpool Street. The business, which is a European joint venture backed by Capdesia and Toridoll (the brand owner), is set to make its regional debut, in Reading, and is also believed to be lining up a site in Milton Keynes. Propel understands Marugame Udon plans to have 25 UK sites by the end of 2023.

Team behind Nottinghamshire indie bar and restaurant to open second site: The team behind Nottinghamshire indie bar and restaurant Strezza is set to open a site near Nottingham railway station. Industry is set to launch in the former Sainsbury’s unit in Carrington Street in the city centre. Strezza has been open in the Nottinghamshire town of Cotgrave since late 2021. Industry will be serving Strezza Detroit pizzas, craft beer, wine, cocktails, spirits and hot and cold drinks. The venue will also host live DJs, bands and quiz nights, as well as showing sports. It will also feature pool tables.

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