Harden's Guide 2020: London restaurants emerge from record slump

The Staff Canteen

The growth of London’s restaurant scene has staged a weak recovery in the last 12 months. That's the conclusion of the 29th edition of Harden's London Restaurants and its restaurant-finder app, published today.

The guide recorded 174 newcomers in its new edition (up from 167 last year): the fourth-highest year for openings on record (the record of 200 being three years ago). Closures, however, also stand at near-record levels with 110 recorded. This level is barely below last year’s chart-topping 117, and the former record of 113 in 2004 (a year hit by the second gulf war and SARS epidemic).

London Net openingsNet openings (that is Openings minus Closures) of 64 (174-110) were up by 28% on the previous year's figure of 50 (167-117). Viewing these figures on the graph of London Net Openings  adds to the strong impression that the figures recorded in the middle of the decade were exceptional, and that the market has returned to a 'normal' level of growth (at 50-75 net openings per year).

The feeling that the market is still a tough one is reinforced by the ratio of openings to closures, or "churn". At 1.6:1, it represents only a slight gain from last year’s 1.4:1, and is well below the 29-year average of 2.1:1. Previous slumps in activity have generally been followed by a sharp rebound in the ratio of Openings/Closures either back to, or above, the long-term average. But you have to go back to the deep recession of the early 1990s to find as limp a recovery as the one currently underway.

The guide's co-founder, Peter Harden, said: "Any book on entrepreneurialism will tell you that just to stand still it is necessary for any business constantly to reinvent itself. That is ever-more the case in the London restaurant scene where any site that is not performing at its peak, will quickly be reformatted under the same brand or a new one.

London restaurant openings vs closures"The good news is that London’s restaurateurs are a much more formidable bunch than when this guide was first published. The last three decades have seen an incredible rise in the professionalism of the trade. Opportunities continue to present themselves to those with witty new formats or sufficient passion to excel at the old ones."

High profile restaurant closures

The new guide records a large number of high-profile casualties amongst last year's casualties. Leaving aside well-publicised liquidations and CVAs in the midmarket such as Jamie’s Italian, the well-known indies who shut up shop included Fifteen, Hedone,The Providores, Shepherd’s, Kensington Place, maze, The Red Fort, Sonny’s, Asia de Cuba, and Great Queen Street. Also small multiples of quality such as Rök, Picture and Foxlow.

London restaurant bills rise

London restaurant bills rise well above inflation The average price of dinner for one at establishments listed in the new edition is £59.28 (compared to £55.76 last year). Prices have risen by 6.3% in the past 12 months (up on 4.8% in the preceding 12 months). This rate compares with a general annual inflation rate of 2.1% for the 12 months to July 2019, yet further accelerating the trend seen in the last three years by which London restaurant bills have seen price rises running significantly higher than UK inflation generally.

Restaurants are a people-heavy business, though, and with UK wage growth having picked up to 4%, an above-inflation rise in restaurant bills is to be expected.

East London loses some momentum

East London loses some momentum Whereas in recent years new restaurant openings have been focused in hipster enclaves in the East End, this year saw openings much more targeted on Central London (with 82 newcomers). Away from the centre, activity was very much more evenly spread than it has typically been in recent times. East London led the way, but only by a whisker (with 27 openings) closely followed by both South London (with 26) and West London (25).The only laggard was North London which – after a promising year last year – reverted to being the least popular area (with just 14 newcomers). Modern British cuisine (53) is by far and away the most popular for newcomers, with Italian (17), Indian (10) and Japanese (9) the next most numerous.

A great year for female chefs

The survey celebrates a great year for female chefs 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 7,500 people contributing 50,000 reports for the 2020 edition.

Stand-out performances from female chefs include the following:

Core by Clare Smyth knocked its near neighbour The Ledbury from the No. 1 position in votes for Top Gastronomic Experience of the Year; it also entered the list of Top 10 Most-mentioned restaurants in the survey, cementing its position as one of London’s pre-eminent restaurants. 

Taylor Bonnyman’s Five Fields – head chef Marguerite Keogh – scored the survey’s highest food mark having hit with not a single negative report received

• Newcomer of the year was Caractère: Emily Roux’s venture in partnership with husband Diego Ferrari and another high quality opening in Notting Hill which is undergoing something of a renaissance.

Sally Abé, head chef at The Harwood Arms, which was nominated for a second year as London’s Best Gastropub.

The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen


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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st November 2019

Harden's Guide 2020: London restaurants emerge from record slump