Brett Graham, owner of the two-Michelin-starred Ledbury restaurant, which closed due to the lockdown
I am a restaurant critic at The Spectator, however, I spent much of 2020 not reviewing restaurants but praying for them. I lost my spite and my pleasure this year.
It is easy in times of happiness to tease restaurants. I never got tired of mocking the restaurant-palaces of the rich with their full-size ornamental trees (Le Louis XV – Alain Ducasse, Monaco), their chairs for bags (if your bag is worth £5,000, why not?) their tanks of colored fish (Sexy Fish, Berkeley Square) and their evident surprise when you don’t order a £200 bottle to go with a £100 duck (Imperial Treasure of St James’s).
But even these palaces throbbed with anxiety through the autumn. They were almost empty and now, with much of the country in Tier 3, they have closed again, though many – Hide at Home, Le Comptoir Robuchon – are offering takeaway. We move forwards, we move backward.
If I lost my spite Gordon Ramsay did not. Early on in the pandemic, he developed a eugenics theory relating to restaurants; he said the deserving would survive. This is idiotic and unfair – the glorious Ledbury in Notting Hill was among the first to close, yet the KFC in Penzance mysteriously endures.
It seems that the well-funded (or those with sympathetic landlords) and the seriously cheap or well-sited will survive. That is the nightmare: we lose the middle. As I watched good restaurants fall this year, I appreciated them, and the people who make them, more than ever. Restaurateurs are dreamers by nature. They invest everything: money and time. No one goes into the restaurant trade for money – the work is too hard.
Ollie Dabbous of hiding is, for me, the most gifted chef in Britain, and the hours he works are incredible. (This is perhaps why the restaurant industry is one of the few remaining places where those without a university education thrive.) To be a restaurateur is an act of imagination, love, and will. Turnips greengrocer in Borough Market opened a restaurant with staff from The City Social this year. They built a fairyland out of turnips, and ash. Tomas Lidakevicius served food of incredible beauty and taste from what is essentially a field kitchen.