Closure to the year in restaurants
2018 has been one hell of a year for restaurants in London. While plenty of new restaurants have opened, an alarmingly large number of restaurants have closed their doors forever. Much has been written elsewhere about the perfect storm of conditions that have led to this industry-wide reckoning, with the causes varying from case-to-case. For some restaurants it’s a mixture of rising wages, ingredient costs, business rates and rents, along with a chronic labour shortage. In other cases, it’s down to more budget-conscious diners favouring the likes of Deliveroo. In the case of some high street chains, those overextended, debt-laden, investor-fuelled ventures imploded under their own weight. Sometimes, it’s a toxic brew of all-of-the-above.
This article therefore doesn’t delve deeper into the reasons behind the 2018 restaurant reckoning, nor is it in any way an exhaustive listing of the year’s closures. Indeed, it’s not exclusively about 2018 at all and nor is it a sombre navel-gazing wake. While I do mourn some of my favourite restaurants that have closed in recent years, in doing so I also highlight comparably similar-ish restaurants that are still open and are worthy substitutes/successors. After all, it’s far too easy to overlook the gems that are still with us while looking back wistfully at what we’ve lost.
It’s somewhat maudlin to miss a restaurant that closed way back in the latter half of 2016, but Piquet was special. It had that seemingly effortless combination of warm, efficient service, sumptuous French-ish food and classy decor – all of which isn’t effortless at all. Bellanger’s hearty Alsace-Lorraine brasserie fare is only a rough equivalent for Piquet’s bistronomy, but the two otherwise have much in common. For these reasons, and many more besides, Bellanger retains a special place in my London restaurant affections.
Shotgun was one of London’s best American-style barbecue restaurants, serving finely smoked meats with the occasional modern twist. It was a small place, squished into cosy Soho premises, but its absence is still keenly felt. Fortunately, London still has Texas Joe’s – home to the best barbecue in the capital, second to no-one.
Ten Ten Tei
Ten Ten Tei wasn’t the best sushi restaurant in London as it was always outgunned by the po-faced kaiseki temples when it came to the fish swagger stakes. But it was easily the best value with bargain prices for consistently respectable sushi and sashimi. Unsurprisingly, given today’s fish prices, no restaurant has managed to achieve the same delicate balancing act as well as Ten Ten Tei did. The izakaya Jugemu and Chisou spin-off Sushi Atelier have come closest. The quality of their fish, especially at Jugemu, remains impressive for the relatively scant amounts of money they charge for it. It’s hard to say how long they can continue that magic trick – all the more reason to visit them sooner rather than later.
Okonomiyaki is one of life’s great comfort foods and I don’t care for the opinion of anyone who says otherwise. One hopes that something equally worthwhile will take the place of the now-closed Abeno Too, given its prime spot near Leicester Square. Unfortunately that very location stokes fears that some desperately mediocre tourist trap will snap it up instead. Fortunately, the original Abeno on Museum Street is still in operation. I’m terrible at predicting future food ‘trends’, so I can only hope that okonomiyaki becomes the next ‘big thing’. If there’s one thing that this town will need in the year ahead, it’s hearty, high-quality comfort food.
Unlike most of the other closed restaurants on this list, the reasons behind the closure of Bad Sports have been publicly spoken about. That doesn’t make its passing any less grievous – this oddly-named Mexican restaurant served up some of the best tacos in London. Fortunately, Santo Remedio – which itself survived closure and relocated thanks to a crowdfunding campaign – is alive and kicking. Even though Santo Remedio’s other savoury dishes are better than its tacos, that Mexican restaurant still stands head and shoulders above the competition.
This is an odd entry as Temper City hasn’t really closed, but it has changed its menu so drastically in the face of commercial pressures that it almost feels like a closure. Instead of its eclectic wide-ranging and deeply personal take on curry, it now has a menu hewing more closely to that of the original Soho Temper. While there’s no shortage of places in London to get a curry, one of my personal favourites is Thai restaurant Singburi. The nuance, depth, sophistication and verve of its curries – especially those on its ever-changing specials board – are worth travelling across town for.
Vico, a spin-off of Soho favourite Bocca di Lupo, changed its seating-serving setup and menu in an ultimately futile effort to survive. While its savoury menu was highly variable, it did have the benefit of long opening hours and sumptuous gelato from stablemate Gelupo. There was even a Gelupo counter in-store with its own perches for ice cream scoffers. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of gelateria in the capital. Aside from the original branch of Gelupo, there’s Oddono’s and odd yet treasured find Unico is starting to sprout sister branches across the city. On the savoury side, Lina Stores has easily eclipsed many of the West End’s other, far less superlative Italian restaurants to become my favoured pasta pit stop of choice.
Rex and Mariano
2 St Anne’s Court in Soho is something of a cursed address. It had long been the site of a Revolution bar – the drinking spots of choice for management consultants fond of cheap drinks, even cheaper chat-up lines and chunder-inducing dry humping. The address graduated from abominable wretch status to true respectability when Rex and Mariano took over with its immensely enjoyable range of grilled and raw seafood dishes at astonishingly reasonable prices. Naturally, such wanton goodness was not to last. Rex and Mariano has since been replaced by Zelman Meats, a chophouse from the same proprietors that has staggered on with the help of numerous eye-catching special offers.
While there are plenty of seafood restaurants in this town, most seemingly aim to charge as much as possible and come with commensurately stilted atmospheres too. Bright isn’t specifically a seafood restaurant, but when seafood is on its small, ever-changing menu (and it usually is) then you should order those dishes without hesitation. It’s far from an exact match, but it’s still a damn good one.
The Cornwall Project at The Newman Arms
Similar to Temper City, The Newman Arms in Fitzrovia is an oddity. This pub is still in business, but its upstairs restaurant no longer serves the deceptively simple dishes based around seasonal Cornish produce that so bewitched me. Instead, it serves up pies and a few other pub classics (none of which I can vouch for). In a sign that I clearly need to up my gastropub coverage, I can’t think of a suitable alternative with the possible exception of The Harwood Arms. If one exists, somewhere out there in the 32 and a bit boroughs of this city, then I look forward to finding it in the year ahead.
– The Picky Glutton