Starting any business, especially in a recession is a risky business in the UK and Europe. Thousands upon thousands of new venture start-ups go bust each year, and with unemployment rising, who would be brave enough to risk it all on a life-long dream of running an Uzbekistani restaurant in north London?
So I’m wondering – how are this nation’s restaurants surviving in these tough times? Food may be an obvious essential item – we all have to eat – but it does vary wildly in price depending on whether we take the nicer option of eating out, or slave away at home after a 10 hour shift at work. Taking into account those drink mark-ups and service charges, we might think that the restaurant trade, despite selling essential sustenance, is among the first sectors to crash and burn when customer’s disposal income takes a nosedive.
And yet, everywhere I look restaurants seem to be booming, from Cardiff to Bristol and London, owners can’t stop grinning as diners fight over tables. I don’t have access to any hard data, and I’m sure some restaurants are suffering but nonetheless I have not seen much evidence of the restaurant trade going into mass melt-down. Which raises the question – what is the formula for remaining immune to the prevailing economic climate?
One such restaurant that does seem very ‘recession proof’ is Novikov, the latest offering from legendary flamboyant Russian entrepreneur Arkady Novikov. Arkady has built up quite an empire, in Moscow alone he owns more than 50 restaurants, with more in the pipeline. Having conquered Mother Russian, he opened his first London based restaurant Novikov in 2012. I had the pleasure of dining here in spring, and my god the place was jam packed. Even on a Monday!
The location is Mayfair, naturally. Where else in London could you expect to attract such a large selection of the moneyed, bronzed and botoxed. Is it expensive – you bet! Novikov is definitely in the upper end of the price bracket and caters to the Nobu crowd on the opposite side of Berkeley Street, enticing them to switch allegiances with its two restaurants and designer bar. Flouting the current climate of austerity with wild abandon, guests can choose to sip cocktails in the fancy basement bar, enjoy Pan-Asian dishes in the upstairs restaurant or feast on Italian delicacies in the ball-room, prepared by head chef, Carmelo Carnevale.
We fancied an Italian that night and were promptly lead into a window-less but stylishly decorated large ornate dining room. The service was efficient, if a little overbearing. At times, it did seem like they couldn’t wait for us to vacate the table. However, the food thankfully was memorable and Novikov wowed us with delicious taglierini with pecorino, the best Dover sole I have tasted for a long time and the always reliable Osso Bbuco. All washed down with a good bottle of Greco Di Tufo, one of southern Italy’s best white wines.
Would I go back? Most definitely yes, Novikov is expensive but a lot of fun and the atmosphere is unbeatable in central London. The décor is lavish and the audience suitably glam. It is also an interesting case study in how restaurants can make themselves ‘recession proof”, make sure you’re brand is trendy and well known, and the location is paramount. Get that right and they will fight to get in. Novikov is admittedly the kind of restaurant that divides opinion, some hate it and some can’t get enough of it. Take my advice though, and make up your own mind.
So it seems that despite the recession, certain luxuries aren’t necessarily sacrificed in favour of ready meals for 2 at home. People will still spend money on their long-accustomed favourite pleasures – perhaps more than ever – in tough times. Restaurants who cater to those with money will continue to thrive, those aiming more mid-market better be seen to offer value for money – and there is always room for McDonald’s and Burger King.
50a Berkeley Street