After the first U.K. lockdown, hospitality reopened on 4th July 2020. It was glorious – for us, it was Gloria-ous – the nation got out in the sun to eat, drink and be merry. Later that year, in November, the country locked down once more, until 2nd December. We did not really laud this second reopening, but we did head out to Sushi Samba not long afterwards.
It seemed to me that celebrations second time around were kind of muted wherever you looked; for a start, it was a short lockdown and it passed by swiftly. Also, there was this kind feeling that the shuttering would not be the last, as it came during winter, when viruses thrive; it quickly transpired that the Kent variant was already spreading like wildfire. The third lockdown started just over a month later, in the New Year.
So here we were, spending the winter and early spring counting the days until 12th April 2021, when hospitality would reopen once more. It was a long wait; we even had time to move to a new house and for me to change jobs. In general, people were approaching this reopening with trepidation. First, it must be said that this is not a ‘proper’ reopening, as, for the time being, only outdoor dining would be allowed. Second, it is April; a month whose weather can throw up anything, from snow to sunshine. Finally, plunging infection rates and a kick-arse vaccination programme provides a glimmer of hope that this might – just might – be the last time we bid a farewell to eating out.
I was slow off the mark in finding a great place to celebrate The Glorious Twelfth. Gloria, ‘our’ restaurant, did not have a terrace, and their sister restaurant, Circolo Popolare, was fully booked for weeks. We decided to admit defeat and book a lunch at our local pub in Royal Arsenal. The Dial Arch is not really known for great food, but at least it has beer on tap and tables in the sun (a week later, we had a wonderfully stodgy and sunny lunch at MeatLiquor in Bloomsbury, so all was redeemed).
The Dial Arch immediately frustrated me with a glaring lack of a burger option on its menu. I ordered a pepperoni pizza, and The European had Crab Benedict. We shared some chips (yes yes, pizza and chips is basically as British as ait gets). The food was so-so; an unremarkable ‘off the shelf’ pizza and the Benedict being a little on the fishy side. But oh, to be able to dine-in, even it is out! We were so happy.
Typically, the weather on the 12th was as shitty as it could be (some regions in the U.K. did indeed report snow); we were treated to one of those wonderful London days where there is basically no weather at all. The sky was sky, there was no wind, and it was a temperatureless cold. Nevertheless, as soon as our pints of Beavertown and Camden Town IPA arrived, the clouds parted and our side of the terrace was bathed in warmth and sunlight. It disappeared no longer than five minutes afterwards, but for those few moments, it felt like everything was alright once more.
Take two on Take Three was a week later, at evening drinkiepoos with an ex-colleague. We headed to Ibérica in Canary Wharf, which has recently opened an expansive terrace just off the South Colonnade, giving the who area a very European piazza-y vibe. The cascading fountains on Cabot Square provided a calming, A.M.S.R.-like backdrop, even if they did smell strongly of chlorine.
It had been a warm day but as the evening drew in, the terrace became progressively chillier. Problems were exacerbated with the ordering of cold beers (who knew Estrella made such gorgeous dark stout?) and, for some reason, Spanish charcuterie rather than hot plates of tapas. Around 8pm, the Canary Wharf fun extractors turned off the fountains to coincide with the setting sun, so shortly afterwards we decided that a third round of drinks was going to result in us getting signed off with flu, so we settled and left.
Do not get me wrong, it is amazing to see hospitality reopen again. The words of encouragement and giddy energy from industry colleagues is infectious, and everywhere to see. It is just sods law that we get such a crappy April to celebrate it, and perhaps a powerful deterrent that we should continue to behave ourselves lest the industry is obligated to close once more and we spend more weeks and months shivering in beer gardens. For that reason, I think I shall put the proper celebrations on ice (no irony intended) until 17th May, when we can dine indoors, away from the elements.