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'We were determined to save our staff and somehow ride this out'

Regulars return to the Delaunay as restaurant opens its doors for the first time in seven months despite London's tier 2 restrictions

The Delaunay restaurant on Aldwych, central London
The Delaunay restaurant on Aldwych, central London

Unlike the "back again" sign outside the Ludenwic cafe a couple of doors down on Aldwych, there was nothing heralding the return after almost seven months of one of London's most popular business lunch haunts, the Delaunay.

Nestled among the dark theatres where shows such as Mamma Mia and the Lion King once played, the European-style grand cafe closed its doors back on March 17. 

Corbin & King, which also runs venues including the Wolseley on Piccadilly, set the reopening wheels in motion despite the ongoing dearth of visitors to "mid-town" and Covent Garden. It did not pull the handbrake despite the imposition of tier 2 restrictions on London last week.

Jeremy King describes the decision as "act of positivity and optimism" that was also influenced by the fact he and business partner Chris Corbin would need to make more than 100 staff redundant if the Delaunay did not start serving once more. "We were determined to save our staff and somehow ride this out," King says.

About 20 regulars turned up for breakfast when the doors opened at 8am on Tuesday, with a few more than that turning up for lunch. Most tables were occupied by two people, with a few solo diners; the staff didn't quite outnumber the customers, but there was not much in it. 

One former regular who happened to be passing by and realised the joint had reopened even decided to come in for a martini to celebrate.   

The Delaunay on the corner of Drury Lane and Aldwych

Delaunay general manager Michelle Chillingworth says bookings for dinner later in the week and this weekend are strong, with lots of regulars looking forward to coming back. The restaurant could seat about 180 people pre-Covid, although that number is now down to about 120.

Your fearless correspondent is pleased to report that the Delaunay serves an excellent rib eye steak and fries, while another diner nearby seemed very pleased indeed with the confit of duck. Also on the menu are dishes such as Chicken Schnitzel and Steak Tartare, although the chargrilled spiced cauliflower steak does give vegetarians at least one main course option.

One patron asked the waiter if he could take his slice of black forest gateau home; I was quite happy to polish off my baked vanilla cheesecake there and then, however. 

Chillingworth says many customers are confused about who is allowed to dine with whom under the latest restrictions. 

King argues that establishments such as the Delaunay and Wolseley can only survive if the Government confirms that business meetings are a legitimate reason to dine indoors at a restaurant with people from different households. If ministers fail to heed his call, the hospitality sector will hope he is proved wrong.