Twickenham’s Restaurant Glut: Food for Thought

All Quiet on the Twickenham Front?

Twickenham has its fair share of eateries. In fact it probably has more than its fair share. One might assume that a large number of restaurants and cafes is the mark of a thriving town but in Twickenham only a few are regularly full while some seem permanently empty. In this guest blog, local journalist Simon Hemelryk gives his views on the issue and looks at what, if anything, can be done to fix it. Got your own opinions or solutions? Why not add your comments below.

There’s a standing joke in my household about the number of restaurants, cafes and pubs-that-do-food in Twickenham. My wife has always reckoned there must be at least 50, but I thought it might be as many as 70. So, a couple of days ago, I cycled round the area and counted them.

The actual figure is 128. Yep, that’s one establishment for every 153 of the town’s 19,555 residents – from the Beefeater at the top of Sixth Cross Road, to the little café next to Marble Hill House, to La Cena close to Richmond Bridge. I’m not even including anything that could be said to be Teddington, Old Isleworth or Whitton, or takeaways that don’t have proper seating.

With the new development at the station, which promises a new restaurant, and something needing to fill the somewhat needless retail space under the new block of flats on Heath Road, this enormous figure is only likely to rise. But why does it matter?

Because, in the six years I’ve lived here, I must have seen more than 30 places close, many of them just a few months after opening. Most of those that struggle on are empty or near empty all week, including the weekends.

The unchecked growth of eateries is causing once-popular establishments to fold – it doesn’t matter how good your food is if there just aren’t enough potential customers to go round – and leaving many residents reluctant to have a night out in the town. After all, sitting almost alone in a restaurant with no atmosphere isn’t a treat; it’s embarrassing. Failure thus breeds failure. And, if you think that rugby days are enough to keep business ticking over, how can two Six Nations matches and six other big days at the stadium in a year fill the hole? That’s no more than eight good days out of 365.

Of course, if an entrepreneur wants to open a business that most locals can see is doomed to fail, it’s their lookout for not doing their market research properly. One café owner told me that running your own place is something of a dream, and many people blunder naively into it, hoping for the best or thinking that they can succeed where others have failed. But it’s still a minor tragedy, both for the individual and the town, when yet another eatery is barely used or dies in less than a year.

So, short of hanging big banners from the top of the Travelodge warning potential restauranteurs that “Seriously, we don’t need any more cafes!”, what can anyone do?

The council’s options are limited, according to an LBRuT spokeswoman. It’s up to the landlord and potential new proprietor if a closed café is converted into yet another with little chance of success. But the council can have some influence where planning permission is needed for a change of use – i.e. if a furniture store is converted into a restaurant, say. Why, then, have at least nine establishments been allowed to open on the old sites of other types of business in the last two years? The yet to open JoJoLoo coffee shop on Heath Road used to be a clothes shop, for instance. The station café used to be, well, a store cupboard.

If Twickenham’s crazy food industry can’t regulate itself, then LBRuT needs to take the lead – perhaps giving developers incentives to convert retail units into residential properties (thus creating more custom for everyone else), where appropriate. Otherwise, failed business after failed business may result in the slow decline of the town.


Filed under Features, Food & Drink, Reviews

22 responses to “Twickenham’s Restaurant Glut: Food for Thought

  1. Babs

    Where is Twickenham High St? I didn’t think there was one. London Rd, King St and Heath Rd are the main drags.

  2. Nom Nom Nomp

    I really like Arthur’s – it’s quirky, nice atmosphere looking out to the Green. I know it isn’t cheap, but most places in Twick aren’t either. They make an effort when it’s Burn’s Night etc, so it feels more of an event. It’s the most characterful place in Twick.

  3. I’m from San Francisco staying in Strawberry Hill this month, and I, too, was surprised by the appearance of the Twickenham main street and the lack of an upscale grocery store but pleased with the variety of shops and the number of charity shops. As for your restaurants, a friend from London and I walked over to Twickenham Green along Pope’s Lane and had an excellent meal at Arthur’s on the Green, which is promoted as “modern British cuisine” which evidently is similar to “California cuisine” with an emphasis on fresh, local, and sustainably grown/raised ingredients. Service was good, too. By the way, I’ve enjoyed my visit very much even when it was raining every day. The residents I’ve met have been very nice, too. P.S. If anyone can recommend a good restaurant with outside seating for tonight, I’d appreciate it. Thank you.

  4. Greg Spencer

    A neighbour who’s lived in the area 30 years, mentioned something to do with a cabal of landlords who own a large section of the high st, fix pricing and refuse to be flexible. Which could why it’s such a random hodge podge with huge churn. When you think of the average income levels (even with mortgages) it’s clearly nearly comparable with Teddington or certainly Hampton (both which have lovely High Streets). So a great shame it looks and is such a mess. Other item is parking, but again doesn’t affect Hampton/Teddington. So this could bear out the former theory. The other issue is it’s just such a long High St, no focus (aside from the nice Church St) for all the top level Waitrose, Nicholas, Patisserie Valerie at al to coalesce on. Perhaps need a bridge or roundabout halfway up to create this area : ) Certainly something these planner should bloody think about and sort out!

  5. Some fascinating reading here and i thought you might like an opinion from the other side of the fence and a local resident to boot. There is a difference in planning terms between a restaurant (A3, hot food prepared and consumed on the premise, extractor systems) a Takeaway ( A5 not consumed on the premises) and a cafe (A1,the same as any retailer). This does not mean the lines blur, many ‘cafes’ provide English breakfasts and it is up to the council to enforce this. The first two are practically impossible to get planning on in key shopping frontages, the cafe option is open to all.

    There are also different opening hours for each (which is why Kaka’s close early, they do not have A5 permission, and the Heath Rd Kebabs close late, they do). There is terrible churn at the moment and yes the business plans seem to be part of the dream mentioned, most new shops are funded without bank help at all- the credit crunch of yore in action- but most landlords are prepared to give new businesses a go, as not all applicants are Boots the chemist. Shops leases are the shortest they have ever been, there are significant incentives available, rent is ALWAYS negotiable (with the possible exception of King Street, which is another story)but unless our neighbours actually spend money and the shop is unique in its products, prepared to offer great service, good prices and open long hours then i can see no end to the current predicament. That leaves business rates which are non-negotiable and have just risen 5%.

    As for charity shops, it is self-fulfilling , the easiest way to keep a shop running is to not pay for stock, have unpaid staff and don’t pay business rates, a choice only open to charities. A change in planning law is
    required to level the playing field, for example dog-groomers, tattooists, car-dealers need a specific planning, sui generis, why not charities? Or take the business rates incentive away.
    This is clearly the new world we live in and planning law needs to keep up with this evolution/revolution in High Street trading practice.

    Sadly I can see no change in circumstances at the moment and we work very hard to fill the vacant spots, but it’s not unlike filling a bucket with a hole in it. I implore all residents to shop locally and support what we have left. Give Waitrose and John Lewis a miss one week and shop as our parents did, it is suprisingly fulfilling.

    keep up the great work at Twickerati and yes to The Ghurka Inn being the best in town.

  6. Cleversaz

    Sushi. A proper sushi place that does tasting menus and doesn’t cost the earth – that’s what Twickers is lacking. No more coffee shops or Indians, we have more than enough of those. I’ll bet a sushi restaurant would do excellent business. I also noticed a while back that, now Woolies is no more, there is nowhere in the town (excluding the limited choice in Waitrose) to buy a decent casserole dish or a nice set of plates. Potential new outlet owners just don’t seem to do the market research – pretty much every new shop/restaurant I’ve noticed over the last few years I’ve thought ‘give it six months’ and I’m usually about right. Shame, as it’s a lovely town with oodles of potential, yet no-one seems to put any real thought into it. There’s an excellent kitchen and home shop in Dorking that does a roaring trade – I’d love to see something like that here.

  7. The Albany is the Best of the ‘Gastro Pubs’ in my opinion , The royal Oak is nice pub but food very ordinary .We ate at the Fox church street and although great pub the food well I could do better at home.Other wise I agree with others here twix really is lacking good Gastro experiences .

  8. Rik

    I can’t remember the last time I had a truly excellent meal eating out, but I’ve had a lot of reasonably priced, nice service meals from Twickers over the years. Arthurs was slated in the first post, but they try hard and the film nights can be something different. I agree they should lower their prices, but they have been going for many many years in Twickenham terms.
    Lets also not forget that new-comers to the area are buying massively over priced houses or paying stupid amounts of rent and can’t go out for meals all the time.

  9. Gawain

    Rufus, unless there is a change of use involved , the council have no right to scrutinise or to refuse an opening.

  10. Gerry

    I just dont understand the business plans of some business owners – I am assuming that they do exist. How are they forecasting their business to the bank or other lender and if it is their own money, why are they willing to spend it where so many others have failed? There is quite simply not enough demand for the number of establishments in business. As for the Twickenham Action Plan, there needs to be more effort identifying and implementing the right need for available units whatever their previous use. If that means converting to residential use so be it – its much better to have less quantity and more quality. At the moment it’s the other way round.

    • Simon H

      Totally agree, Gerry.

    • Steve P

      Once someone has paid to fit out the place as a restaurant with kitchens, bar etc, they go bust carrying all the debt, the specials board is wiped clean and another person living the dream moves in to try their luck – without having to re-equip the joint. Revolving restaurant syndrome might be irksome but is it better than 128 charity shops? Forget about the council, they don’t want to get involved.

  11. Nick

    There are a lot of places to eat in Twickenham, but let’s be honest – most of them are distinctly average, at best. The places at the top of the high street that cater to the rugby crowd are particularly dire. My wife and I invariably head to Richmond when it comes to dining out.

    I second the comment above – where is the decent gastropub or restaurant that serves above-average Italian or Chinese? The only decent local-ish restaurants I know are the Thai place by Strawberry Hill station and Sheesh Mahal.

    Any suggestions for other places to try are very welcome.

    • Dan

      Osteria Pulcinella is a fantastic Italian on church street, and I do love the Sheesh Mahal, although I think The Gurka’s Inn (where Norma’s used to be) is the best Indian in the town now, with its unique Nepalese food.

  12. Rufus McDufus

    I do think that planning applications for new restaurants, particularly where a change of use is applied for, need to be scrutinized a lot more carefully than they appear to be currently. Having said that I don’t have an issue with anyone trying to ‘make a go’ of it with a new restaurant in Twickenham. I’d question their sanity (or admire them for the amount of cash they’re willing to throw away) though.
    And I rather like quiet restaurants!

  13. We undoubtably have some excellent restaurants in Twickers, and my wife and I often eat out. The problem, as already stated, is that there is just too much choice. Within 5 mins of my front door, I can sample up to 10 different Indian meals, or 3 different Italians, or 5 pubs…. I could go on.

    I think the council needs to incentivise landlords to convert some premises into shops with discounted rates or something similar. Can’t there be a restriction on ‘new’ openings as well?

  14. botogol

    Don’t underestimate the money to be made on rugby days alone – there are not eight but FIFTEEN days in 2012 with 45,000 or more attendees, and of those nine are 75k or more, and that doesn’t include any summertime concerts.
    I have noticed a growing number of places that are actually open only on those days – particualrly Chanterelle and Mia Casa on Whitton Road, both closed now, but open for six-nations and selling a four course lunch for an eye-watering £150 a head (and post match buffet for £50!). On the London Rd the Rugby Inn seems to be match-days only.

    • Simon H

      15 potentially good days out of 365, though, botogol. Hardly enough to keep 125 eateries going, is it? Most successful restaurants would expect to be almost booked out at least two days a week, every week, not for one day just over every month. And what help are match days to the restaurants more than halfway down Heath Road? I saw several that were largely empty even on Saturday, after the England v Ireland game.

  15. twickerman

    A bit radical perhaps – but if the Council closed down all the eateries with very poor and poor hygiene standards it would improve opportunities for the hygienic eateries. It would also encourage the others to maintain and improve standards.
    If you check the ‘scores on the doors’ website you’ll be amazed at the number of sub-standard eateries there currently are in Twickers.

    Also, see my comments on ‘Best Curry House in Twickenham’ for more details.

  16. George

    I wonder if the Twickenham Action Plan will address this issue. It seems to want to create a restaurant zone. Reasonable idea but don’t we already have that? It’s called Twickenham town centre. From above it seems hard for the council to do too much if people want to set up new ventures but maybe they can do more, informally, to point out the mass of existing provision in the town.

    Perhaps would-be owners should advised not to say that their dream is “to open their own restaurant”, but to focus on keeping it open for 10+ years.

    (And to be fair to Arthurs, re the comment before, it has been open for over 15 (?) years so must be getting something right. But I agree that there are very few places which could be classed as ‘a bit special’ in Twick, in a good way)

    • Simon H

      I can’t image the Twickenham Action Plan will be much more than well-meaning nothingness. Only when the council realises that we have too many retail and restaurant units for the modern reality of internet shopping and out-of-town supermarkets, will real change occur.

  17. Chris

    What amazes me is the relative lack of variety and good ‘modern british’ eateries. The majority of the restaurant stock is either Indian or Italian. The ‘gastro-pub revolution’ seems to have largely bypassed Twickenham whereas Teddington and Richmond have plenty of quality establishments. Arthur’s promises quality neighbourhood bistro but delivers overpriced forgettable fare in a shabby setting. There’s much to be said for the good places in Twickenham, as far as they go, and perhaps I’m being overly critical here, but there surely is a gap in the market for more than just ‘pubs that do food’?