A review of restaurant openings and closures in London suggests that the industry is defying the recession with closures at their lowest level since 2000 and openings up 8 per cent during the past 12 months.
The review by Harden's for the 19th edition of its London Restaurants guide found that 64 sites closed in the capital between the middle of 2008 and the middle of this year compared with 71 in the previous year. There were 121 new restaurant openings, compared to 111 the previous year.
Peter Harden, co-publisher of the guide, said the figures went against all predictions for how the market would perform this year.
"Everyone, including us, thought that London's restaurants were in for a bloodbath in 2009. Well, it just didn't happen. Earlier this decade, closures twice rose into the 80s, and in 2003 they shot up to 113. Bizarrely, however, this year's figure of 64 was actually just below even normal levels," he said.
Possible reasons for buoyancy, says Harden, are multiple. "One of the more important reasons may be that most restaurant-going Londoners are still in employment, and many of them have had their disposable income boosted by lower mortgage payments. Another is that active promotion by restaurants is no longer seen as embarrassing, and they have more sophisticated promotional instruments at their disposal.".
Some of the biggest venue openings over the past year were by 'long-term players at the top end of the industry' such as Richard Corrigan's eponymous Mayfair restaurant and Terence Conran's Lutyens, which opened in Fleet Street last month. Those which closed included Gary Yau's Aaya, soon to be the site of Mark Hix's latest restaurant; Drones and Lindsay House.
Hardens notes that many operators are also persevering with plans to open sites over the coming year with St John and Hakkasan planning new ventures in the West End and the Galvin brothers, John Torode and Nuno Mendez set to open new restaurants in the East End.