Only two out of 328 UK restaurants reviewed by major British newspapers between January 2019 and January 2020 were Black-owned, VICE News has found.
Analysis of restaurant reviews published during this time in six national publications – The Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Observer, The Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph – found that 0.6 percent were of UK restaurants owned by Black proprietors.
For the purposes of the investigation, we defined the restaurant “owner”/”owners” as the person or people identified publicly (in press and social media, or on the restaurant website) as the owner, and/or listed as the majority shareholder on Companies House. If a restaurant had multiple owners, and one of these owners was Black, we counted this as a “Black-owned” restaurant. If a hospitality group, parent company or hotel owned the restaurant, we looked at the owner of that company.
Four papers reviewed no Black-owned restaurants between January 2019 and January 2020. These were The Guardian, The Observer, The Telegraph and The Sunday Times.
Hayward’s Restaurant in Epping, east London, co-owned by husband-and-wife team Amanda and Jahdre Hayward, was the only Black-owned restaurant reviewed by The Sunday Telegraph between January 2019 and January 2020.
Authentique, a French restaurant in Tufnell Park, north London, was the only Black-owned restaurant reviewed by The Times between January 2019 and January 2020. It is co-owned by Matthieu Sevagen, Amaury Levisalles, Alexandre Bal and Thomas Guidez. The Sunday Times reviewed Heritage, a West Sussex restaurant owned by chef Matt Gillan, whose mother is from Saint Helena. However, as Gillan told VICE News that he does not identify as Black, we did not count this as a “Black-owned” restaurant.
Of all the reviews analysed, none covered restaurants that specialise in food from the Caribbean. In an editorial takeover of The Observer Magazine in December 2019, Grime artist Stormzy took critic Jay Rayner to Bluejay Cafe in South Norwood, which serves Caribbean food. However, this piece is described as “not a standard review”.
According to VICE News’ analysis of The Guardian and The Observer ’s 109 UK restaurant reviews published between January 2019 and January 2020, none were of Black-owned businesses.
Statistically, there will inevitably be a greater number of white-owned restaurants in the UK – a country that is 86 percent white, according to the 2011 census. However, the majority of the 328 restaurants analysed by VICE News are in London, which has a population that is 13 percent Black. The capital is also home to numerous restaurants, bars and eateries owned by people from the African and Caribbean diaspora.
A review in a national newspaper, particularly one by a famed critic such as Rayner, Grace Dent or Marina O'Loughlin, can make or break a new restaurant. A positive write-up provides unbeatable PR for a business, read by thousands of potential diners and often leading to increased bookings and further press coverage. Our analysis of restaurant reviews covers a period ending in January 2020, before the coronavirus crisis forced hospitality businesses to close, but press interest is even more important for restaurant owners now, as many struggle to stay open after months of financial loss.
Restaurant criticism as a form also holds particular significance in British literary culture. A.A. Gill, the late Sunday Times restaurant critic, was revered for his “wit and brutal honesty”, and Nigella Lawson began her career writing reviews for the paper.
Lorraine Copes, founder of BAME in Hospitality, a group that accelerates diversity in hospitality, tells VICE News how damaging it is for Black restaurant owners to be overlooked in national newspaper reviews. “The restaurant industry is no different to other industries in the UK in that the disadvantage that's very visible shows up through systemic inequality,” she says. “That is lack of representation at levels of seniority as well as absenteeism in the media and in the press.”
VICE News reached out to The Guardian and The Observer. A spokesperson said: “The Guardian and The Observer are committed to diversity in our coverage of food. Jay Rayner reviewed Stormzy's favourite cafe, Bluejay, in The Observer Magazine edition guest-edited by Stormzy in December 2019, and in May 2019 Grace Dent reviewed Momo – owned by Mourad Mazouz. Jay and other writers regularly reference restaurants and food with Black, Asian and ethnic minority influences.”
Rayner, The Observer restaurant critic, told VICE News: “During the more than 20 years that I have been reviewing restaurants for The Observer, I have never looked at the ethnicity of the shareholders in the businesses I review, so cannot speak to the criteria you set.”
He continued: “During the year you focus on, I also reviewed restaurants serving the food of, and cooked by members of, communities from Sri Lanka, India, Kurdistan, and a variety of provinces of China among others. Over the lengthy time I have been a restaurant critic, I have reviewed restaurants variously from across the Caribbean and representing the African American experience and referenced others.
There are clearly serious questions around diversity of ownership and representation within the restaurant industry itself which, inevitably, media coverage, including my own, reflects. Representation of diversity in the media is a serious and complex issue; all aspects of the media obviously need to do a better job of representing that diversity. I regard myself as having been a part of that work for the more than 30 years that I have been a journalist, but inevitably it is a work in progress. While it is possible to reduce the argument to a head count from within a single calendar year and category, my lengthy experience tells me that it will never provide the full story.”
The Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph did not respond to our request for comment.
We also approached The Times and The Sunday Times, but they did not wish to comment for this article.
Black-owned restaurants have long been overlooked by the British food press. According to “So What Now? Black Erasure in the British Food Industry”, an essay published by food writer Melissa Thompson in the Vittles newsletter, “between The Guardian, The Observer, The Telegraph, Financial Times, The Times and The Sunday Times, there have been only two reviews of a restaurant serving African or Caribbean cuisines in the last ten years.”
This “erasure” of Black food is partly down to the lack of diversity in restaurant criticism – and indeed journalism, which as a workforce is 94 percent white. All seven of the restaurant critics writing for the newspapers included in our investigation are white. In 2018, London newspaper the Evening Standard appointed Jimi Famurewa as restaurant critic, making him the first Black restaurant critic on staff at a major newspaper. To date, there has not been a Black food critic for a national newspaper.
Some restaurant reviewers are also criticised for their lack of sensitivity when writing about Black food culture. Giles Coren, who writes for The Times, has been called out for depictions of predominantly Black urban areas that play into harmful stereotypes. In a review of south London restaurant Kudu, he writes: “You can get the murder train from Kentish Town to Peckham Rye … you eventually wind up back in Kentish Town sometime after midnight, with so many stab holes in you that when you go to drink a glass of water from the kitchen tap, it’s going to spray all over the floor like it’s coming out of a colander.” In another review from 2009, he says that taking an Overground train to Dalston Kingsland could result in “a little light stabbing”.
The Times and Giles Coren declined to comment.
Riaz Phillips, writer and author of Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK and Community Comfort: Recipes from the Diaspora, outlines some of the other issues faced by Black restaurateurs in an article for Resy, which argues that the “odds have always been stacked against Black people” in food. Phillips lists the lack of Black venture capitalists, and the failure of banks to invest in Black-owned restaurants, plus the expense of studying at prestigious cooking schools such as Leith’s School of Food and Wine. He also notes that Black and south Asian chefs lead just 6 percent of Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK.
“Most people would be hard-pressed to name more than five high-profile Black chefs and restaurateurs,” Phillips writes. “The British food industry is, for the most part, systemically dominated and gate kept by white people, leaving them to reap the rewards of the industry.”
The Black Lives Matter movement, renewed again this year after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, has propelled many chefs, restaurant owners and other food professionals to confront racism in their industry. In the US, Bon Appetit faced a reckoning over its treatment of POC staff, while others have questioned the “white washing” of recipes and whether figures such as Alison Roman can be more inclusive.
The UK food world has been slower to react, but people like Thompson and Phillips are fighting for change. They are joined by former Great British Bake Off contestant Ruby Tandoh, food writer and founder of Vittles Jonathan Nunn and restaurateur Zoe Adjonyoh – all of whom have all spoken out about the need for better diversity in food media, as well as knowledge and respect for Black cuisines.
Copes, of BAME Hospitality, agrees that the British food world – including its restaurant critics – need to do more.
“All restaurants that are fairly successful have been reviewed in the mainstream media, and if that is not happening with Black-owned businesses, then we know the consequences of that,” she says. “If it's not an even playing field even in terms of PR that you're getting when you launch, then the possibility of survival or even of becoming well known is really limited.
The reality of the situation is, whether Black British, or whether you are born in Africa or the Caribbean, there's a real awareness of the inequalities that exist.”
The full statement from The Guardian and The Observer: “The Guardian and The Observer are committed to diversity in our coverage of food.
Jay Rayner reviewed Stormzy's favourite cafe, Bluejay, in The Observer Magazine edition guest-edited by Stormzy in December 2019, and in May 2019 Grace Dent reviewed Momo – owned by Mourad Mazouz. Jay and other writers regularly reference restaurants and food with black, Asian and ethnic minority influences.
Observer Food Monthly regularly includes diverse cuisines, writers and cooks, recently featuring Andi Oliver, Fozia Ismail, Lopè Ariyo and James Cochran. The August issue included West African recipes and the September edition will include Caribbean recipes.
Feast 's line-up of regular cooks and food writers includes Meera Sodha, Tamal Ray, Liam Charles and Benjamina Ebuehi. In the past few months it has included recipes and writing from Rachel Ama, Zoe Adjonyoh, Toni Tipton-Martin and Bryant Terry."
The full statement from Jay Rayner: “During the more than 20 years that I have been reviewing restaurants for The Observer I have never looked at the ethnicity of the shareholders in the businesses I review so cannot speak to the criteria you set.
I can say that Stormzy commissioned the Bluejay piece as a restaurant review and, while it was not a standard review, if I had not thought it worth writing about, I would not have done so. Just a few weeks before the period you have examined, I reviewed Restaurant 1251 which belongs to chef James Cochran who is of Black Jamaican descent and whose food reflects that heritage.
During the year you focus on I also reviewed restaurants serving the food of, and cooked by members of, communities from Sri Lanka, India, Kurdistan, and a variety of provinces of China among others. Over the lengthy time I have been a restaurant critic I have reviewed restaurants variously from across the Caribbean and representing the African American experience and referenced others. Africa has clearly been completely under represented although in my broadcast journalism, both on radio and television, I have featured food projects involving various of the UK’s African communities. There are clearly serious questions around diversity of ownership and representation within the restaurant industry itself which, inevitably, media coverage, including my own, reflects.
If the issue is raised to question my commitment to racial diversity and equality I must reference my work as a general reporter: my major investigation, for example, into the death of Michael Menson in the late 90s, which contributed to the reopening of the police investigation in to his killing and the eventual conviction of his murderers; my journalism covering the murder of Stephen Lawrence; my involvement in the campaign to secure the release of Winston Silcott, and my detailed analysis of the geographic spread of race crime in Britain, which was subsequently requested as a submission for the House of Commons library and which resulted in a nomination in the Race In The Media Awards. There is also my journalism covering the rise of the Far Right across Europe and in Britain which, as a high-profile Jew, resulted in death threats and the involvement of the police.
As a resident of Brixton, south London, for almost 30 years I have long been a part of the multi-ethnic communities in which I live, including a period as a patron of a local charity providing opportunities for socially excluded children from those communities. Most recently I was involved in the campaign to save Nour Cash and Carry, a vital resource for many of Brixton's BAME communities.
Representation of diversity in the media is a serious and complex issue; all aspects of the media obviously need to do a better job of representing that diversity. I regard myself as having been a part of that work for the more than thirty years that I have been a journalist, but inevitably it is a work in progress. While it is possible to reduce the argument to a head count from within a single calendar year and category, my lengthy experience tells me that it will never provide the full story.”