Chinatown’s top restaurants reported a considerable downturn in business when the outbreak of Coronavirus in the UK was first announced due to unfounded prejudices surrounding the contagious disease, and now at least four have closed their doors in a bid to offset the financial losses.
Back in February Martin Ma, general manager of JinLi restaurant – a normally vibrant and buzzing traditional Chinese restaurant in Newport Place – told BBC News that “it’s a hard time” for eateries in the area. Chinatown's once buzzy atmosphere seems like a distant memory and has been replaced by an eerie quietness that’s completely out of the ordinary for the area. Mr Ma elaborated on the situation detailing the number of “immediate cancellations” that came in almost directly after the arrival of the Coronavirus was confirmed in the UK. He said callers were unabashed to cite the virus as the reason for their sudden change in plans. Mr Ma revealed that bookings across his four sites in Chinatown, Uxbridge and Birmingham had fallen by 50% and he estimated that the flagship branch had lost almost £15,000 in a single weekend following the announcement.
Ma continued to explain “Normally, you have to book ahead – we have long queues going out of the door” but since the news of the virus the restaurant is virtually empty even at peak times. A fellow restaurant manager on Gerrard Street concurred, claiming that “people are scared, they are staying away”.
The Central Cross flagship location of Jinli is now one of the reported closures along with Leicester Street’s Joy King Lau, Four Seasons on Gerrard Street (despite recent endorsement from critic Jay Rayner) and the new location of BaoziInn on Little Newport Street. Although so far only BaoziInn has outwardly cited the Coronavirus concerns as the reason behind its temporary closure.
JinLi restaurant in Chinatown
Frustratingly for these businesses, the fears are totally unfounded. There is zero evidence to suggest that the consumption of Chinese food puts you at any risk of contracting the illness and the World Health Organization has confirmed that the virus is predominantly spread through direct contact with an infected person.
Ibrahim Dogus, chairman of the British Takeaway Campaign described the prejudice against Chinese takeaways as a result of the outbreak as “completely unacceptable and misinformed” and indeed any scaremongering that suggests otherwise is totally ungrounded in science.
It would seem that Chinatown is not the only place to have felt the force of Coronavirus fear. Many top West End restaurants have also reported losses as high-spending Asian tourists stay away. Claude Bosi, head chef at Bibendum in South Kensington, told the The Evening Standard that early evening bookings from Far East customers had dried up with typically five fewer table reservations each evening, and back in February chef and restaurateur Adam Handling said that the previous two weeks had “been the worst in two years” for his flagship restaurant The Frog in Covent Garden.
Claude Bosi at Bibendum
Another restaurateur from a high-profile West End restaurant, explained: “Visitors from the Far East make up a sizeable portion of the clientele of many Mayfair and Knightsbridge restaurants, particularly the luxury restaurant groups that have a strong presence in the richest cities of Asia.
“Contacts I’ve spoken to in the high-end London restaurant trade say that they have definitely seen a recent drop in customers from Asia, including regular customers who have postponed their trips to London several times now.
In an act of solidarity Jay Rayner recently re-reviewed Four Seasons for The Guardian commenting "Chinese restaurants need your custom – no hard thing to give when the food is this good".
We couldn't agree more and urge diners to go out and enjoy the fantastic Chinese food our capital has to offer, without fear or prejudice. Here are our favourite restaurants in Chinatown.