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London’s restaurants stoic in face of chaos and tragedy

‘Let’s get back to work’ was the message from London’s restaurants this morning, as staff opened up the day after four terrorist bombs paralysed the city, leaving at least 37 dead and hundreds injured, many critically.

Yesterday the city struggled to cope with the most devastating terrorist attack London has ever experienced. The entire Underground system was closed, as was the bus network. The only public transport available was taxis, but as key roads were closed to all but emergency vehicles, these were little use.

‘We were very gravely affected by the bombs,’ said Jan Stroop, brasserie manager of One Lombard Street, which overlooks the Bank of England in the heart of the City of London financial district. The restaurant, normally full on what is the busiest day of the week, was down to a handful of tables.

The restaurant is a kilometre away from Liverpool Street and Aldgate East, the two stations between which a bomb was detonated at 8.52am, killing seven people.

Stroop told decanter.com the atmosphere was ‘surreal’, with normally traffic-laden streets empty but for scores of people on foot, looking disoriented as they evacuated the Underground.

He said those that did come in for lunch drank more than he would have expected – he suggested people needed ‘the comfort of a bottle of wine’ to cope with the traumatic events unfolding mere blocks away.

One Lombard Street closed at 3pm in order to let staff get home – many had several hours’ walk ahead of them.

But in the Coq d’Argent in Poultry, a street adjoining the Bank of England, general manager David Best had a completely different story.

‘We were 80% normal yesterday. Breakfast was very strong, even while it was all going on. Dinner was very busy, as was the bar. We felt we wanted to keep going. There’s a psychological reason – it’s important to stay open as usual.’

Best said the atmosphere was a little subdued, but it was so busy that he worried about not having enough staff, and at one stage nearly needed someone on the door to control entry.

‘Everyone had a story to tell. A lot of people were coming in to pass the time before they set off to try and find a bus.’

At Sweetings in the arterial Queen Victoria Street, a stone’s throw away, Patrick Molloy said ‘all hell broke loose’ at about 9am, with ‘ambulances and police cars doing 80 or 90mph past the restaurant.’

Yesterday was subdued, Molloy said, with diners – about half the usual number – eating and getting out quite quickly. Today was down about 10 or 15%, he added. ‘But we’re getting on with business as usual. People are calling and asking if we are open, and I’m saying, “Of course we are”.’

In other parts of London restaurants were experiencing cancellations, and some closed due to delivery problems. Marco Pierre White at L’Escargot in Soho said there were ‘mass cancellations.’

Giuliano Lotto, managing director of Teca in Mayfair and Eden in Holland Park, told The Guardian newspaper they had had 75% cancellations yesterday, but he hoped ‘British pluck’ would bring the diners back again.

‘I think people here are much less panicky than in other parts of the world.’

Indeed, everyone involved in the shattering events of yesterday, from Underground staff to the emergency services, has been praised for their calm.

In London’s hotels the story was one of overbooking rather than cancellations, as commuters from further afield looked for places to stay the night.

At the Landmark Hotel in Marylebone – which hosts the thrice-yearly Decanter Fine Wine Encounters, and is near the affected Edgware Road Underground station – staff said ‘more people are trying to book, and other hotels that are full are ringing us as well.’

Hotels were one of the worst-hit sectors in 2001 as tourism collapsed in the wake of 9/11, with occupancy dropping to less than 50%. Analysts expect a similar, though less extreme, reaction after yesterday’s events. Insurance costs are certain to rise, one industry observer said.

If there was one retail sector that certainly did well out of the chaos, it was the trainer shops.

‘I’ve never seen so many men in suits wearing new trainers,’ Jan Stroop said. ‘They all knew they had a three or four hour walk to get home, so they went out and got some decent shoes.’

Written by Adam Lechmere

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