The Lowdown: al fresco April

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Restaurants and pubs al fresco dining and drinks in April D&D London Parkers Arms Jodie Kidd Westminster

Related tags: Al fresco, Coronavirus, lockdown

With restaurants champing at the bit to reopen, many – particularly in the capital – are looking to make use of what outside space they have in order to unlock in April.

Good thing we can always rely on the weather in this country…
Well, yes, that is a concern - although not for anyone with shares in the tarpaulin trade, who must be rubbing their hands in anticipation. As with the Government announcement that outdoor hospitality settings should hopefully be able to unlock from 12 April – a full five weeks before indoor service can restart – many restaurants and pubs that have outside space have begun planning how to utilise it in order to take advantage of the earlier opening date.

What are they planning?
It’s early days, but some restaurants seemed to have already mapped out their al fresco approach (it’s as if they were expecting it). Take high-end restaurant group D&D London, which has confirmed it will be reopening a selection of its restaurant terraces and rooftops, including at its Kings Cross-based German Gymnasium; Bluebird in Chelsea; Coq D'Argent in the City; Le Pont de la Tour in Shad Thames; and Skylon on the Southbank. Chairman Des Gunewardena recently told the Daily Mail​ that, with customers unable to travel abroad because of the ongoing restrictions, each location will be styled on a popular holiday destination, with trees, floral displays, live music, cocktail trolleys and barbecues.

That’s some meteorological optimism. What are others doing?
In the capital, other restaurants looking to reopen in mid April include Julie’s Restaurant and Bar in Holland Park; Sam’s Riverside in Hammersmith; and French restaurant La Poule au Pot in Belgravia, where the outdoor terrace will be open daily starting from 11.30am, with outdoor heaters in place for chilly days, as well as parasols. Claude Bosi’s Oyster Bar, located beneath his two-Michelin starred restaurant in Chelsea, will also reopen; as will MEATliquor’s Oxford Circus based restaurant, which says it has limited availability for its outside spaces but has opened its booking lines. And then there are all the restaurants across Westminster who don’t have any private outside space, but will be able to make use of the local council’s al fresco scheme, which involves various roads being closed and turned into outdoor dining spaces.

Blimey that’s a lot of restaurants able to open their doors then
Hey, you know what they say - when it rains, it pours… although perhaps given the circumstances we should find a better analogy. It’s not just in London either. We expect to see schemes similar to that in Westminster popping up all over the country, as they did last year. And there’s also the great many rural and regional pubs that do have plenty of outside space to utilise, with the owner of a Suffolk-based teepee company recently telling the Daily Mail​ she has seen a spike in interest from pubs and restaurants looking to spruce up outdoor seating. Meanwhile, model-turned-publican Jodie Kidd, who runs The Half Moon in Kirdford, West Sussex, has put up a 22-seater marquee in her pub garden that’s filled with olive trees festooned with lights. Other distinguished pubs expected to open in April include the Cornish Arms in St Merryn, which is run by the Rick Stein restaurant group; and the Parkers Arms in Lancashire. Parkers Arms chef-patron Stosie Madi nicely summed on Twitter what many businesses are no doubt thinking: “We are still working on the logistics. We have the space but sadly not the weather. It is madness but we have to give it a go.”

This is all great, but presumably for many the idea of opening just for outdoor service is unviable?
Indeed. For the majority of hospitality businesses, in fact, it is likely to be impracticable; either because the numbers don’t work, or simply because they don’t have access to outdoor space. That’s why there’s such a drive at the moment to secure a greater funding package from the Government, to make sure these businesses can survive the even longer closure, and be able to bounce back when indoor settings reopen, hopefully, in mid May. Because the demand from customers is there. As Gunewardena describes it: “It’s like the end of the war – it’s a new start and we will re-open with enthusiasm to look forward. There is a huge demand by customers to get out socialising again.”

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