Record closures… More £200+ restaurants… The rise of African-inspired cuisine… conclusions from Harden’s London Restaurants 2022

Pandemic causes record closures and churn amongst London restaurants

• The price of meals out continues to rise above inflation, with the emergence of the £200+ per head restaurant

• Core by Clare Smyth in West London and Da Terra in the East End identified as the best London restaurants

• African- and Caribbean-based cuisine as a category is breaking through into the luxury restaurant sector for the first time

London restaurants have suffered their weakest growth in the last 30 years, and perhaps been in a period of contraction.

That’s the conclusion of the 30th edition of Harden’s London Restaurants – the 2022 publication – and its associated restaurant-finder app, which go on sale next week.

The guide’s analysis is based on two years of averaged data, because COVID-19 prevented the publication of its 2021 edition, causing the guide to skip a year.

By averaging two years of data, the results potentially understate the severity of the restaurant market’s low point, as it spreads the effect of closures evenly over the two-year period. But – in showing two years of identical data – the data series emphasises the prolonged nature of the downturn.

Openings and Closures

The guide records a rate of 149 newcomers added per year over the period. This is in the middle of the range of 107–200 added per year in the previous 10 years.

Closures, however, were at a rate of 125 per year over the two-year period. This level is worse than 2018’s former high of 117 closures, and the former spike of 113 in 2003 (a year badly hit by the SARS epidemic).

Net openings

Net openings (that is Openings minus Closures) were at a rate of 22 per year: comparable with the lowest levels seen over the 30-year period (cf the early nineties, and 2003).

Such weak figures are more dramatic in the current period: firstly, because they are relative to a much larger market than in former weak years; and secondly because they represent a two-year period, whereas historically individual weak years have been downward spikes followed by immediate strong growth.

Viewing these figures on the graph of London Net Openings – which carries a pronounced hump between 2014 and 2018 – raises a question as to whether the four-year period of record growth in the middle of the decade 2010-2020 was fundamentally unsustainable even without the pandemic.

Churn

The dramatic nature of the COVID-19 induced downturn is most evident in the statistics on churn.

At 1.18 for two years, not only is this ratio the lowest recorded, but it dramatizes the unprecedented severity of the COVID-19 years, compared with prior downturns where an increase in churn has quickly been reversed in each case.

The guide’s co-founder, Peter Harden, said:

“Even before March 2020, over-supply was a problem in the London restaurant market, and the pandemic meant there was absolutely nowhere to hide.

The result has been the most dramatic period of closures and churn that we have yet seen.

Recessions normally hit weaker performers. In the closures we record, the fall-out is more randomly spread, with many excellent businesses shuttering due to factors as diverse as a City-based location, recalcitrant landlords, or a decision to take retirement and bow out gracefully.

And all the above is before we start to factor in the new normal of the dire staff shortages created by Brexit.”

The new guide records a large number of high profile closures, many associated with celebrity names over the two-year period. These include include: Alyn Williams (although the circumstances were singular); The Bleeding Heart Restaurant (though tavern and brasserie continue to operate); Bryn Williams at Somerset House; The Dairy; The Frog Hoxton (relocated); Galvin HOP (reformatted) and Galvin at the Athenaeum; The Gilbert Scott (to be relaunched in new ownership); The Greenhouse; Hai Cenato; Hix, and Hix Oyster & Chop House; Kym’s by Andrew Wong; Merchants Tavern; Rochelle Canteen at the ICA; Roux at Parliament Square; The Square; and Texture.

Above inflation price increases and the rise of the £200 plus restaurant

The average price of dinner for one at establishments listed in this guide is £64.14 (c.f. £59.28 two years previously). Prices have risen by an annualised rate of 4.0% in the past two years. This rate remains above the general annual inflation rate of 3.2% for the 12 months to August 2021.

The rise is most marked amongst pricey restaurants (over £100 per head). In this group, the annualised growth is a significant 8.8%.

There has also been a marked change in restaurants for which the guide’s formula price is over £200 per head. Whereas in the 2020 edition, only one restaurant (The Araki) had a formula price above £200 per head, in the 2022 edition, there are seven: Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester; The Araki; Endo at Rotunda; Ikoyi; Kitchen Table; Mãos; and Sketch (Lecture Room).

And the number of restaurants with a formula price over £150 per head has risen from 9 to 24.

This formula price assumes a bottle of house wine spread between two, and thus represents the minimum one could sensibly spend in a luxury restaurant. (If only a tasting menu is available, then the cheapest tasting menu is used).

The rise of Japan and Africa

After new Modern British (66) openings, Japanese cuisine was the most popular for newcomers this edition, accounting for 23 of the debuts (just beating Italian cuisine which was the designation for 22).

Having been a rarity in early editions of the guide, the guide suggests that Japanese dishes are becoming fully integrated into UK food culture

The introduction further suggests that African and Afro-Caribbean cuisine as a category is breaking through into the luxury restaurant sector for the first time.

Peter Harden comments:

“For decades, African or Caribbean restaurants have flown under the radar as far as the general foodie press was concerned. They served their communities and locals but lacked any central London address and/or PR profile. But the arrival of new restaurants like Akoko, Antillean, Chuku’s, Chishuru and Tatale – to join the likes of Ikoyi and Stork – represent a striking break from the past.

Firstly, the press and foodie world are much more interested.

Secondly, with a number of these restaurants charging over £75 per head – over £200 per head in one case – with swanky St James’s or Mayfair addresses, the trend could be like the ‘nouvelle Indian’ revolution of the late ‘90s, It feels like once again London may be at the forefront of a vogue to take a family of cuisines mostly celebrated for their ‘humble homespun qualities’ (to quote The Evening Standard’s Jimi Famurewa) and reposition their flavour palette in combination with local ingredients and other culinary inspirations as the basis for luxury openings globally.”

East London loses some momentum

Central London asserted its traditional dominance as the location for most newcomers, accounting for 102 arrivals. In the ’burbs, East London confidently led the way (with 60 openings). Trailing behind came South London (with 49) and West London (46). As usual, North London took the bottom slot (with just 35 newcomers).

Both East and West London celebrate culinary champions

Ratings and reviews in the newly released guide and app are based on one of the UK’s most detailed annual polls of restaurant-goers, with some 3,000 people contributing 30,000 reports for the 2022 edition.

Stand-out performances include the following:

Core by Clare Smyth in West London maintained its position as topping votes in the poll for Top Gastronomic Experience of the Year; and it also became the most commented-on restaurant in the survey. This latter is seldom achieved by such an expensive restaurant. Diners say this “world-class Notting Hill luminary offers a supreme gastronomic experience. From the moment you walk in to the moment you leave, everything is perfect, but despite being in the top echelons of restauration, everyone is so friendly and unstuffy and “Clare and head chef Jonny Bone always make time to say ‘hi’ from the kitchen doorway. Cooking shows unsurpassed levels of sophistication, technical expertise, and the sheer culinary pleasure of the majestic tasting menu. Dishes are consistently bursting with flavour (I have never been so excited by a potato dish!) and look like works of art; while vegetarians and pescatarians are clearly no afterthought. After two cancellations for Covid restrictions I finally made it… well worth the money!.

• Chef Rafael Cagali at Da Terra scored the survey’s highest food mark, with the guide acclaiming his “take on Brazilian food with a fresh and fine-dining perspective that’s absolutely sublime… the worthy successor on this site in Bethnal Green’s old Town Hall that’s also housed The Typing Room and Viajante. What other Michelin place allows you to add your own chillies to a fish curry so you spice it to your liking? Bread is a course in its own right: a large lump of roasted bone marrow with three different butters that you could just live off and be happy. A short but interesting beer list means you can keep costs down if you don’t fancy wine”.

• Achievement of a sort: Ruth Rogers’s River Café – yet again voted London’s most overpriced restaurant. The results of the survey note “despite all the positives, many diners just can’t stomach a bill that can seem terrifying, or even plain ludicrous. Hence, for the umpteenth year, it’s voted London’s most overpriced restaurant by the sizeable minority who feel it may be absolutely exceptional every time, but on occasion, you do think they’re just taking the piss. Many Londoners continue to think it’s completely worth it however, explaining its position in the Top 10 for Top Gastronomic Experience as well.

Notes for editors

For further information and images, contact Peter Harden on 07545 568688 or email ph@hardens.com.

1. Harden’s is the UK’s original restaurant survey, using market research principles to evaluate how well restaurants are performing. The Harden’s survey of diners is now in its 30th year. It has been national in scope since 1999.

2. Harden’s is published in autumn each year. The statistics and graphs above are presented in relation to calendar year, not publication year. So, for example, the statistics shown as “2003” were published in autumn 2003 and titled 2004.

3. Unlike restaurant review sites like TripAdvisor, Harden’s has never published its surveyees’ raw reports online, to prevent ballot-stuffing. Having no access to raw user reviews makes it much harder to “game” the Harden’s system, because it is impossible to gauge how much false data to submit to do so. What’s more, Harden’s longstanding core of reviewers – some of who have been participating for over 20 years – provides a control group by which to access reports from newer respondents.

4. Harden’s content is available as an app for iPhone and Android as well as a guide book.

5. Harden’s London Restaurants 2022, £15.99, is available from next week in all good bookshops, including Waterstone’s and Amazon.com, and from www.hardens.com!

SURVEY RESULTS

Most mentioned

1       Core by Clare Smyth (7)
2       Scott’s (5)
3       Chez Bruce (3)
4       J Sheekey (1)
5       Le Gavroche (2)
6       The Wolseley (8)
7       The River Café (12)
8       La Trompette (10)
9       Brasserie Zédel (9)
10     The Cinnamon Club (25)

11     Noble Rot (21)
12=   Gauthier Soho (11)
12=   A Wong (16)
14     Sams Riverside*
15     Above at Hide (14)
16     Gymkhana (13)
17     Clos Maggiore (4)
18     Bocca di Lupo (17)
19     The Five Fields (31)
20     Medlar (36)


21     Pied à Terre (34)
22     Bentley’s (30)
23     Galvin La Chapelle (22)
24     Elystan Street (40)
25     The Ritz (28)
26     Andrew Edmunds (19)
27     La Poule au Pot (27)
28     The Ivy (15)
29     Gordon Ramsay (29)
30     Dastaan (-)

31     The Delaunay (20)
32     Mere (-)
33     Trinity (24)
34     Cornerstone (-)
35     Bibendum (-)
36=   Trishna (35)
36=   Murano (33)
36=   Rick Stein (-)
39     Hélène Darroze, The Connaught Hotel (-)
40     Benares (-)

Closures in the 2022 Guide

  • Addomme (SW2)
  • Aleion (N10)
  • Ametsa (SW1)
  • Anarkali (W6)
  • Andina (E2, W11)
  • Arlo’s (SW12, SW11)
  • Atari-Ya (W5)
  • Alyn Williams (W1)
  • Baba G’s (NW1)
  • BabaBoom (N1)
  • Babette (SE15)
  • Baltic (SE1)
  • Baptist Grill, L’Oscar (WC1)
  • Bar Boulud (SW1)
  • Beef & Brew (N1, NW5)
  • Belvedere Restaurant (W8)
  • Bernardi’s (W1)
  • Bibimbap (EC3, W1)
  • Bistro Mirey (SW6)
  • Bistro Vadouvan (SW15)
  • Black Roe (W1)
  • Blanchette East (E1)
  • Bleeding Heart (EC1)
  • Blixen (E1)
  • Bodean’s (SW17, EC1)
  • Bonnie Gull (W1 x2)
  • Boulestin (SW1)
  • Breddos Tacos (W1)
  • Bryn Williams at Somerset House (WC2)
  • Bubbledogs (W1)
  • Bucket (W2)
  • Bumpkin (E20, SW7)
  • by Chloe (SE1, SE10, W1, WC2)
  • Café del Parc (N19)
  • Café Monico (W1)
  • Cambridge Street (SW1)
  • Camillo Benso (W1)
  • Camino Bankside (SE1)
  • Cantina Laredo (WC2)
  • Le Caprice (SW1)
  • Catford Constitutional Club (SE6)
  • Le Cellar (EC1)
  • Ceru (W1)
  • Charlotte’s (W4, W5)
  • Chipping Forecast (W1, W11)
  • Chit Chaat Chai (SW4)
  • Chucs Serpentine (W2)
  • Cigala (WC1)
  • CôBa (N7)
  • Corazón (W1)
  • Counter Culture (SW4)
  • Craft London (SE10)
  • Cub (N1)
  • Da Giua (EC1)
  • The Dairy (SW4)
  • Dandy (SE1)
  • Darjeeling Express (W1)
  • Department of Coffee and Social Affairs (EC1)
  • Dip & Flip (SW17)
  • Dokke (E1)
  • Duddell’s (SE1)
  • Dum Biryani (W1)
  • E&O Chelsea (SW3)
  • Emilia’s Crafted Pasta (E1)
  • Emilia (W1)
  • Ethos (W1)
  • Fancy Crab (W1)
  • Fish in a Tie (SW11)
  • Flank (SW1)
  • Forza Win (SE15)
  • Four Legs at The Compton Arms (N1)
  • Freak Scene (W1)
  • The Frog Hoxton (N1)
  • Fucina (W1)
  • Galvin, Athenaeum (W1)
  • Galvin HOP (E1)
  • Garden Room (WC2)
  • Geales (W8)
  • Gezellig (WC1)
  • The Gilbert Scott (NW1)
  • The Greenhouse (W1)
  • Guglee (NW6, NW3)
  • Hai Cenato (SW1)
  • The Halal Guys (WC2)
  • Harlequin (SW6)
  • Harry Morgan’s (NW8)
  • Hello Darling (SE1)
  • Henrietta Bistro (WC2)
  • Hix (W1)
  • Hix Oyster & Chop Hs (EC1)
  • Homeslice (W1)
  • Hot Stuff (SW8)
  • Hubbard & Bell (WC1)
  • Ichi Buns (W1)
  • Indian Accent (W1)
  • Jacob the Angel (WC2)
  • Jidori (E8, WC2)
  • Jones Family Project (EC2)
  • Kaspar’s Seafood and Grill, The Savoy Hotel (WC2)
  • Kerbisher & Malt (W6)
  • Kuku Riku (NW1)
  • Kym’s by Andrew Wong (EC4)
  • Kyseri (W1)
  • Lagom at Hackney Church Brew Co. (E8)
  • Lamberts (SW12)
  • Lido Café, Brockwell (SE24)
  • Linden Stores (N1)
  • Lino (EC1)
  • Little Kolkata (WC2)
  • Loyal Tavern (SE1)
  • Lucknow 49 (W1)
  • Lupita (E1)
  • Lupita West (W8)
  • Mac & Wild (EC2, W1)
  • Made in Italy James St (W1)
  • Maroush (W2 x 2, W1)
  • maze Grill (W1)
  • MEATliquor (WC1)
  • Melabes (W8)
  • Merchants Tavern (EC2)
  • Meza (SW17)
  • Mimo (SE1)
  • The Modern Pantry (EC1)
  • Moio (N16)
  • Monsieur Le Duck (EC1)
  • Mother (SW11)
  • Nanashi (EC2)
  • Native (SE1)
  • Neptune (WC1)
  • Next Door (SE22)
  • Nobu Berkeley (W1)
  • Northbank (EC4)
  • Oldroyd (N1)
  • 108 Garage (W10)
  • OOTY (W1)
  • El Parador (NW1)
  • Petit Pois Bistro (N1)
  • Piebury Corner (N7, N1)
  • Pisqu (W1)
  • Pizzicotto (W8)
  • Plot (SW17)
  • Polpo (EC1, W1, WC2, SW3, W11)
  • Pomona’s (W2)
  • The Portrait, National Portrait Gallery (WC2)
  • Princi (W1)
  • Pucci Mayfair (W1)
  • Quirinale (SW1)
  • Rambla (W1)
  • Raoul’s Café (W9)
  • Rasa (W1)
  • Rasa Travancore (N16)
  • Red Rooster (EC2)
  • The Rex Whistler Restaurant, Tate Britain (SW1)
  • Rib Room (SW1)
  • Rivington Grill (SE10)
  • Rochelle Canteen at the ICA (SW1)
  • Roe (SW9)
  • Roganic (W1)
  • Rossopomodoro (SW18, W1)
  • Roux at Parliament Sq (SW1)
  • Royal China (W2)
  • Sakagura (W1)
  • Sanxia Renjia (SE8)
  • Sapori Sardi (SW6)
  • Sardine (N1)
  • Season Kitchen (N4)
  • Siren (SW1)
  • Smoke & Salt (SW9)
  • Snaps & Rye (W10)
  • The Square (W1)
  • StreetXO (W1)
  • Sub Cult (EC2)
  • Suksan (SW10)
  • Tell Your Friends (SW6)
  • Terroirs (WC2)
  • Texture (W1)
  • The Yard (SW1)
  • tibits (W1, SE1)
  • Tom Simmons (SE1)
  • Tom’s Kitchen (SW3)
  • The Tramshed (EC2)
  • Tredwell’s (WC2)
  • Two Lights (E2)
  • Union Street Café (SE1)
  • Vanilla Black (EC4)
  • Verdi’s (E1)
  • VQ (W11, SW4, NW1)
  • Wild Food Cafe (WC2)
  • Workshop Coffee at The Pilgrim (W2)
  • Wright Brothers (E1, W1)
  • Xier (W1)
  • XR (W1)
  • XU (W1)
  • Yen (WC2)
  • Yum Bun (EC2)
  • Zelman Meats (W1)

Temporarily Closed (33)

Closed as we go to press, but expected to reopen.

  • L’Amorosa
  • Bao & Bing (W1)
  • The Betterment (W1)
  • Bleeding Heart Tavern (EC1)
  • Boisdale of Bishopsgate (EC2)
  • Boulevard Theatre (W1)
  • Bund (N2)
  • Chick ’n’ Sours (E8)
  • Il Convivio (SW1)
  • Don Bistro and Bar (EC4)
  • Dragon Castle (SE17)
  • Edera (W11)
  • Eneko (WC2)
  • Ella Canta (W1)
  • Gallery Mess (SW3)
  • Gopal’s of Soho (W1)
  • Gridiron (W1)
  • K10 (EC1, EC3)
  • Laurent at Cafe Royal (W1)
  • The Lore of the Land (W1)
  • Malabar (W8)
  • Mam (W11)
  • Manna (NW1)
  • Michael Nadra (W4)
  • Momo (W1)
  • Moncks of Dover Street (W1)
  • Onima (W1)
  • Other Naughty Piglet (SW1)
  • Palatino (EC1)
  • Park Terrace, (W8)
  • Les Platanes (W1)
  • Simpsons in the Strand (WC2)
  • Wild Rice & Mamasan (W1)

Note to editors. The above list is taken from the soon-to-be-published guide, which caveats:

The listings relate to the period from Autumn 2019 to Autumn 2021. This information is provided on a best-efforts basis, with the important caveat that the industry remains in a seldom-seen state of flux. The pattern of restaurants shifting their status between being open, temporarily closed and permanently closed remains highly unusual.

With the data we publish and in the ‘Restaurant Scene’ section, we do not aim to track large, branded chains. Where we know of openings or closures amongst members of such groups, these are shown in the lists but, with the exception of chains of three or fewer, excluded from the final tallies shown.

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