The Power of Neighbourhood Restaurants…

Before I headed off to King’s Cross station to board a train to Timothy Taylor’s Brewery in Yorkshire for my stag do, and before my fiancée went off to do her hen things, we both did the sensible thing and prepared ourselves by popping into a local café for a full fry-up.

Fast forward more years than I care to remember and that cafe above Turnpike Lane tube station in north London is moving up in the world because on 17 May it will become home to Turul Project – a destination restaurant for contemporary Hungarian cuisine. 

From greasy spoon to Hungarian fine dining

Istvan Ruska, founder of Turul Project, had been operating the concept as a pop-up across various parts of London for a couple of years before covid-19 hit and had been achieving his aim of “making high-end Hungarian gastronomy accessible” to London diners. He made the decision to open a permanent unit in early 2020 and although covid-19 slowed down his search, he acknowledges he has had the fortune to benefit in some ways from the current difficulties.

The site became available because of the problems of the previous occupiers and he has also bagged a space that gives him more square footage than he would have previously expected to pick up. It will accommodate both a 40-cover restaurant/wine bar along with a sizeable deli area. He is also benefiting from the site being in prime territory for a neighbourhood London restaurant. This had always been his preference but covid-19 has given a shot in the arm to local shopping and eating/drinking, which will be very welcome when he opens the doors to his first guests.

The recently published Harper Dennis Hobbs Vitality Ranking 2021 starkly highlighted how city centre locations have fallen like a stone in the table of the UK’s most vibrant retail and leisure locations. The likes of Manchester, Liverpool and London’s Knightsbridge, Chelsea and West End have dropped hundreds of places from their top positions last year. They have been replaced by locations including Beaconsfield, Henley-on-Thames, Tenterden and London’s Wimbledon Village, Hampstead and Muswell Hill areas. 

Up the road from Ruska, in Crouch End, is Anthony Lyon who was certainly ahead of the game when he opened Lyon’s Seafood & Wine Bar in September 2019. Having spent some years in central London managing venues for the likes of Corbin & King, Roka and Hix Restaurants, he recognised the appeal of the neighbourhood restaurant compared with the aggressively priced and ultra-competitive environments in the city centres.

When I met him a few months after opening, he predicted more chefs and restaurant managers would be looking to do their own thing in neighbourhoods to a clientele of locals with whom they could build relationships and become part of the community. “Talented individuals are moving out. They won’t even consider the West End [city centre]. They are instead branching out and it’s good for the people who live in those areas,” he suggested.

Lyon has been somewhat prophetic because there is no doubt he, and operators like Ruska too, will benefit greatly from the changed dynamics in their local areas. We have yet to see the long-lasting impact of covid-19 on city centres as a result of the rise of working from home and the resistance to commuting and using public transport but there seems little doubt the neighbourhood restaurant is in a powerful position. When they open their doors in May, they will have an opportunity to build on the goodwill they’ve accrued within their local communities from the box delivery schemes, click and collect, NHS donations and other initiatives they might have cooked up this past year.

Even if their doors have been firmly closed or the restaurant is new to an area like Turul Project, residents will undoubtedly find a new appreciation and love for their neighbourhood restaurants that have had a tough time over recent years. Even before covid-19, the market was saturated with well-funded restaurant brands. Times have changed and many of these bloated brands have gone. Regardless of whether it is a humble greasy spoon or has turned into a high-end Hungarian establishment, I’m looking forward to supporting these local hospitality businesses.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider 

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.