Francis Menassa, JAR Capital: A simple ingredient could be the key to success for restaurants
While restaurants in London come and go with each passing fad, the key to long-standing credibility lies in food steeped in tradition
The London food scene is a fickle arena. Fads come and go with each passing season, and restaurant goers are becoming more and more sophisticated in their expectations of both the food they eat and the environment in which they consume it. Restaurateurs need to be at the top of their game to deliver that special something to keep diners returning meal after meal.
In the year to March 2019, 768 restaurants, unable to deliver on that certain ‘X factor’, were forced to shut their doors in London, according to hospitality index AlixPartners CGA Market Growth Monitor. These figures would be daunting to anyone dreaming of getting into the restaurant business and could make small, independent entrepreneurs second guess their London plans. The dichotomy that exists in London, however, is a unique one, and one that offers a glimmer of hope to independent restaurateurs looking to get into the business. According to the same study, while chain restaurants are unpopular among London diners, the independent restaurant scene is thriving. In fact, London saw an increase of 10% in these less mainstream establishments over the five years to March 2019.
It all supports the idea that London diners today are looking for a holistic experience, not just the simple exchange of cash for food that would have been acceptable to the British food scene not too long ago. Research by Barclays in 2018 reveals the same theory — customers were more willing to splash out on meaningful experiences than take home more material possessions.
The missing piece of the puzzle
One leading restaurant that appears to have all the key ingredients to success is London and Valencia-based Spanish restaurant Arros QD. Here, award-winning chef Quique Dacosta has tapped into diners’ desire for simple and traditional, yet excellent-tasting food and Londoners appear to be impressed.
Dacosta’s secret? Rice. The chef has turned his attention to elevating this global cuisine staple at the heart of his Mediteranean fare and it’s having a big impact. Not happy with any old rice, Dacosta imports his rice from hand-picked Valencian rice growers to ensure that his meals contain the perfect rice. He then combines this staple with other ingredients unique to the Spanish region and combines them with locally-sourced homegrown British components, achieving that perfect gastronomic blend of old world tradition mixed with new world innovation.
By using the garrafo bean (similar to butter beans but can only be found in Valencia) Dacosta transforms the traditional paella dish into something quite unexpected. And in his risotto dish — which is my personal favorite — he infuses black ash rice and truffle, again creating that “foodie” experience diners are looking for.
At the London restaurant, the whole experience revolves around a large, traditional wood-fired stove, which makes it unique. Downstairs, tables are situated around the stove, while upstairs, you’ll find a more traditional restaurant setup. It’s clear to see that, with their passion for high-quality food, Dacosta and his team are bringing a touch of Valencian magic to the Capital. The dining experience is superb, and the inspiring dishes leave diners craving more.
Of course, with the restaurant scene constantly changing, it remains to be scene whether Arros QD will stand the test of time. However, given that the restaurant has managed to achieve that certain je ne sais quois, I believe there’s a good chance this independent restaurant will be thriving for years to come.