Tim Martin claims taxing sugar in drinks is ‘illogical’ as JD Wetherspoon reveals rise in popularity of sugar-free beverages: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has said taxing sugar in drinks would be “illogical” and food was often branded as unhealthy “based on fashion, rather than science”, as research revealed the popularity of non-alcoholic, sugar-free drinks at its pubs has increased. The company said its own research showed 59% of soft drinks, coffee and tea sales in its pubs were sold sugar-free, although some customers might choose to add sugar to hot drinks. JD Wetherspoon’s figures revealed average weekly sales of low-sugar hot and soft drinks stood at almost 1.28 million out of total hot and soft drink sales of 2.18 million during the trading period 25 January to 21 February. The low-sugar sales included coffee and tea (890,476), cola and lemonade (309,366), water (42,546), tonic water (20,412), and other low-sugar drinks (16,191). Martin said it highlighted given the range of drinks on sale in the company’s 950 pubs in the UK, most customers were opting to go sugar-free. He said: “In my opinion, the figures show that taxing sugar in drinks is illogical unless you go further and tax desserts, chocolate, birthday cakes and other products that contain sugar. In addition, the views concerning the apparent unhealthy characteristics of food are uncertain and are often based on fashion, not science. Eggs, for example, were regarded as unhealthy for decades, but the advice has since been reversed. Had the government imposed a tax on eggs, an injustice would have been compounded. Since vast areas of pseudo-medical advice concerning food have been overturned in recent years, legislators should tread warily before imposing extra taxes.”

The Social Company’s Jason and Irha Atherton open seventh London restaurant: The Social Company has opened its seventh London restaurant, Sosharu, a 75-cover Japanese izakaya-style venue in the Turnmill Building, Clerkenwell Road. The restaurant adds to Jason and Irha Atherton’s repertoire of Michelin-starred venues, while 40-cover cocktail bar Seven Tales – “reminiscent of the night-time atmosphere of Tokyo” – has opened in the basement. Sosharu, meaning “to socialise”, is a collaboration between Jason Atherton and executive head chef Alex Craciun, who spent a year immersed in Japan’s top kitchens in preparation for the launch. Jason Atherton said: “Sosharu is a complete departure from anything I’ve done before, which makes it that much more exciting for us. This restaurant has been a long time in the making as we wanted to get it right – Alex has dedicated himself to learning everything there is to know about Japanese food in the past couple of years and the result is some incredible cooking.” Serving Japanese cuisine using British seasonal ingredients, Craciun’s menu comprises small dishes with sections dedicated to specialities such as temaki, hibachi grill, yaki grill, tempura, and sashimi, as well as dishes inspired by Japanese classics. Guests are encouraged to try plates from each section such as bream sashimi with shichimi crispy potato and sukiyaki wagyu beef with glass noodles, young leeks and shiitake. Desserts include Craciun’s shaved ice kakigori. Seven Tales’ cocktails include Champagne Papi, combining Perrier Jouët NV, umeshu, banana and lactic sugar, served with a Seven Tales “coin”, which enables guests to use a vending machine in the bar that dispenses a sugar cube designed to enhance the flavour. Kisetsu, meaning “season”, will also open soon, a separate dining space with its own kitchen accessible via Sosharu. Kisetsu will offer a tasting menu served in fine dining style in the “omakase” tradition – loosely translated as “trust the chef”.

Revolution Bars Group submits licensing application for site in Southend: Revolution Bars Group is set to open a new site in Southend, Essex. The company, which operates Revolution and Revolución de Cuba sites across the country, wants to open in Queens Road on the site of the former HMV shop, which closed in 2009. It has submitted a licensing application to Southend Borough Council to open between 11am and midnight Sundays to Wednesdays and 11am to 2am Thursdays to Saturdays. Milton ward councillor Julian Ware-Lane told the Echo: “In terms of reusing an empty business establishment, I’m delighted, and I hope it creates jobs and a place where revellers can enjoy themselves responsibly. My only caveat is I hope it will be a well looked after establishment but, with it being a major chain, I’m sure it will be.” Revolution, which currently has 60 sites across the two brands, will open two more venues by July and plans to add another five outlets to the portfolio by 2017.

Healthy eating restaurant concept Skinny Kitchen set to make UK debut: Skinny Kitchen, a healthy eating restaurant concept launched in Ibiza in 2014, is set to make its UK debut next month. The concept is opening in Bournemouth in Post Office Road in the former Longhorn Burgers restaurant, opposite PizzaExpress. It was launched in Ibiza by former Bournemouth University student David Mason and three friends after looking for somewhere to eat that meant “all their hard work in the gym before their summer holiday didn’t go to waste”. When they couldn’t find anywhere, they decided to set up their own business on the island, which immediately took off reaching number one on TripAdvisor. Now Skinny Kitchen, which is backed by investors in the Lineker’s and Ocean Beach Club brands, is opening its first UK site and Mason told the Bournemouth Echo: “Bournemouth is a huge place, where people care about what they eat and how they feel – our brand allows them to eat out in a great restaurant setting without running the calorie gauntlet: so it’s a perfect match.” The Skinny Kitchen menu takes conventional meals and uses a “waistline friendly approach” with the menu including lean steak mince and sweet potato chips, flaxseed waffles, protein bowls, low carb pizzas and fresh pressed juices.

Award-winning curry chef heads kitchen at new Indian restaurant in Birmingham’s Chinatown: Mofur Miah, who was named best British culinary chef at the British Curry Awards, has been appointed head chef at the new James Dahl Indian restaurant in Birmingham’s Chinatown. Mofur previously owned the Amina restaurant in Sutton Coldfield and has also cooked for Tom Cruise, Janet Jackson and The Spice Girls. The new restaurant in Hurst Street is owned by Bangladesh-born Husban Ahmed and is named after one of his ancestors. Dishes include Jhinga Bateta (marinated king prawns grilled in a clay oven and cooked with roast potatoes in special sauce), and Rosely chicken – slow-cooked chicken marinated in light herbs and spices and cooked in a sweet sauce. Ahmed told the Birmingham Mail: “I like to joke I’m the only Indian in China! Customers have told me they were pleasantly surprised to find the restaurant here and that it’s nice there is somewhere new to go for an upmarket dining experience.”

Stonegate Pub Company to launch new Popworld cocktails menu: Stonegate Pub Company will launch a new cocktails menu for its Popworld nightclub brand on Tuesday, 15 March. Its “Poptails” range will include nine new recipes and a tropical Tiki-pop section. The Tiki range will consist of pina coladas, spiced zombies and June bugs served in Malibu Tiki glasses, while an apple and raspberry jam flavour will be added to its Absolut Flaskas range – the jam-jar-style drinks account for 20% of Popworld’s cocktail sales. Popworld has also added two new WKD flavours to its Popshots collection – blue, and fiery mango and chilli – while a nostalgic Candy Pop collection has been introduced, featuring rhubarb and custard, cola bottle, raspberry bonbon and bubblegum martinis. The Pop Icons menu section, which accounts for four out of ten Popworld cocktail sales, will now include a Pornstar Martini and a UV G&T, served with a shot of popping candy. Alan Armstrong, head of marketing for Stonegate Pub Company’s venues division, said: “Following some great customer feedback on what they’d like to see more of, we’re focusing on bringing new and innovative additions to the menu.” Stonegate Pub Company operates more than 660 pubs across its Proper Pubs, Yates, Common Room, Slug and Lettuce, Town, Pub & Kitchen, Classic Inns, and Venues brands, including 16 Popworld sites.

Bravas Tapas co-founder opens first solo restaurant in Covent Garden: Bravas Tapas co-founder and restaurateur Victor Garvey has opened his first solo venture – modern tapas restaurant Duende in Covent Garden, London. The 26-cover venue in Maiden Lane is spread over 775 square feet and features an open kitchen. Dishes include cured salmon rulada with crispy sweet potato, red onion escabeche and wasabi alioli, oyster fritura with toasted almonds and caviar, and Tapas Bravas favourite foie gras crema Catalana. The venue offers an all-Spanish wine list, while Garvey told Hot Dinners the dishes are “rooted in my Spanish parentage and childhood but influenced by my travels and experience of working in restaurants around the world”. The restaurant is currently open for dinner only, with lunch to be added in mid-March. Garvey teamed up with Bal Thind to open Bravas Tapas in St Katharine Docks in 2014, offering contemporary regional Spanish cuisine overlooking the marina.

Bristol-based independent bar and restaurant set to expand to Cardiff: Bristol-based independent bar and restaurant company Urban Standard is set to expand to Cardiff. The company, which has two sites in Bristol, has lodged plans to open its third venue in the Gabalfa area of the city. It has submitted an application to the city council to convert the former Cardiff Sportsgear shop in Whitchurch Road for its latest outlet, reports Wales Online. The company describes both its restaurant and bars in Bristol as “offering quality food and drink in a laid back atmosphere” and also as “a welcoming space for anything from a coffee to a three-course meal”. Urban Standard’s eponymous venue is in Gloucester Road, Bristol, while its sister venue North St Standard is in North Street.

Pod adds new items to menu with ‘Hot Lunch Legends’ range: Pod, the healthy eating brand with 22 sites in London, has added new items to its menu with its “Hot Lunch Legends” range. The new Hot Pods additions are: Sri Lankan Chicken, featuring fragrant spices, chicken, green beans, carrot, cauliflower, chilli, yoghurt and almonds; Keralan Chicken, a south Indian dish of chicken, sweet potato, green beans, garlic and ginger; Vietnamese Pork, a sweet and spicy sauce with black beans, carrot, tomato and pulled pork; and Keralan Vegetable, a concoction of cauliflower, sweet potato, green beans, carrot, coconut and seven Indian spices. All four are served with three-grain rice and a crunchy salad, although the rice can be exchanged for slaw salad. Each “Hot Lunch Legend” is both gluten and wheat-free while the Vietnamese Pork and the vegan-friendly Keralan Vegetable options are both dairy free. Director of food Sean Burlinson said: “All items on our menu are freshly made on the premises every day. Our Hot Pods have been enormously successful and we’re delighted to introduce four new Legends to give our customers variety and easy access to wonderful new tastes.”

Chopstix to open restaurant on site of former Pizza Hut in Aberdeen: Noodle brand Chopstix is to open a new site in Aberdeen. The company is launching the venue in Union Street next to the Trinity Shopping Centre on the site of the former Pizza Hut, which closed in 2011. Chopstix, which uses “authentic Asian recipes from China, Thailand, and Korea”, is aiming to have the restaurant and takeaway open within the next two months. Chief operating officer Max Hilton Jenvey told the Evening Express: “This will be one of our larger sites in the UK. We can’t wait to come to Aberdeen. We have always been very welcomed north of the border and are delighted at how our Scottish cousins have received us. Everything will be cooked fresh on site and in front of the customer. A huge investment is being made into the premises. It’s hoped work will be finished in the next six weeks to two months.”

Casual Dining Group to convert Basingstoke La Tasca site to Las Iguanas brand: Casual Dining Group is to convert another of its La Tasca restaurants into its Latin American-inspired concept Las Iguanas, this time in Basingstoke, Hampshire. The company has closed the doors of La Tasca at the Festival place shopping centre and will reopen it as Las Iguanas later this month, reports the Basingstoke Gazette. Casual Dining Group is currently converting a number of its La Tasca branches, the brand it acquired last year, to Las Iguanas, including in Newcastle and York. On Friday (4 March), Casual Dining Group reported it’s on track to achieve run-rate Ebitda of £50m in its current financial year to May 2016. The company is also planning major expansion into Ireland with chief executive Steve Richards telling Propel it is looking to open as many as 20 sites in the next two years.

Topland Group acquires The Feathers Hotel Collection: Topland Group, led by Sol Zakay, has added The Feathers Hotel Collection to its new Hallmark Hotels chain as part of a bid to create a £1bn hotel business in the UK. The company, which bought the Liverpool-headquartered Feathers Hotel Group a year ago, has acquired eight hotels in the north west of England. It brings the total number of Hallmark Hotels nationwide to 28 and the uniting of the portfolio brings the total number of rooms offered across the UK up to 2,700. Topland said the deal follows another positive financial year, with the Feathers acquisition growing its portfolio by 40%. Topland director of hotels Lionel Benjamin told The Business Desk: “Topland Group’s investment into the north of England’s hotel industry supports the northern powerhouse’s efforts to improve economic growth for the area. The expansion of the Hallmark Hotels portfolio within this specific region brings with and supports employment, both for hotel teams, suppliers and partners whilst also driving demand to the destination both for leisure and business travellers.”