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Celebrating 15 years based in Belsize Village this year, following an even longer stint previously in Promrose Hill’s Regent’s Park Road, Retsina is among Camden’s longest-serving neighbourhood restaurants. It’s been run by Leon Minas’ family throughout, and is exactly the sort of much-loved, homely institution that locals have been really missing these past three months.
On Saturday, it finally reopened with a new look and, as Leon tells us, exciting plans to make the most of the socially distanced weeks ahead.
How has COVID affected your business?
“We’ve always done really well with home deliveries, so when we were forced to shut the restaurant we were still able to keep things ticking over by focusing on that. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays we’ve been selling as much as we usually do in a full restaurant, but with the high commission on Deliveroo we’re still not able to make very much money. Still, at least we weren’t sitting there losing a bunch either.”
What’s your current offering?
“The place has been in need of a freshen-up for a while, so we’ve used the three month down-time well and repainted, reupholstered and got brand new gold leaf signage outside, too. The place looks really beautiful, with bright Mediterranean-influenced colours. We can’t wait for everyone to return for our famous kleftiko, souvla and grilled fish, enjoyed back here at the restaurant all this summer.”
What have been your greatest concerns?
We quickly found that we didn’t qualify for any financial support, which was obviously quite scary. If you’re any substantially sized restaurant or pub in London, it’s not that difficult for your rates to come in over £51k, and we were well above that threshold. We found the terms of the loans available were ridiculous, and we didn’t want to be lumbered with that anyway, plus the terms of our insurance also wouldn’t pay out on these particular circumstances, so we were basically on our own.
What’s made you feel optimistic?
“There’s been a great spirit of everyone coming together here in Belsize Village. We’ve all been working together to explore the potential of launching a summer ‘streatery’, something they do in Paris, with more pedestrianised areas for eating in the square. We’ve found that where the council have previously given a default ‘no’ to our ideas for weekend food markets and things like that, this time they seem to be defaulting to ‘yes’.”
Who would you like to collaborate with?
“Now we have permission for more tables outside, the idea is rather than each restaurant having a small allocation, the vast majority will be communal for use. We’ve been looking into an app with all the local eateries in it, so you can order dishes from whichever one you want, all served with social distancing measures. Ultimately, if we can make a success of this summer, and make the area more attractive to visitors to come and enjoy the variety of food here, then we will all be coming out of this stronger.”
Belsize Village ‘streatery’ opened for the first time yesterday, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week until the end of September. A trip to Belsize can feel like a mini-holiday, especially with a plate of Retsina’s succulent lamb, enjoyed al fresco, under twinkling fairy lights.
| Retsina website |
The COVID-19 health crisis has burned our economic and cultural landscape much like a forest fire. But across a charred, razed environment, strong green shoots inevitably emerge.
CAMDENIST is a new collaborative local media platform, currently in beta mode and launching soon. Born from the smoldering ashes of this unprecedented era, it will provide fertile support for the regeneration of our communities, businesses and cultural spaces in the times ahead.
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