Covid forces a most celebrated Edinburgh restaurant to close – Stephen Jardine

When restaurants and cafes that survive the coronavirus lockdown re-open their doors, they will need our help, writes Stephen Jardine.
The Tower restaurant afforded views across Edinburgh from the top of the National Museum Of Scotland (Picture: Toby Williams)The Tower restaurant afforded views across Edinburgh from the top of the National Museum Of Scotland (Picture: Toby Williams)
The Tower restaurant afforded views across Edinburgh from the top of the National Museum Of Scotland (Picture: Toby Williams)

We’ve made it this far through lockdown so let’s go out to celebrate at a restaurant. Michelin-starred Bohemia has a table for two at lunchtime today if that works for you?

Just one small problem – it’s on the island of Jersey. Alfresco eating has been allowed there since last month but today Bohemia becomes the first Michelin-starred restaurant in Great Britain to reopen for business, thanks to the island’s special status.

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Back on the mainland, the outlook is less optimistic. On Thursday, the First Minister announced further moves out of lockdown but still no date for outdoor hospitality to reopen. Urging caution, Nicola Sturgeon said she had requested further scientific advice amid concerns that bars and restaurants can be hotspots for Covid-19 transmission.

The next update on outdoor eating and drinking will come on 2 July. The emphasis has to be on controlling the virus and saving lives but the clock is ticking when it comes to saving businesses.

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Popular island restaurant announces it won’t reopen after lockdown

Yesterday we learned one of Edinburgh’s most celebrated restaurants has taken its last orders. The Tower on the roof of the Museum of Scotland was opened 22 years ago by James Thomson who has the Midas touch when it comes to hotels and restaurants in the capital. It sailed through the downturn caused by the financial crisis and the tourism slump post-9/11 but couldn’t survive the pandemic.

Facing operational challenges due to the lift access and social distancing in a long, narrow dining room, the decision was taken not to renew the lease and a glittering chapter in Edinburgh’s eating out is over just like that.

The story is being repeated all over the country. In London, the restaurant casualties are piling up thick and fast. Le Caprice has always been a favourite with big name celebrities but it too has chosen to shut up shop at the end of a lease. In Notting Hill, The Ledbury is closing with chef Brett Graham saying operating the two-Michelin-starred establishment with social distancing would be “completely unworkable”. The big name places may be the first to go but they won’t be the last.

In the grand scheme of things when people are still dying, does that really matter? Well yes, it does actually. Quite apart from the jobs lost there is the eco-system that exists to keep them in business. Scotland is blessed to have a network of small artisan food companies supplying chefs with the local and seasonal produce that is the backbone to most menus nowadays.

When a restaurant closes, the butchers, fish merchants, vegetable suppliers, herb growers, cheesemakers and wine importers also suffer. But we are also poorer. We all have a favourite place to eat. Maybe it is where you go for big occasions or perhaps it is just the local cheap-and-cheerful spot you rely on when you can’t be bothered to cook.

All of them are under threat right now. After three months of lockdown, they need understanding banks and cooperative landlords just to be able to reopen their door next months. Then it is over to us. They say if you don’t use it, you will lose it. When it comes to restaurants that has never been more true.

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