'I thought: This is it. I'm taking up gardening, this is it'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 28th September 2020

"I think we knew it was coming."

These are the words of Anthony Demetre on the latest government protocol, designed, they say, to curb the spread of Covid-19: A 10pm curfew for all restaurants, bars and pubs in England, Wales and Scotland

"Of course it's angered us a bit, but what can they do, they've got their hands tied in a way."

Taking positives wherever he can find them, the chef commends it as one of the rare Covid measures not to have a highly detrimental effect on London businesses in particular, albeit counterintuitive.  

"Now the cold weather's come, it might be different," he said. "But 10 o'clock for when you've got to vacate premises - what's to stop people from pouring onto the streets and mixing and socialising and all that kind of thing? People will probably drink the same and get drunk quicker." 

Curfew supper

Conceding that the measure is also symbolic, he said: "It's a shot across the bow that if things don't improve and people are still acting with this care-free attitude then things will get tighter." 

But rather than get riled up about the new measures, "I'd rather look at it as a different approach, and think, 'Okay, I've got to be a bit more creative.'" 

His tongue in cheek take on the new rule is a curfew supper, consisting of the Plat du Jour and a carafe of wine for £20. 

"And for that I will take orders up to 9:30." 

The overriding factor for Anthony with any of the protocol changes implemented by the government since the beginning of the crisis is the dent in confidence that they cause. 

"We didn't open until the kids went back [to school]," he explained, "to see how public transport was coping." 

But as has been the case for most central London operators, "footfall has been diabolical. With the theatres and tourism decimated as much as the hospitality industry, I think it's going to take a while for the West end in particular to get back to any form of normality." 

"With this curfew, we have lost a couple of reservations already." 

"Look at Tom Kerridge when he opened his Bar & Grill - he lost 29 covers in the first couple of days because people were itching to get back, making reservations and just reneging on it last minute." 

'Christmas is cancelled'

But as he sees it, there is some recognition by institutions that there is only so much the industry can take reduced footfall without mothballing.

Applauding the introduction of the jobs support scheme, he said: "The end of the furlough scheme would've been really really challenging for us." 

"I don't see business picking up overnight. What's happening to Christmas? Christmas is cancelled this year. The festive parties and Christmas for us in restaurants is a time where we make hay, all of us, every single restaurant up and down the country." 

"It's when we have our best month. But it's not going to be like that - which means unfortunately that some staff might not be needed. But with this - it's going to make things a lot easier." 

Asked if he ever worried whether he would be able to reopen, he replied: "Very much so." 

"Especially being in a hotel, because hotels have been absolutely decimated." 

"I haven't been trading a year here, but a lot of my guests have come from outside," meaning they were heavily reliant on regulars and being a "destination" restaurant - a word the chef begrudgingly uses, saying it sounds "too fancy schmancy".

"It scared me. I thought, 'this is it.' I'm taking up gardening, this is it." 

"You just think, 'things are never going to be the same, things are never going to get back." 

"But you've got to dispel the doom and gloom. I'm not a doom and gloomer, I always try to put a positive spin on things - and I think it's appearance as well, you've got to do that." 

Murky messaging 

"The most annoying thing with this curfew is that we had a great subsidy, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which was fantastic. It was a stroke of genius by Sunak." 

"But then getting to September and saying 'if you can work from home, stay at home' - that's what we do not want to hear."

"I'm not slagging anyone off," he hastened to add, "because wherever your political allegiance lies, they've got a tough job, no doubt about it. But I do think that the messaging has been murky." 

"What happens to the little coffee shop on the corner, what happens to all these people that are already struggling? That's annoying." 

The confidence factor is really what the government should work on, though he concedes that encouraging caution and confidence at once is a difficult line to tread. 

"We're social animals. Especially the young - who we were told were a bit resilient to this - and that it's only the people with underlying illnesses who are dying. That was possibly a bit of a mixed message," he said, alluding to the numerous outbreaks in universities across the UK, "it's that kind of thing that is the most frightening, because no-one can escape it." 

"We've all just got to be very vigilant in how we behave and how we conduct ourselves. But we're the ones that've taken the brunt of it." 

Despite all the uncertainty, the chef has thus far managed to keep a level head - and is intent on continuing to do so.

"Unquestionably, winter's going to be tough," he said.  "But if we stick to the rules and listen to the experts, we'll get through it. The vaccine is the cavalry, as they say." 

"You've got to be optimistic. Because otherwise what do you do, stick your head in the sand?" 

"This is not going away anytime soon, we've just got to carry on as normally as possible." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 28th September 2020

'I thought: This is it. I'm taking up gardening, this is it'