Ivy Grills & Brasseries has received the unwanted accolade of being named as the London restaurant with the “most disappointing cooking” following an annual poll by the prestigious Harden’s guide.
Richard Caring’s spin-off chain heads the list of culinary disappointments, closely trailed by Oxo Tower – which topped the list last year – and The Ivy.
Multi-site chains Jamie’s Italian and Brasserie Blanc were ranked fourth and sixth respectively in the ‘most disappointing cooking’ category, with Gordon Ramsay featuring seventh on the list.
Ratings and reviews in the guide are based on an annual poll of restaurant-goers, with some 8,000 people contributing 50,000 reports.
“On the overall concept, reporters are split,” it stated. “For a majority, The Ivy name gives ‘a certain dignity to the experience’. For a significant number though, ‘the brand is being trashed’ with these ‘pretentious, unimaginative, chichi and average’ imitations.”
Interestingly, there was a correlation between the restaurants that underwhelmed on the cooking side and those that made it into the ‘most overpriced’ list. Sexy Fish, Oxo Tower, Gordon Ramsay, The Chiltern Firehouse, Ivy Grills & Brasseries and Alain Ducasse all showed up in both categories.
The latest results come as Harden’s revealed that London has been hit by a record number of closures this year.
117 restaurants ceased trading over the past 12 months, the highest in the 28 years that the guide has been published. The last time that the number got anywhere near that was in 2003, when 113 restaurants closed.
Some solace can be taken from the fact that 167 restaurants have opened during the same period – the fourth highest on record but still some way short of the 200 sites launched two years ago.
Net openings (openings minus closures) were down by 50% on the previous year’s figure of 109.
Viewed on a graph of net openings, a five-year peak has passed, with net openings back in the range that encompassed most previous years from the mid-1990s onwards.
A further sign of pressure in the independent market comes from the ratio of openings to closings, which dropped sharply to 1.4:1. Only one previous year has exceeded this rate: 2003 when, at 1.2:1, it was a time when for nearly every restaurant that opened another one closed.
The guide’s statistics are skewed to independent restaurants, and – although the guide does award ratings to restaurant groups – chains with more than three branches are excluded from the openings and closures statistics it publishes.
If the effects of well-publicised closures in large chains such as Jamie’s Italian and Byron were included it would make the picture presented by the statistics even more dramatic.
Peter Harden, co-founder of the guide, said: “It used to be the case that good restaurants as a rule did not close. But the last year has seen losses at the top end such as Marianne, landmarks such as The Gay Hussar, and highly-rated start-ups like Killer Tomato, which should have been a success story, but which came and went almost as quickly as it began.
“The level of competition within the London restaurant market is unprecedented and is creating business conditions even more challenging than elsewhere in the UK.
“In 2003, the previous peak for closures, it was different: the hit to the market came from a slump in demand due to the second Gulf War, SARS, and the lowest hotel occupancy rates of recent decades. This time, the problem is purely and simply a case of over-supply: too many restaurants chasing a level of demand that although it continues to rise is doing so only slowly.
“On the plus-side, London’s restaurateurs have proved incredibly resilient and “up for the challenge” and the capital is now a must-have location for global operators. Restaurateurs continue to open brilliant newcomers at a rate that remains at a very healthy level. Their drive and ambition to succeed in a tough market is what presents London’s diners with a dining scene that maintains a level of excitement rivalled only by New York globally.”
Unlike restaurant review sites like TripAdvisor, Harden’s has never published its surveyees’ raw reports online, to prevent ballot-stuffing.
It claims that having no access to raw user reviews makes it much harder to “game” the Harden’s system, because it is impossible to gauge how much false data to submit to do so.
The company adds that its longstanding core of reviewers – some of who have been participating for over 20 years – also provides a control group by which to access reports from newer respondents.