Hardens: London restaurants' growth rate 'off the charts'

By Mark Wingett

- Last updated on GMT

Bao London, backed by the Sethis and set up by Shing Tat Chung (right) with Wai Ting Chung and Erchen Chang, was this year's highest rated survey newcomer
Bao London, backed by the Sethis and set up by Shing Tat Chung (right) with Wai Ting Chung and Erchen Chang, was this year's highest rated survey newcomer

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The highest ever rate of new restaurant openings in the capital is recorded in the 25th edition of Harden’s London Restaurant guide, which is published today.

The number of restaurants opening in London is outpacing that of closures at a rate of three to two, according to the guide, which also highlights the rise of Asian-influenced restaurants and names Le Gavroche as London’s 'Top Gastronomic Experience'.

According to BigHospitality's sister publication M&C Allegra Foodservice​, the guide, which has tracked restaurant openings since 1991, records 179 newcomers in its latest edition, which exceeds both the 2008 pre-financial ­crash level of 158, and 2015ʼs figure of 148.

Although the number of closures, 56, was slightly higher than last yearʼs (at 47, the lowest this century), it is still a modest amount, continuing a three-­year trend of very limited closures.

The resulting net openings of 123 beats last yearʼs high of 101. The ratio of openings to closings stood at 3:2 to 1, a ratio beaten only once in the guideʼs history (in 1996).

In only five of the last 25 years has Hardenʼs recorded a ratio that exceeded 2:4 to 1. At the same time, Harden’s found that the average price of dinner for one at establishments listed in the 2016 guide was £50.51 (compared to £49.46 last year). It said that prices had risen by 2.1 per cent  in the past 12 months. It said that was a little less than last yearʼs rise of 2.7 per cent, however it significantly exceeds the current, very low rate of inflation (effectively zero). Therefore this yearʼs real level of restaurant price rises is significantly higher than last yearʼs (which broadly tracked inflation).

The guideʼs co-­founder, Peter Harden, said: “The growth of Londonʼs restaurant scene is jaw­-dropping in comparison to its recent past, never mind the ʻDark Agesʼ in which we founded our guide 25 years ago. It is wonderful to be celebrating the guideʼs silver anniversary in what is a golden age for restaurant­-goers.”

Winners and losers

Le Gavroche was named London’s Top Gastronomic Experience. It is the second time the Michel Roux Junior restaurant has claimed the accolade.

Ratings and reviews in the guides are based on an annual poll of restaurant goers with some 6,750 people contributing over 60,000 reports.

Last year’s winner – The Ledbury – maintained the highest average food rating and took second place in the overall ratings followed by Chez Bruce, Fera at Claridge’s and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in Knightsbridge as the top five.

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Pied a Terre, Pollen Street Social, Story and Hedone made up the rest of the top 10. At the other end of the spectrum, the most disappointing cooking was voted to be found at The Chiltern Firehouse followed by Oxo Tower and Pollen Street Social.

The River Café had the dubious honour of taking up the mantle of Most Overpriced Restaurant for the second year in a row. The Anchor & Hope in Waterloo was again named best for pub/bar food, followed by the Harwood Arms and the Bull & Last.

The top 10 also featured The Ladbroke Arms, The Jugged Hare, The Truscott Arms and the Pig & Butcher, plus newcomers The Princess Victoria, The Camberwell Arms and The Eagle.

The Wolseley, which also came out on top for best breakfast/brunch, was again named best for business followed by The Delaunay and The Square.

Cuisine influence

The guideʼs introduction notes the prevalence of outstanding Asian food of all kinds in the city. Four of the guideʼs 10 most notable 2015 newcomers represent four different eastern cuisines – The Araki (Japanese), Bao (Taiwanese), Duck & Rice (Chinese) and Smoking Goat (Thai). Harden said that this is “indicative of a greater stepchange in the sorts of establishments opening in London”.

The introduction also records that almost 10 per cent of restaurants opened this year were Japanese, making it the most popular cuisine for new openings, along with Italian eateries which accounted for a similar number of newcomers. The Araki enters into the survey this year as the most expensive restaurant per head by quite a margin, where diners easily spend £360-­plus each with drinks and service.

At the other end of the price scale, Taiwanese outfit, Bao – a Hackney Netil Market stall-­turned­-permanent-­Soho-­restaurant (backed by the Sethis) - was this yearʼs highest rated survey newcomer.

Americanisation is the other significant trend touched on by the guide, “but its significance may be over-­stated because US-­inspired brands and imports generally shout so loud about what they have to offer!”. Harden said: “No doubting, however, that the US-­style craze for steaks, BBQs and other meatylicious fare continues unabated. Millennials, it seems, prefer munching burgers to saving the planet…

“The other most popular cuisines this year were Spanish concepts, and ‘fusion’ – our catch­all for a multitude of novel ideas.”

 Location, location, location

The guide also highlights that London’s restaurant compass continues to shift, “drawn by the new magnetic poles of Shoreditch, Hackney and Haggerston”.

Harden said: “Although central London is still where we record most new openings, it is now closely followed by East London, and then South London, in terms of popularity for new sites.West London accounted for exactly half the openings out East this year, transforming the situation that prevailed when we started the guide (in which we recorded just six restaurants in an “E” postcode).

West London activity still exceeds that of North London however, which – despite the odd sign of life – still maintains a surprisingly tame restaurant scene. “If London is following Tokyo’s path at all, it is perhaps evident in two areas. One (incredibly welcome) trend is restaurant­goers’ increasing focus on the quality of ingredients. Another is the focus on restaurants pursuing a single activity or dish. So this year, we’ve seen newcomers focussed solely on egg dishes, porridge, cheese toasties…even now just chips!” 

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