As the news hit that restaurants were to reopen earlier this month, no one was as excited The Handbook team, believe us.
The thought of reacquainting with friends over sharing plates, exquisite dishes we didn’t have to cook ourselves and a bottle or two after months of isolation reminded us of the sheer magic of London’s restaurant scene.
But one of Mayfair’s most loved restaurants was not only reopening since March, but opening with a mega, no-expenses spared bang. COYA Mayfair, the South American-inspired restaurant known for its punchy interiors, even punchier Pisco Sours, DJ-backed brunches and the best ceviche in the capital has undergone a stunning makeover. From the Sagrada (one of London’s finest design studios) interiors to the colourful fresh menu and a new Pisco Bar and Lounge and Members’ Club, the restaurant is set to be better than ever.
With that in mind, we met up with Chef Director Sanjay Dwivedi to take a look back on the most memorable moments of lockdown – the good the bad and the downright strange, plus his exciting plans for a new era of one of our best-loved restaurants.
Here’s what he had to say…
Lockdown was challenging, frustrating and heart breaking.
The first two weeks were great as I was able to spend time with my family in London. In March, that never happens. But as the lockdown continued, I was pulling my hair out.
Never in our lifetime, could we ever imagine seeing restaurants closing all over the world.
During March and April, we had to do all of our staff training via Zoom. Chefs were interacting with waiters, explaining dishes, asking questions. We had to adapt to come out the other side and be able to give our guests the best possible experience at COYA.
As the country opened up, we expanded.
We introduced a takeaway menu for our clients, which has turned into a rolling success in both our London and Dubai branches and it’s been nice to see a lot of clients come in to pick up food from the restaurant personally.
It’s hard to predict the future of the restaurant industry but we keep a positive optimism.
To start with, we’re going to see a lot less sales as the restaurants won’t be allowed to work on full capacity, but the key is to adapt and be leaders. People will be desperate to go out to wine and dine and we can’t wait to welcome them back to do so.
We’ve been making adaptations to keep everyone safe.
We have been working on government guidelines and the key now is to train our staff in order to protect them and our clients. We’ve also had some handmade masks with Peruvian patterns created for our guests.
There’s no doubt about it, lockdown was tough.
Being inside for weeks and weeks and not seeing anyone was not easy. Standing in a queue for regular shopping was a strange feeling. To hear so many of us had left London due to the virus was heartbreaking. But witnessing the wonderful NHS staff on the front lines made me proud to be British.
There will be lots of things to look back on with fond memories.
Isolating with my lovely wife and my 12-year-old twin boys.
Cooking with my twins.
Spending quality time with family.
Taking a step back and reflecting on life.
Keeping fit and eating healthy.
Clapping every Thursday for the NHS.
Not having to travel anywhere.
Home-schooling the boys was challenging.
Their school was sending in homework constantly, so we had to learn the subject and attempt to teach it to them. It was challenging to say the least – we are not teachers – and we probably could have been more organised.
Being together as a family has been wonderful.
Lockdown gave us a unique opportunity to be all together as a family. Saying that, I missed the energy of COYA and my team, our clients and the daily banter we have so it’s been great to get back to normality.
I managed to get in some me-time.
I picked up sunrise yoga and it has perhaps been the most rewarding part of lockdown for me personally. I always had all the mediation apps, but made full use of them during the time off.
I also cycled a lot. Cycling from home either to Wimbledon Park, Richmond Park or Dulwich Park with skeleton traffic was blissful.
Being inside for weeks and weeks and not seeing anyone was not easy. Standing in a queue for regular shopping was a strange feeling. To hear so many of us left London due to the virus was heartbreaking. But witnessing the wonderful NHS staff on the front lines made me proud to be British.
We have been BBQing a lot.
The amazing weather meant we could BBQ all the time and it has been fun making bread, pastas, pizzas at home which I never had the chance to do before actually in my own home.
I’ve also started to eat a lot of vegan and vegetarian dishes.
The best thing I ate was homemade gnocchi with garlic leaves.
One of my twins made it for us – a simple dish being made by my son was special.
We kept the at-home cocktails coming.
I cured the boredom by watching lots of TV
The Last Dance on Netflix, all about the legend that is Michael Jordan.
The Bureau on Amazon – a French subtitled series about an undercover agent working for DGSE.
And the BBC’s Killing Eve.
I read a lot.
The Noma’s Guide to Fermentation
7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography
Weekends were spent chilling with a good glass of wine, music blaring and cooking up a storm with the twins.
I was happy to not be dealing with school homework.
The three things I will remember about lockdown are:
People panicking about shopping.
Spending time together with the twins, especially cooking.
Reflecting on life and having the time to do so
I’m looking forward to the other side.
To go out to restaurants and inviting as many friends and family members to join in too.