Rockfish to open Exmouth restaurant this month, fifth site: Rockfish, the seafood restaurant group founded and run by restaurateurs Mitch Tonks and Mat Prowse, will open its Exmouth restaurant on Wednesday, 14 December. The new restaurant is on Exmouth seafront next to the marina, keeping true to the Rockfish values of siting its restaurants close to a town’s fishing activity. The other Rockfish restaurants are in Brixham, Plymouth, Torquay and Dartmouth. Tonks told the Express & Echo: “I am really excited about being in Exmouth, it is another of the places I holidayed as a child. I think Exmouth is the perfect location for a fish restaurant and we look forward to making the restaurant a big part of the community, drawing more visitors to the town.” Rockfish recently appointed Hawksmoor Group co-founder and chief executive Will Beckett to the role of non-executive chairman. Beckett was part of a private group that supported the business in a fund-raise in 2014 alongside other food and restaurant industry leaders John Barnes, Steve Leadbeater (chief financial officer at Two Sisters group) and Henry Dimbleby (Leon, Street Feast/London Union). The investor group also included food critic Giles Coren, who became a fan after eating at The Seahorse in Dartmouth, Tonks’ seafood institution that regularly features among the best restaurants in the UK.

Bourgee to open third site, in Bury St Edmunds: Steak-lobster lounge restaurant concept Bourgee, which operates sites in Southend and Chelmsford, is set to open a venue in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, next year. The town’s iconic Cupola House in The Traverse will offer diners Bourgee’s brand of “affordable luxury”, with the opening creating 30 jobs. The company was founded by James Welling and Mark Baumann in 2014. Welling told Bury Free Press: “Having seen the consumer demand first-hand across Essex, we are eager to challenge what East Anglia has come to expect from their restaurant choices, showing customers they can have the quality dining experiences they have come to know and love from nearby London without the need for travel or a high credit card limit.” At Bourgee, all meat is cooked on a specialist Josper grill, with diners given graphite blades imported from Germany to cut the meat without tearing. Cupola House was seriously damaged by fire in 2012, when it was a Strada restaurant, and has since been rebuilt and restored. In October, Bourgee said it had also agreed deals for a site in Norwich, with discussions at an advanced stage on a property near Colchester. Welling told Propel the company would build a cluster of sites in Essex and East Anglia before gradually advancing across the country in an “organic, measured way”.

£4m restaurant Varanasi opens as Birmingham’s ‘largest ever’: A £4m restaurant – Varanasi – has launched in Birmingham as the “largest” to open in the city. The 500-cover, 20,000 square foot venue in Broad Street is spread over three floors, with a cocktail bar on each, while the majority of the venue is underground. There are also two luxury private dining rooms accommodating up to 30 covers each and televisions in each bathroom, while all furniture has been imported from Asia and Dubai and hand-crafted chandeliers have been shipped from China. Named after the Indian city of Varanasi, the restaurant is the brainchild of a millionaire who “wishes to remain anonymous” and has been inspired by the “opulence and decadence of Dubai”. The menu has been curated by Michelin-starred chef Alfred Prasad using “British ingredients to create authentic Indian cuisine with a twist”. Pride of place on the cocktail menu is The Jewel of Varanasi. Priced at £500, the drink is served in a crystal brandy balloon and made with Hennesey Paradis, Grand Marnier, vanilla pods, quail’s egg, and lemongrass syrup. It is shaken and served with an edible flower, black truffle shaving and 24-carat gold leaf. The building previously housed pub Waxy O’Connor’s and was empty for eight years. General manager Pawan Chhabra said: “The team has spent the past two years working tirelessly to create an iconic restaurant for the Midlands. With gold leaf, hand-painted artwork throughout, we have strived to create an experience like no other. We hope it will be a jaw-dropping restaurant for the city.”

Mad Men-style whisky and cocktail bar Swift launches in Soho: Mad Men-style whisky and cocktail bar Swift has opened in Soho offering more than 240 different bottles of whisky. The two-storey bar in Old Compton Street is the brainchild of four London bar personalities – cocktail duo Bobby Hiddleston and Mia Johansson, who used to tend bar at Milk and Honey, and husband-and-wife team Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson, who operate Nightjar and Oriole. Swift offers light aperitifs and pre-dinner drinks in its upstairs bar, with a “pre-theatre, continental Europe-meets-local-pub vibe and an emphasis on champagne, fortified wine and beer”. A range of small plates are on offer, including native and rock oysters, and Guinness Welsh rarebit with caramelised onion and sourdough toast. Downstairs At Swift features an “intelligently compiled” list of whiskies from around the world in a 1950s-inspired art deco setting. It also offers a 20-strong cocktail list. Hiddleston, who also previously worked at New York’s Dead Rabbit, recently named world’s best bar, said it was time London had a cocktail bar that brought scotch whisky back into the spotlight. He told Scotchwhisky.com: “While there are bars you can get really good scotch whiskies in, there’s not too many places that have a really diverse selection.”

Bramley Bars unveils plans to reopen historic Hampstead village pub: South west-based pub company Bramley Bars has unveiled plans to reopen the historic Old White Bear in Hampstead village, which has been closed for almost three years. Bramley Bars has submitted plans to refurbish the 300-year-old pub in Well Road and reopen it in 2018. Proposals outline a “dual use” plan to rent the upstairs floors to Heathside Prep School while the revamp is under way to meet the school’s “urgent need” for extra classroom space. The pub closed in February 2014 after it was sold by Punch to offshore firm Braaid Ventures. The new owners saw plans to turn the bar into a house rejected after the council listed it as an Asset of Community Value. Protesters against previous plans to change the use of the building had marched through the streets – some dressed as bears – in a bid to save the pub. Actors Ricky Gervais and Peter Egan were among those who supported the campaign. Dan Brod, a lifelong Hampstead resident and co-owner of Bramley Bars, which runs three pubs in the south west, told Camden New Journal: “Bramley Bars’ ethos is for all our pubs to offer great wine, beer, and English country food in lovely premises that are at the heart of their local communities. This is how we intend to run the Old White Bear.”

Camden’s Lock Tavern owners get go-ahead for Manchester restaurant and rooftop bar: Rose Five, owners of The Lock Tavern in Camden, has had its plans approved for a Manchester city centre restaurant and music venue with rooftop bar. The company is set to transform Capes Dunn art auctioneers in Charles Street into a 770-capacity, five-storey bar, restaurant and music venue called The Auctioneers. The basement will house a small events space and bar with seating around a stage, while the ground floor will feature a large bar, kitchen and street food space with long bench seating and a “cafe bar feel”. The first floor will feature a larger live music space with stage, dressing room and bar, while the second floor will comprise a bar, kitchen and terraced area with retractable canopy. On the third floor, an all-weather rooftop bar is planned, with a glazed extension, terraced area and views over the grand Principal Hotel. Manchester Confidential said it understood planning was granted under the proviso the new venue would not be a nightclub, although internal areas may stay open until 4.30am.

Burning Night Group to open Bierkeller in Birmingham on Thursday, Cardiff sports bar wins award: Burning Night Group will open its Bierkeller site in Birmingham on Thursday (8 December). The company, which operates similar venues in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Cardiff, has taken a 15-year lease on the 22,000 square foot Birmingham property that formerly housed Brannigan’s bar. The Broad Street venue will comprise all three of its brands – the Bierkeller, Around the World and Shooters Sports Bar – and feature Bavarian oompah bands on Fridays and Saturdays. The venue will also feature a 4.8m x 2.4m P3.75 television, which will have the highest pixel density of any of the company’s huge LED screens and have a quality “better than any other bar we know of anywhere in the UK”. Meanwhile, the company’s Shooters bar at its Bierkeller site in Cardiff was named best sports bar in Wales at the first Welsh Hospitality Awards. Judges said the venue gave fans the chance to watch their sport in a “fabulous atmosphere with a great menu of food and drinks”. Burning Night Group chief executive Allan Harper said: “It’s always been our aim to put on great nights of sport for fans, giving them that whole package of live coverage, food and drink, so to be recognised for that is fantastic.”

Azzurri Group launches Radio Alice pizza concept: Azzurri Group, which owns and operates Ask Italian, Zizzi and Coco di Mama, is backing new pizza concept Radio Alice, which has launched in a former school building in Hoxton Square, east London. The concept is the brainchild of brothers Salvatore and Matteo Aloe, who have united with Gail’s Bakery co-founder Emma King, who will oversee the project. The Aloes own Berbere, which operates five pizzerias in Italy. They use mother yeast and stone-ground flour to produce dough that is left to ferment at room temperature for 24 hours, producing a pizza base that is crispy outside and soft inside. They then cook the base and add organic, seasonal toppings. The 113-cover restaurant, on the former site of the Monikers pub, also offers Italian organic wine alongside beer from Brew Fist in Italy and London’s Kernel Brewery. Radio Alice is named after an Italian pirate radio station from the 1970s. Salvatore Aloe said: “Radio Alice was fiercely Italian and deeply rooted in the rebellious. Their proud spirit and unconventional approach have always been an inspiration to us, and we hope today’s Radio Alice Hoxton will be much the same. We want our food to reflect that attitude so the ingredients are from traditional organic and slow-food producers in Italy and Britain.”

Bistrot Pierre eyes Southport as it opens 17th site, in Altrincham: Private equity-backed restaurant group Bistrot Pierre has opened its 17th site, in Altrincham, Greater Manchester, while it is also looking to launch a restaurant in Southport, Merseyside. Bistrot Pierre is understood to have made a deal to take over a site in Lord Street, Southport, with an official announcement expected soon. CBRE UK Property Management confirmed an offer had been made for a 23,000 square foot site formerly occupied by Russell and Bromley. If the ten-year deal goes through, rent for the building would cost the chain £70,000 a year, while it would pay additional business rates of about £48,000, the Champion reports. Bistrot Pierre’s 170-cover Altrincham restaurant is in The Stamford Quarter shopping centre and features floor-to-ceiling windows, French-styled interiors, a bar area, and outside seating. Bistrot Pierre, founded by Rob Beacham and John Whitehead in 1994, received £9.8m from private equity firm Livingbridge last year to support its expansion plans.

New company Aria Leisure eyes former Quill site in Manchester for concept launch: Aria Leisure, a new company founded by Allied London commercial director Andrea George, Fazenda co-founder Terence Langley, and Leeds-based entrepreneur James Coubrough, is eyeing a site in Manchester in which to launch a new concept. A licence notice has been placed in the window of 20-22 King Street, which was last occupied by ill-fated fine-dining restaurant Quill, which closed in June less than a year after its launch. George confirmed her plans to launch a restaurant at the site, but said she could give little more away at this time. However, she told Manchester Confidential Aria Leisure had secured a chef and nailed down its new concept. Quill opened in October 2015 following a £1m investment and was known for its multi-course taster menus priced at £85 or £150 with matching wines.

Leon opens Oxford restaurant, 42nd site: Natural fast food brand Leon has opened its 42nd site, this time in Oxford. The 136-cover restaurant has opened in Cornmarket at a site formerly occupied by HMV, creating more than 30 jobs. The venue is set over two floors and features a children’s play area, while it will feature Leon’s Christmas menu, with new dishes made in collaboration with chef and food writer Gizzi Erskine. The restaurant is open daily from 7am to 10pm, and 8am to 9pm on Sundays, offering a 15% discount to students and NHS staff. Leon chief executive John Vincent told The Oxford Times: “We make naturally fast food that tastes good, does you good and is kind to the planet.” The new site is only Leon’s sixth venue outside London but a £19m funding deal from OakNorth Bank secured in the summer will be used to fund 50 openings in the next four years. Vincent said he plans to open in “high streets, railway stations and shopping centres, wherever people need us”. He founded Leon with Henry Dimbleby in 2004. The next site due to launch is at London Bridge.

Leaf Hotels acquires third Kent site: Hotel operator Leaf Hotels has added to its expanding portfolio with the acquisition of the 80-bedroom Best Western Clifton Hotel in Folkestone, Kent, on a long lease. Agent Fleurets acted on behalf of the long-standing owners Mr and Mrs Hail. Leaf Hotels managing director Kanagaratnam Rajamenon said: “We are delighted to have acquired the Best Western Clifton Hotel and look forward to building on the foundations laid by Mr and Mrs Hail as we finalise plans for the refurbishment of the hotel next year.” Fleurets head of hotels Paul Hardwick said: “The Hails have successfully grown the Best Western Clifton Hotel and are handing over an excellent opportunity we are sure will complement Leaf Hotels’ existing portfolio.” Leaf Hotels also owns the Ramada Hotel in Dover and the Holiday Inn Express in Canterbury.

Turtle Bay to open Croydon restaurant next month at former nightclub site: Caribbean restaurant brand Turtle Bay will open a venue in Croydon next month on the site of former nightclub Tiger Tiger. The 168-cover venue will open in High Street on Sunday, 29 January following an £800,000 refurbishment, creating more than 50 jobs. A special “audition day” for prospective staff members will take place on Tuesday, 13 December, which will include applicants being asked to limbo dance. A Turtle Bay spokesman told the Croydon Advertiser: “The mission is to capture the spirit of celebration the Caribbean is famed for around the globe – making customers happy by delivering a hedonistic combination of joyous food, wicked drinks and a fun, relaxed atmosphere. The Croydon restaurant will be no exception with its vibrant, welcoming and sociable atmosphere and bespoke design. In fact the team have pulled out all the stops for their first restaurant in the area, which will be a beach shack-inspired ray of sunshine.” Turtle Bay, which is backed by Piper Private Equity, was formed by Las Iguanas co-founder Ajith Jaya-Wickrema and has 34 sites across the UK, having opened its first site in Milton Keynes in 2010.

Cote sets sights on Shrewsbury: French brasserie Cote has set its sights on opening in Shrewsbury town centre. A planning application has been lodged with Shropshire Council for a change of use from retail to restaurant for a unit in Princess House, The Square. The plans include an outside seating area in front of the restaurant and three retractable verandas, the Shropshire Star reports. Katie Priest, who prepared the design and access statement on behalf of Cote Restaurants, said turning the empty unit into a restaurant would have several benefits for the town centre. Her report stated: “The proposed use would generate a significant amount of footfall in its own right and would be open from breakfast as well as during the daytime and evening. The proposed change of use will make positive use of a vacant retail unit that will further support the economy and vitality and viability of Shrewsbury.” Cote currently has 80 sites in the UK.