Growth rate of independent London restaurant openings softens as baby ‘roll-outs’ gain ground

Harden's

Harden's

Standard Supplier 9th November 2017

Growth rate of independent London restaurant openings softens as baby ‘roll-outs’ gain ground

The giddy pace of independent London restaurant openings slackened in the last 12 months, according to the latest, 27th edition of Harden's London Restaurants published on 9 November, which recorded 193 newcomers in its new edition, compared to 200 the previous year.
The rate of restaurant closings however continued to rise from 76 to 84 – the third highest year on record (the record of 113 was set in 2004). Net openings of 109 (193-84) were lower by 12% than the previous year's 124 (200-76).
A further sign that the independent market is no longer screaming along comes from the ratio of openings to closings which declined again (to 2.3:1) – a second year of decline from 2016’s high peak (of 3.2:1), which was the 2nd highest in the last quarter century.
A slightly different perspective on the picture emerges however if the above figures are adjusted to include branches of chains which, for quality purposes, the guide has historically omitted from its figures. The number of such previously excluded spin-offs – parts of chains at an early stage in their ‘roll-out’ – more than doubled in the last year from 25 to 53, to give an aggregate newcomers total of 246 this year versus 225 a year earlier.
The guide's co-founder, Peter Harden, said: “You only have to look to The Ivy, to see a restaurant that was once a stand-alone icon, now being ‘rolled out’ at a rate that would do McDonalds proud. The old cliché that "independent = good, chain = bad" is being challenged at an incredible rate with the duplication in the last year of concepts rated very highly in the Harden's survey, such as Dinings, The Frog, Hoppers, James Cochran, Smoking Goat, and temper, all turning this traditional presumption on its head.”
In relation to the effects of Brexit he added: “Brexiteers can take some cheer from the above figures in that the confidence to invest at the quality end of the London Restaurant market has softened rather than collapsed. Remainiacs though may justifiably point out that the rate of brand creation, and the attraction of new international brands to the capital has slowed, and closings have risen, doubtless not helped by the growing crises in both recruitment and costs reported by many leading chefs and restaurateurs.”
East London still where the action is... but South is catching up!
After central London, "E" postcodes remain the destination of choice for new restaurant openings, although South London gave it a run for its money this year with 36 openings versus 39 out East. A particularly weak performance in West London made it the least interesting point on the compass: a distinction traditionally reserved for North London. Well-rated openings in South London this year included Rick Stein, Knife, Bala Baya, Nutbourne and Bar Douro.
Meat-based cuisines were less to the fore than last year, with Indian openings pipping them to the post as the third most popular category (the first two places remain reserved as they have been for many years by Modern British and Italian cuisines respectively).

Winners & losers in the 2018 Harden's Annual Restaurant Survey
Ratings and reviews in the guide 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 2017 edition.
Winners

• The Araki The UK's most expensive restaurant, run by three-Michelin-star chef, Mitsuhiro Araki, for the second year achieved the highest average food rating for: “world-class” sushi that’s “as close to Japan as you can get in London”, theatrically served by numerous chefs (including Mr Araki) to just nine diners.
• Marianne Chef Marianne Lumb entered the top-5 highest scoring restaurants for food (winning the ‘Top Gastronomic Experience Award’ at the Harden’s London Restaurant Awards 2017). Her “very special” petite, Notting Hill-fringe venue is “perfect for a romantic evening” with cooking that’s “peerless perfection”.
• Jamavar Not only the highest rated newcomer (and winner of the ‘Top Newcomer’ award at the Harden's London Restaurant Awards 2017), but also already the highest rated Indian restaurant in the capital. The “expert” cooking is “genuinely top class” (while “still remaining properly authentic to the flavours you might find in New Delhi or Mumbai”).
• Kiln Soho haunt serving “palate-searing” Thai dishes from the charcoal grill, it entered the top-5 highest scoring restaurants in its price bracket and was crowned Top Cheap Eat at the Harden's London Restaurant Awards 2017.
Losers

• The River Café once again overtook Sexy Fish to regain the dubious honour of London’s most overpriced restaurant. Even those diners who “appreciate the top quality sourcing” feel “charges are absurd for rustic dishes (it might be cheaper to fly to Italy for the day, dine and fly back!)”
• The Oxo Tower most-often nominated restaurant in the history of the guide for "Most disappointing meal of the year": Prices relative to the quality of the food at this South Bank tourist trap were branded “ridiculous” by Harden’s reporters. “How do they get away with it year after year? The wonderful view!”.
• The Ivy Café was a newcomer to the “Most disappointing meal of the Year” list. These casual spin-offs to the legendary Theatreland original offer bistro fare that’s “deeply average at best” plus “snobbish and unhelpful service” does nothing to aid the chain’s flagging ratings – it scored 1 out of 5 for food this year.
• Dinner where ratings have constantly declined year-on-year, which is no longer rated "good" but "average" for food. Diners feel this plush Knightsbridge hotel dining room “increasingly trades on the Blumenthal name” and charges “terrifying bills” for food that is “simply okay”. “If I want a modern take on 15th century chicken, in future I think I’ll go to Chicken Cottage!”
• Ratings at both Michelin's older 3-star awards Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road and Alain Ducasse at The
Dorchester again did nothing to justify their exalted status this year. Ramsay’s Chelsea HQ has not yet recovered from the loss of Clare Smyth: “The old standard of cooking is long gone, yet the bill still defies gravity.” While M Ducasse’s Mayfair flagship makes Harden’s reporters “seriously doubt the Michelin rating system”.

Prices continue to rise in real terms above inflation

The average price of dinner for one at establishments listed in the guide is £53.20 (compared to £51.37 last year). Prices have risen by 3.6% in the past 12 months. This rate compares with a general annual inflation rate of 2.9% for the 12 months to August 2017, accelerating the trend seen last year of restaurant price rises running somewhat higher than inflation generally.

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