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Isle Of Dogs: How Leslie Nkansah is set to take over food at The Space Bar

The arts centre, restaurant and bar on Westferry Road is getting a new head chef, formerly of Fat Boy’s Diner

The Space Bar’s new head chef, Leslie Nkansah

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Tere’s something brewing at The Space, steeping, infusing, intensifying.

Ingredients are coming together and there’s change in the air.

That’s because The Space Bar – the arts centre’s food, drink and occasional event venue – is all set to welcome a new head chef.

Leslie Nkansah became a cook “by mistake”. Unsure of what to do after leaving school in Shepherd’s Bush at 16, a careers advisor mentioned the idea of an apprenticeship.

“They said I’d get paid while I worked and a qualification as well, so I went along,” said Les.

“That was at Mezzo in Wardour Street, which was owned by Conran.

“It was one of the biggest restaurants in Europe at the time and I spent four years there under head chef John Torode.”

Suffice to say, the Masterchef presenter isn’t the only big name influence on Leslie’s CV.

From Mezzo, he went on to work with Henry Harris of Hush and Racine fame, spent a year in Switzerland and came back to the UK to work with Gordon Ramsay, opening the York And Albany near Regent’s Park – now closed and recently occupied by squatters.

“I fell into doing a few events after that like Royal Ascot and then went back to work for John Torode at Smith’s Of Smithfield, where I was head chef in 2011,” said Leslie.

“I was then asked by them if I’d like to go back to Switzerland as they were opening a restaurant and I spent three years working there mainly in the ski season. 

“That’s when I heard about the super yachts – people would head down from the mountains to Nice and Antibes, so I jumped on that.

“I worked on some amazing vessels – the amount of money and produce just blew me away. You can’t experience how those people live until you’re in that environment. 

“I stayed out there until 2017, when I decided to come back to England – I had some savings and decided to start Black Star Kitchen.

“I got the name from the Ghanaian flag – my dad’s from Ghana and my mum’s half Scottish.” 

Having returned to the UK, Leslie set about cooking anything and everything – including creating pop-up Ten Radius, a fine dining residency in Brighton where 80% of the ingredients were sourced from within 10 miles of the venue.

“Then Covid hit and put a spanner in the works for a lot of things,” he said. “After the pandemic, I found Fat Boy’s Diner at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

“I took that on for just over a year but unfortunately the footfall and the cost of living crisis meant my pockets weren’t deep enough to keep it going. 

“That was a shame because it’s a beautiful establishment and I had a lot of ideas and plans for it.”

Bar board chair at The Space, Andrew Finnegan

a move to the Island

It was also there that Leslie met Andrew Finnegan, bar board chair at The Space, whose interest was piqued by a serving of deep-fried olives.

Discussions that started around Leslie doing a pop-up took a different turn when a vacancy for head chef at the venue came up.

Now he’s set to take over the kitchen full-time from mid May, 2024.

“We relaunched the kitchen approximately 18 months ago and we always knew that food was one of the levers we could pull to increase trade at the venue to support the work The Space does,” said Andrew.

“We’d launched brunch in October and the idea was to have pop-ups and guest chefs.

“Pre-Covid it was a lively spot and now we have a full-time chef again, we want to get back to that. 

“Menu-wise it’s about getting re-established, attracting that footfall and then we can experiment.” 

fresh direction

Leslie added: “I got really excited when I saw the building and the outside space – there’s so much potential.

“I want to create a community hub where people can come to meet up, grab a good snack and mingle. 

“Everyone needs a place where they can come, no matter what their background, have good food and good drinks and enjoy the vibes – that’s my intention.

“Food-wise I’m looking at doing the same sort of thing I was doing at Fat Boy’s.

“There will be burgers and snacks, but I also want to play around with traditional English dishes like scotch eggs.

“I have a vegetarian one with beetroot and another where I use duck to coat the eggs.

“The layout at The Space is quite informal, so it will be grab-and-go – accessible dishes.”

supporting The Space

The plan is very much to make use of Leslie’s talents to build up the venue, with dishes that fit alongside the multitude of shows and events it hosts.

Andrew said: “It will be really nice when we get this going.

“Our brunches have been successful and their growth has been organic – people try it once and then come back.

“The more people who come here for the food and drink means the more money The Space has and the more shows it can put on its stage.”

While the bar has naturally been a stop-off for those coming to the Island for performances, it’s long played a dual role as a meeting point and welcoming haven for local residents.

Initially Leslie’s menus will aim to serve both communities with dishes appealing to wide audiences. 

However, further down the line there will hopefully be scope to experiment – an obvious step with such serious talent in the kitchen.

“I really do like to cook everything,” said Leslie.

“I love good ingredients, I love playing with food and putting ingredients in which wouldn’t normally go together and seeing if they work.

“At the moment, I’m really getting into fermenting things.

“Of course I like cooking traditional dishes – I’ve learnt from every kitchen I’ve been in – and I think my Sunday roast is among the best in the country – although that’s yet to be proven.

“I also love smoking meat, brisket or even cauliflower. I like sweet flavours with spice – lots of chillies but with maple syrup.

“My signature dish was wood pigeon with trompet mushroom puree, caramelised shallot and tapenade.

“If all this works out, I definitely want to discuss the idea of a supper club here.”

We can’t wait… 

key details

The Space is located in Westferry Road on the Isle Of Dogs and is easily reached in less than 10 minutes from Canary Wharf via the D7, 277 or 135 direct buses.

Current opening hours for The Space Bar are noon-11pm Mon-Thurs, noon-midnight on Fridays, 10am-midnight on Saturdays and 10am-10.30pm on Sundays.

Find out more about The Space Bar here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via
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