2018 is off to a bad start for London restaurant scene

Last year Harden’s asked the question: “Has London’s dining scene reached tipping point?” after recording a decrease in the capital’s openings and increase in closures in our most recent guide. If the start of this year is any indication of what’s to come in 2018, then the answer may well be an emphatic yes. This week the Galvin Brothers announced that their beloved Bistrot de Luxe will soon be no more – one of several high profile closures since the New Year.

The Modern Pantry Finsbury Square confirmed its closure this month, as did Kensington Roof Gardens, Smoking Goat in Covent Garden, Polpo’s Ape & Bird in Seven Dials, 8 Hoxton Square, Beagle by Hoxton station, and just this week Victor Garvey’s Encant in Covent Garden closed its doors.

One of the few restaurants to release a candid statement about its closure was Kensington Roof Gardens, which has occupied its scenic spot for 37 years. Their spokesperson said: “In the face of unpredictable market conditions and a challenge to remain profitable, sadly we can confirm we have closed our doors.” Its closure was also preceded by a 47% increase in the venue’s rateable value. The rising costs associated with rates and rents for businesses in London is no secret and has left many restaurateurs in an untenable position.

Looking at the names on this month’s closure list there is also a clear link between these restaurants – most are part of a small or medium sized groups. Modern Pantry EC2 was the follow-up to the Clerkenwell original, 8 Hoxton Square was a follow-up to 10 Greek Street and Ape & Bird is part of Russel Norman’s Polpo empire, which expanded to Bristol and Brighton in 2016. Could it be that restaurateurs are simply finding it too hard to maintain these small chains? Late 2017 also saw the loss of Paradise Garage, James Cochran N1, Veneta, HIX Mayfair and Stevie Parle’s Dock Kitchen – all part of small-to-middling sized restaurant groups.

Smoking Goat Covent Garden was the inaugural restaurant from Ben Chapman who then branched out with a second Smoking Goat in Shoreditch, as well as Kiln in Soho. Circumstances here though are rather different as the original Thai BBQ spot in Denmark Street closed to make way for the new Crossrail.

Even the big chains are feeling the strain with Jamie’s Italian announcing this week that it is to close 12 branches.

According to Harden’s London Restaurants 2018 there were 193 newcomers in the 12 months before the guide was published, just a tad lower than the previous year’s record-breaking 200 openings. However it was the first sign in three years that the market was slowing – our 2015, 2016 and 2017 guides all recorded increases in the number of new restaurants arriving in the capital.

More importantly our 2018 guide also recorded an increase in the number of closures during 2016/7 – up from 76 in the previous edition to 84. This is the third highest number of closures Harden’s has recorded in its 27 years (the highest was 113 in 2004). With the way 2018 has started it looks as though this number is set to rise.

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