London restaurants show record rate of growth

By James Wallin

- Last updated on GMT

London's eating-out scene is in 'overdrive', but Harden's warns the growth might not be sustainable
London's eating-out scene is in 'overdrive', but Harden's warns the growth might not be sustainable

Related tags: Restaurant, Food, London, London restaurants

London has recorded its highest ever rate of net restaurant openings but there are concerns that the bubble may be about to burst.

The latest edition of Harden’s London Restaurants, published tomorrow, describes the eating-out scene in the capital as being in “overdrive” with 148 new openings and the lowest number of closures this century, at 47.

The net openings figure for the year stands at 101 – nearly a third higher than the previous high of 75 in 2006.

The guide points out that the growth is not restricted to central and West London, with the restaurant scene in East London now flourishing and areas previously regarded as undesirable markets, such as Peckham, now attracting quality eateries.

But Peter Harden, co-founder of the guide, sounded a note of caution, saying: “This exceptional level of growth is a fabulous achievement for the capital, but raises questions about its sustainability. It underlines London’s continued emergence as the greatest restaurant city on the planet, but – in the 24 years in which we have tracked openings – such highpoints have also often heralded more competitive times ahead.”

The guide says prices at restaurants are broadly in line with inflation, with the average price for venues listed at £49.46 compared to £47.68 last year – a rise of 2.7%.

In a guide to the restaurant scene entitled “the bull run continues” the authors consider how far the capital has come.

It says: “We are very conscious that the restaurant scene is now getting so big that the bar for registering on the critical appraisal ‘radar’ has risen in recent years: there are certainly openings which would have seemed of some significance a decade ago which today pass largely unnoticed.

“So quickly can the dining out scene change that restaurant years are more like dog years than human ones. Many people who have come to London in the past half-decade think that it is normal and natural for this to be regarded as one of the great dining out cities of the world, not realising just how recently this situation has come to pass – 20 years ago the proposition would rightly have been derided, and even a decade ago it would have sounded very much like boosterism.”

The guide also talks about trends in London’s dining sector.

It says: “Interesting restaurants are not only popping up everywhere, they come progressively in every national flavour, and indeed nowadays often a subdivision of a national flavour. A decade ago, we usually described restaurants as, say, ‘Italian’. Nowadays they are often Sardinian, Sicilian, Puglian, Neapolitan… And all the (larger) continents, in the last few years including South America, are now represented.

‘Trends’ do not seem radically to have changed of late. Most obvious is the continuing fetishisation of New York City as the first port of call for anyone looking for so-called inspiration for any ‘new’ sort of restaurant concept, and the continuing obsession for meat-led restaurants. Perhaps the message that excessive meat consumption is bad both for the individual and the planet will finally get through? One day!

“Also imperishable, but over a much longer timescale, seems to be the appeal of some of the fast food classics, and in particular the pizza and the hamburger, both of which are in the process of re-invention by a new generation. It is difficult, though, to say that there is really anything new in this – the first London craze for hamburgers kicked off with the opening of the first Wimpy bar… in 1954.

“One area where progressive change definitely is apparent is the continuing move away from the idea that quality dining out is a knife-and-fork activity, usually consisting of three courses – witness the opening of Fera at that supposed bastion of the Establishment, Claridge’s. If there has been one single decisive shift of recent years, it is that small plates – considered radical a decade ago – now seem very much here to stay.”

The guide highlights its most significant openings of the year, listed as:

Chiltern Firehouse

City Social

Fera at Claridge’s

Kurobuta

Lyle’s

Merchants Tavern

The New Angel

The Palomar

The Typing Room

Uni

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