“It’s been a long three months. I’m very excited to get my chef’s whites back on this weekend and do what I do best,” says Chesky Myer, pastry chef at Tish.
Kosher diners will be excited, too, as London’s kosher restaurants are taking part in the great English opening this weekend – but what can we expect?
Lee Landau, the kosher restaurant scene’s answer to Richard Caring, has opened 12 restaurants in 12 years. His S Group comprises Soyo, Pizaza, Hot Cut, Pita, Delicatessen, Reubens and the new Soyo Diner that opened just before lockdown. They have kept the community fed with delivery and takeaway, but now it’s time to open the doors.
“We can’t all keep ourselves locked up at home until Covid-19 goes away,” he says. “We must learn to live with it and it’s our job to make our diners feel safe so they will have the confidence to go out to eat again.”
Landau and his team have been working around the clock to not only keep the restaurants afloat during lockdown, but to put procedures in place for reopening. Pivoting to delivery and takeaway straight away was key to maintaining turnover (which increased at fast-food joints Hot Cut and Pita), keeping the brands alive and keeping as many staff off furlough as possible (40 out of 200).
They adapted where possible, rolling out an express menu for Delicatessen in Hampstead and taking the decision to close Pizoyo in Borehamwood to focus on more profitable venues.
Kosher restaurateurs are no stranger to working with restrictions, but this is a whole new ball game. From this weekend, diners at S Group venues will be greeted at the door and asked to give their contact details in case they are needed for track and trace.
Tables will be suitably distanced and fixed booths will be separated by Perspex screens. Tables will be sanitised between sittings and each diner will have a disposable paper placemat menu. Cutlery and glassware will only appear once seated, while salt, pepper and condiments will be available in sachets. All points of contact, such as door handles, will be cleaned every hour, toilets every half an hour and bottlenecks such as entrances and service counters managed.
All this comes at a cost, as does the fact that many of the ingredients and supplies have increased in price, but Landau is conscious people need to be encouraged to come out, not priced out of coming. S Group restaurants will add a 75p Covid surcharge per diner to the bill to cover the increased costs, and Landau will be recommending other restaurant owners do the same. “This pandemic has united the industry and we are sharing ideas and working together to keep it going,” he says.
Gideon’s in Edgware opened last November and a newly-built-up clientele fell away as Covid struck. “We had to adapt fast to survive and also to ensure we could continue to provide kosher food to people stuck at home,” says owner Gideon Schulman.
They quickly launched a free delivery service locally and distributed leftover food to local families struggling during the lockdown. With the doors closed, they took the opportunity to get on with a redesign of the restaurant to incorporate a bar and a new look. Gideon’s is opening mid-July in a limited way, with tables booked in advance, limits on customer numbers, table service and a ‘footlong hotdog’ menu.
Tish in Belsize Park is opening at the weekend with slightly reduced hours. While it won’t be practical to reinstate the Shabbat pre-order meal service straight away, as large groups are not allowed, a full à la carte menu will be available all day and evening. Tish will also make use of its large, spacious terrace and offer bar bites and tapas-style dishes.
“We’ve had a week of training in all the new measures and are keen to get going,” says Chesky. “I’ve never had so long off work since I started aged 16, but I’ve used the time to plan menus and practise dishes.”
Adam Urinov is reopening his Edgware restaurants Aviv and Met Su Yan to diners this weekend. Aviv has kept going with deliveries and Friday night dinners during lockdown, but staff at Met Su Yan tend to travel from further out and were not comfortable doing so at the height of the pandemic. “I did what I needed to do to survive the past three months, but the real challenge starts now,” he says. “Met Su Yan will reduce to a 40-seater to be able to keep tables far enough apart, but Aviv is a bigger place so we should still be able to seat 75.”
Both venues will rely on takeaway trade to keep profitable, and Urinov will put more people in the kitchens if demand is there. Functions are off for now, but based on the government diktat that two households of any size can meet, at Aviv Urinov expects to see a return of the large scale-bookings for which the restaurant is so well-known.
Following government guidelines and working closely with health and safety officials, kosher restaurant owners will be doing all they can to ensure the safety of staff and customers. As for the diners, Landau’s advice is to stay alert, control the virus, save lives and eat salt beef.