March 2016 Restaurant News
Eat Me Drink Me
From 6PM to 10:30PM, Café Royal in London will serve a dessert tasting menu, served with an optional wine accompaniment. Created by the venue’s executive pastry Chef Sarah Barber, the menu is to be titled ‘Sarah In Wonderland’, featuring sweets based on notions from ‘Alice In Wonderland’. The menu has been created to “boost trade” according to Restaurant magazine, and will feature items such as Milky Way (goats cheese with wild honey snow), Queen of Hearts (roses, raspberries and champagne), and Eat Me Drink Me (a variation on a malt shake). These feature in the 5 course taster menu, while a 3 course alternative will feature rhubarb and custard and Jaffa Cakes.
Private ‘fika’ dining
A London Marylebone pub with Scandinavian heritage is to reopen as a new restaurant, the Harcourt, on 1 April. The 65-cover, 900 sq ft dining room is on the site of former pub the Harcourt Arms, which opened in 1826 and was once known as the Swedish pub, thanks to its Scandinavian clientele and location opposite the Ulrika Eleonora Church. Housed within a Grade II-listed five story Georgian townhouse on 32 Harcourt Street, it is the project of a team comprising head chef Kimmo Makkonen, general manager Thomas Haring and design and hotel expert Andrew Endean of Hotel du Vin, Malmaison, Liberty and De Vere. Open from 11am to midnight, it will offer an all-day dining and drinking menu inspired by Nordic cuisine, including indoor barbecue options and dishes based on fika – the Swedish term for a coffee break with a pastry or sandwich. There will also be a 40-person capacity ground floor bar, offering a wine list curated by Finbar Neumann of the Shed, the River Café and the Newman Street Tavern; plus cocktails designed by Swedish-born Tess Pettersson. The two private dining rooms will seat 20 people in one, and 10 people in the other. The site’s interior has been designed by Samantha Palmer and Andrew Endean, and is aiming to offer elegance and warmth while preserving the building’s historical Regency elements, such as wooden panelling and leaded windows.
Restaurateurs are seeing growth in bar-side dining, with almost one fifth (19%) of restaurants that do not currently have a bar looking to invest in one. That’s according to research from booking website OpenTable, which found that 55% of diners would go to a restaurant specifically for its bar menu. The survey of more than 1,300 UK diners and restaurateurs also found that a quarter of diners would dine in a high-priced restaurant’s bar area before deciding to invest in a meal in the restaurant, while 81% of consumers enjoy bar dining and 61% of diners are more likely to visit a restaurant if it has a welcoming bar area. The key incentives for restaurants planning to invest in a bar area were the ability to offer a varied price point menu, provide a different experience for customers and host private parties, OpenTable said. A further reason restaurants are investing in their bar area is to try and keep guests in their restaurant for a longer period. This idea was justified by the research, which showed that 68% of diners admitted they would be more likely to spend the entire evening in one location if the restaurant offered a great bar area. As well as investing in the area itself, it appears the majority (67%) of restaurateurs are also investing in the bar menu. The main motivations for this are to test menu concepts, offer a varied price point, offer a different menu, stay ahead of trends and remain competitive.
Not necessarily the first place to spring to mind when you think ‘private dining’, Pizza Hut Restaurants is set to open its first new restaurant in over five years. Typically a venue for families or youngsters, plenty of branches offer private rooms for parties, and now they look to expand. The business will open a new site in the second half of 2017 in the White Rose development in Leeds, alongside a new 11-screen Cineworld cinema. The restaurant will receive an investment of over £1m and will feature a cocktail bar and other “new menu innovations”. The opening comes after a long-running refurbishment and modernisation programme of Pizza Hut’s 272 restaurants, which is now over half way to completion. The refurbishments began in 2012 when Rutland Partners acquired the business, and have been funded as part of a broader £60m investment. The company said it had already seen the benefits of the programme, with 6.2% growth in like-for-like sales for the period from 1 December 2014 to 29 November 2015. It has also invested in training, and has recently announced a new apprenticeship programme, which will see 1,500 apprenticeships created in the next five years, including a degree-level apprenticeship, which it claims is a first for the industry.
So long, Soho
Arbutus, the Michelin starred Soho-based restaurant, is leaving its current location after 9 years of being there. It’s not known where it will re-root, nor why it’s moving. Speculation suggests it’s the ever-rising cost of rent in Soho that’s done it, but the owners are seeing it as an opportunity for re-vamping and refreshing – including the menu and décor as well as the location.
UK-based chain group PizzaExpress has posted a 15.9% growth in turnover in its half year results, despite a flat outlook for like-for-like sales across the UK and Ireland.
For the 28 weeks ended 10 January 2016, the 15.9% rise in turnover took it to £267.2m, but the company’s like-for-like sales in the UK and Ireland stayed relatively flat at just 0.5%. The results come as the company’s estate continued to grow, having opened 13 new sites across the UK and 12 internationally in the time frame – ahead of its plans to continue developing business in China and the UAE. Richard Hodgson, chief executive of PizzaExpress, commented: “Despite a more challenging market backdrop, PizzaExpress has performed well in the first half of the year and the developments in our new delivery offer and the initial success of Reys have been particularly exciting. Customer-led innovation is a core part of our business.” He added that menu innovation, such as the Brussel sprout pizza at Christmas, and other new menu items, had been well-received by customers.
The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned the hospitality industry to check the services provided by its online marketing agencies after a CMA investigation found clients were unaware that fake positive reviews had been posted on their behalf.
The investigation into Total SEO and Marketing, a search engine optimisation and online marketing company, found that it had written over 800 fake positive reviews for 86 small businesses across 26 different websites, between 2014 and 2015. However some of Total SEO’s clients were unaware the reviews posted by Total SEO were false, exposing them to being in breach of the law. Following the investigation, Total SEO agreed to stop writing fake reviews and agreed to take down all 800 bogus ones. Nisha Arora, CMA consumer senior director, said: “With more than half of people in the UK using online reviews to help them choose what to buy, they are becoming an increasingly valuable source of information. Fake reviews can lead to people making the wrong decisions and fair-playing businesses losing out. Search engine optimisation companies, PR and marketing agencies provide a valuable service to businesses, but they must do this lawfully. Our enforcement action against Total SEO makes clear that posting fake reviews about clients is unacceptable.”
Slightly weird food amalgamation – Danish-Japanese – from restaurant group Sticks’n’Sushi has its sights set on the land beyond the Capital. The sushi chain already has a handful of venues in London (Covent Garden, Canary Wharf, Wimbledon, Greenwich) but wants to expand – bring ‘affordable luxury’ to the rest of the UK. It’s plans have stretched to university cities Oxford and Cambridge, with a view to launch in 2017.
New sites in sight
The Restaurant Group (TRG) – operator of the Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito brands – has reached a milestone of more than 500 sites following its 2015 openings. It opened 44 new premises last year including 14 Frankie & Benny’s and nine Chiquito restaurants, and plans to open a similar number of sites this year. The firm believes the brands have “substantial roll-out scalability in the UK” to eventually reach more than 850 restaurants. Chief executive Danny Breithaupt said the business would continue to face challenges in 2016 but was confident the firm would successfully navigate its way through the challenging external environment.
Raynor goes to McDonald’s
A branch of McDonald’s in London’s Brixton has been condemned as “misguided” and “offensive” by local residents and food critics such as Jay Rayner, after its walls were decorated with graffiti-style art. The designs, which are part of a complete re-fit of the Brixton site of the fast-food chain, feature bright blue walls covered with graffiti-style tags in black and white. The new décor is part of a plan by McDonald’s to re-design many of its UK sites – including Northampton, Redhill, Brighton and Leicester ‒ but some Londoners and local residents have been quick to criticise the decision as an offensive way to appeal to the Brixton community. Jay Rayner, food critic at the Observer newspaper, tweeted: “So the refurbed Brixton @McDonaldsUK has fake graffiti tagging. The real thing blights Brixton. Truly offensive idea.” The new McDonald’s are also said to have self-order kiosks and free-to-use tablets for customers. In response to the criticism, a spokesperson from McDonald’s in the UK countered: “The exciting and fresh designs used in Brixton are in use across the UK and in other markets and have received a great reception.”
More relocation news – this time from Green’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar, created by Simon Parker Bowles in 1982. Having been in St James’ for a very impressive 34 years, The Crown Estate’s plans to redevelop have somewhat forced the relocation, with the team behind it seeing it as an opportunity to make Green’s more contemporary in style and expand it’s clientele. Camilla’s ex-brother-in-law will remain involved, despite the shake up.
Osteria has opened at the Barbican.Anthony Demetre, the man behind Arbutus (mentioned in an earlier bulletin) is behind it, as is ex-Arbutus chef Patrick Leano. The pair have created a “gusty” Italian menu including feature dishes such as saddle of lamb and ingredients such as bergamot, artichokes and toasted hazelnuts. Certain dishes are offered in smaller and more sizeable portions, giving diners the choice to regulate the pace of the meal. Also worth noting is the décor of the place – parquet flooring and silvery-grey colouring.
Zima, a Russian street food bar and kitchen, is to open in London’s Soho at the end of March. Created by Russian chef, cookery school tutor, cookbook author and TV food presenter Alexei Zimin, the basement space will launch on 31 March in a Soho townhouse, at 45 Frith Street, next to well-known jazz club and restaurant Ronnie Scott’s. It is named for the Russian word for winter, and Zimin’s own nickname. The site will be the first venture for Zimin outside Russia, and will offer a variety of tapas-style plates inspired by the cuisine of Russia and the former Soviet Union. Dishes will be prepared around sturgeon, herring, scallops, crab, venison and caviar. Specific examples will include crab claw with bread crisps and red caviar; black caviar with traditional sides from Yaroslavl, or honey and sour cream cake ‘Medovik’. There will also be beer, including Siberian Crown, and a vodka bar – fashioned after a Soviet-era ryumochnaya, using slogan and symbol-embossed propaganda porcelain ‒ offering vodka cocktail infusions flavoured with fennel and tarragon; basil and strawberry, and lingonberry and apple with curry leaves.