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The tables are set for London's reopening

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At Core restaurant in London's trendy Notting Hill, three Michelin-starred chef Clare Smyth and her team are preparing to reopen their doors on Monday (May 17).

"It's been a long long time this one. I'm super excited, I can't wait to get the guests through the door. It's going to be quite emotional and I think the whole team's absolutely pumping and on fire."

And they're going to need that enthusiasm.

Smyth sold out three months of bookings in 20 minutes when her restaurant said it would emerge from lockdown.

The 42-year-old won the highest accolade in fine dining in January when all restaurants were shut.

During the health crisis she trained her staff online for hours a day, cooked through charities for 600 people a week and created a tasting menu for customers to be sent out in London.

That helped to retain all her staff and keep suppliers in business, but it was a challenge.

''We were all so shocked. We didn't know what would happen, didn't know what the future held, and I didn't even know if restaurants were going to exist again.''

While the excitement about reopening next week is tangible, Smyth worries that the broader industry is yet to feel the full force of the global health crisis.

Costs have jumped, rent arrears have ballooned and skilled European staff have left the country.

Trade group UK Hospitality has estimated that in the year after the first lockdown in March 2020, one in five restaurants shut.

Those still standing have to establish how they will pay back rent and government loans.

But for now, it's all about getting ready to welcome diners back for the first time this year.

"I think people appreciate more than ever, going out and just having that experience. Cooking at home is one thing, and having delivery boxes is another, but going somewhere with an atmosphere, and having people serve and cook for you is a completely different thing.''

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