The twelfth of April 2021 is a huge date for anyone in England who likes to eat and drink out. It’s the day hospitality businesses with outdoor space are allowed to reopen to the public, following a nationwide lockdown that has been in force since January. For many restaurants it’s an opportunity to claw back some of the revenue they’ve lost. However, less than half of hospitality businesses in England have outdoor space. That’s not necessarily a problem.
Legislation rushed through under the Business and Planning Act 2020 allows businesses to apply for pavement licenses. Regulated by local authorities, the licenses allow pubs, bars and restaurants to bring the inside, outside – including furniture, umbrellas and heaters. They are what transformed Soho’s streets in between lockdowns last year into scenes the English usually travel abroad for, with the likes of Greek, Frith and Dean Streets chock full of excited diners, eating al fresco. Some local authorities are now even waiving the £100 application fee.
What’s more, part of a new government support package allows for businesses to erect temporary structures without planning permission and for them to remain for the entirety of the summer. Big Hospitality reports this could mean an extra 9000 businesses are able to open in April ahead of the return of indoor dining on 17 May.
All of which has led to something of a scramble and a burst of creativity, as restaurants seek to make the most of this period, with pop-ups on pavements, terraces and rooftops. Everyone, it seems, is keen to try something a little different. The recovery starts here.
In the capital, chef Richard Corrigan’s new East London outpost Daffodil Mulligan will be keeping it simple with a new 28-seater terrace (below) and wood-fired grill, while down in Clapham, at Michelin-starred Trinity, they’ll be opening an outside area with a mobile bar and barbecue pumping out food a world away from the classical cooking it’s famous for.
Meanwhile, The Dorchester hotel is opening its first ever rooftop restaurant and bar, in what will be its 90th year. Chefs Tom Booton and Jean-Philippe Blondet of The Dorchester Grill and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester respectively will take turns cooking for lucky al fresco diners who may just find time to eat, in between Instagramming sunsets over Hyde Park and central London.
“There has been so much buzz around the launch already,” says Booton. “The idea is to celebrate different culinary traditions and hopefully give our guests a taste of something they may have missed over lockdown. I can’t wait to be back in the kitchen.”
Across the city at Allegra at another hotel, The Stratford, they are converting their existing seventh-floor terrace into a burger pop-up for four weeks, welcoming a series of guest chefs. Other restaurants are getting smart on terra firma. At Somerset House, they’re resurrecting their striking ‘dining domes’ from the winter, which will sit on the historic building’s terrace overlooking the Thames. And at Kerridge’s Bar & Grill at the Corinthia in Whitehall, the hotel has utilised a hereto unused outdoor mezzanine to create Kerridge’s Garden Grill, offering dishes such as whole grilled Cornish lobster and barbecue poussin. For Tom Kerridge, as for many chefs and restaurateurs, the pop-up is a chance to get staff back into the swing of things, while also creating a buzz for May reopening.
“First and foremost, the well-being of our staff has been at the forefront of our thinking in the last year. Our jobs can’t be done on zoom calls and everyone is desperate to get back to serving people. There is huge public demand to finally get out and enjoy themselves and we are relishing the opportunity of creating somewhere exciting and creating a little buzz in the heart of London. There is also an excitement with our name that hopefully stands us in good stead for when we can reopen fully in May, whilst also providing us with the opportunity to get a little practice at what may be a few rusty cooking and wine bottle opening skills.”
The terrace at Allegra
And it’s the same story, across the country. Up at chef Simon Rogan’s Henrock restaurant at Linthwaite House, overlooking Lake Windermere in Cumbria, they’ll be opening up a terrace (below) from 12 April to 15 May, serving international sandwiches like BBQ Korean pork, chilli hot dog and beef short rib, as well as showcasing produce from Rogan’s own local farm on a specialist salad trolley. At Michelin-starred Simpsons in Birmingham, they’ll be popping up with heated tents in their landscaped garden, offering a simpler menu, including soups, salads and steaks. But the British weather, as ever, could prove troublesome.
“Additional flexibility on the use of outdoor structures would be a huge help,” says Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality. “Last year’s reopening guidelines specified that outdoors structures had to be 50% open to the elements to constitute an outdoor space. That means that marquees, gazebos, pods or other temporary structures may be unusable. With the weather likely to be inclement for a few weeks yet, flexibility to allow these structures to be used would be a real bonus.”
However, the English are nothing if not resilient when it comes to inclement weather, and it’s unlikely rain, sleet or even snow will stop them from finally getting to enjoy dining out in restaurants again.