My London life is a stream of restaurants, food experiences and connections with hospitality. My memories are always attached to something food related in London and it is almost a badge I wish I could wear. Recently, some of my London restaurant family have either made the move and left hospitality altogether or have had to up sticks and leave the country rather suddenly.
This has me reflecting on some of my own memories of the London restaurant scene and its resilience.
I started my London career working in Mezzo, accidentally taking on a supervisor role which I wasn’t prepared for, but I kept my mouth shut and grafted for three or four months until I felt I had a little authority. Mezzo was a great training ground and an experience, turning the tables every 1 hour and 45 minutes like clockwork.
I am reminded of walks through Soho at 4am in the morning to catch the Number 10 night bus home and having Tom Hanks sneak into a staff briefing at the launch of Catch Me If You Can. But more importantly, the people I worked with then have become my London family and proudly, I can say that 16 years later, they are still my family.
London has this unspoken ability to connect people, from every background, every culture. I was working in Islington when the 7/7 bombings occurred, and I remember the panic of trying to reach team members and friends and family members on that frightful day. As we were lighting the candles that evening, a stream of City workers started to fill the pub. With all the tubes not running, people were forced to walk home from central London and we ended up being one of the pitstops on route. I remember the most amazing atmosphere that night. A heaving pub but with the amazing humanity and understanding between punters and staff. We were one, determined to continue and fight as London always does, pint in hand.
And London does continue… my most recent pleasure, visiting Coal Drop Yards and all the new development in Kings Cross. Working in St Pancras International for over 2 years while this development was underway, I am still blown away by how much the whole area had evolved from the days when I would dread my Number 10 nightbus terminating there unexpectedly, to a place I now happily bring my 6 year old son to, to play in Granary Square. I couldn’t be in awe of the operators that have sites there including an old Mezzo buddy who is the proud owner of HICCE (so worth a visit).
So whilst we are seeing the demise of the likes of Jamie’s Italian and we are all a little apprehensive about a post Brexit world, I am encouraged by the entrepreneurial spirit of London and how it ever evolves and I encourage all my fellow restauranteurs to seek out the opportunities that this shift will bring, evolve, celebrate our industry and encourage the next generation to join us.
In the words of Anthony Bourdain, who left us just over a year ago: ‘if anything is good for pounding humanity into you permanently, it’s the restaurant business’.