Last week I picked up the bill for an average meal for two with a bottle of wine in a well-regarded but non-Michelin-starred restaurant in the West End. It was just over £400. A few weeks before that, I ordered a pie in a Mayfair restaurant that cost £95. I shared the meal with a slightly bemused German journalist. “It’s good,” he said, “but not £95 good.” In the end, a pie is just a pie.
The cost of living crisis affects us all, but some of us more than others. Rich people are comparatively immune, while for the less well-off, it’s grindingly miserable. Something similar can be said of businesses. We know there’s suffering in all sectors but, once again, bigger, more established businesses are better able to weather the storm than smaller ones.
In Britain, things are significantly less upbeat. For years, most restaurants have worked to a greater or lesser extent on a single fag-packet equation:
“I knew I would come under fire from certain people,” says Kerridge, “but with overheads, wages and rents all going up I didn’t have any other choice. I’m not afraid of increasing prices, I know the quality of ingredients we are using, the skill set my team all have and I will never undervalue that. On the whole, the public have been very supportive. You don’t have to buy a Bentley, but you understand the craftsmanship that goes into making one.”
Pleasing consumers is only part of the battle, however. This was very clear when I spoke to the head of a small restaurant group, still doing well in the West End and the City, who didn’t want me to use his name in case any of his landlords noticed.
From the age of five to around the age of 16, I went to a restaurant roughly once a year. It was always the same place — a Berni Inn. We always ate the same prawn cocktail, steak and chips, Black Forest gateau. Today, nearly half a century on, aside from my day job, I might eat out more than once a week. I expect lunch to be bought and eaten on the go.
Britain’s current culture of food enthusiasm began in earnest around 2000, when there was a sea change in media interest.