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Canary Wharf: How Fairgame is set to revolutionise competitive socialising

CEO Richard Hilton says the funfair-themed venue will feature games, street food and cocktails

Fairgame does give some cuddly bears away as prizes - image by Matt Grayson
Fairgame does give some cuddly bears away as prizes – image by Matt Grayson

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Fairgame is something fresh.

While competitive socialising has been around for a while in Canary Wharf, it’s almost as though Electric Shuffle and the brightly coloured minigolf by Craig And Karl, were gateway drugs.

This new venue, set to officially open on October 4, 2022, is a pure sugar rush of grown-up silliness.

Overseen by a cheerful, furry pink bear, who may have been to a few too many illegal raves in the 1990s, Fairgame is a vast, 20,000sq ft funfair-themed bar, playground and street-food hangout.

There are cocktails, pizza, nine games to try and Prosecco-infused candy floss.   

The venue’s owners have taken spaces once occupied by Davy’s, The Limehouse and The Merchant and knocked through to make a massive space with a terrace stretching down Fishermans Walk. 

Don’t worry too much about finding it, though. Helpfully there’s a five-metre rubber duck sat in the dock right outside.

That, in itself, is a statement both of location for the venue, but also of wider intent for Canary Wharf.

What better way to let London know the direction the estate is headed, than by pointing the way with a giant yellow duck?

Like the dock its aquatic landmark sits in, however, Fairgame is more than just the ersatz glamour of a dodgy funfair.

Behind the fun is a serious operation run by some big names and the activities are scrupulously honest.

Fairgame’s co-founders include Paul Campbell of Hill Capital Partners, who sits on the boards of Hawksmoor, The Alchemist and Blacklock, and music industry lawyer Andrew Myers.

But it’s Gymbox founder and now CEO of this new venture, Richard Hilton, who takes me on at Gopher Broke, the venue’s update of Whac-A-Mole.

Fairgame co-founder Richard Hilton aims his water gun - image by Matt Grayson
Fairgame co-founder Richard Hilton aims his water gun – image by Matt Grayson

“Fairgame is a revolution,” said the Watford-born entrepreneur.

“We want people who come here to feel elated. That goes for our staff too – it’s vital they enjoy what they’re doing to create that environment.

“When I was a little kid, I used to love going to the funfair.

“It would come round once a year and my parents would take me. The games were magical – the chance to win a prize. 

“When you transition to being a parent yourself you realise it’s really expensive and the experience is a bit grotty, but there’s still something magical about the games – you can’t help but love playing them and that’s what I want people to feel, here in Canary Wharf.”

While there’s a whiff of nostalgia about Fairgame – its tagline is that it’s the funfair “exactly like you don’t remember” – the games aren’t fixed or charged individually, they’re played purely for the pleasure of competition, although cuddly bears are given as prizes for those who do especially well.

“We’ve genuinely reinvented them,” said Richard.

“Every game has tech in it so people will be playing really slick games and competing.

“You can play in groups of two, five, 10, 15 or even 100 – which is great for a corporate day out – the number is unlimited.

“You’ll be able to see how you’ve done in individual games through our leader boards and overall, once you’ve played all nine.

“We incentivise people with the bears, but really it’s the joy of beating the people you’re with that you’re playing for.”

Players pay £13 per person, which gets then 75 minutes to tackle each of the nine games at the venue, twice.

Packages that include food and drink are also available.

There are nine games in total, which participants play twice - image by Matt Grayson
There are nine games in total, which participants play twice – image by Matt Grayson

Playing is not mandatory, however, and Wharfers are free simply to visit the venue for cocktails at the Bumper Bar or dishes from on-site vendors Burger And Beyond, Rudy’s Pizza Napoletana and Dos Mas Tacos.

Its terrace gets the sun in the evening and Fairgame plans to install covered seating and heaters for comfort.

Inside, visitors will find plenty of flashing lights, two bars, semi-private booths, a private events space, a candy floss and sweets bar and all the pun-tastic games. 

Fairgame has reimagined and re-branded a multitude of classics such as Lawn Of The Dead, inspired by crown green bowling, Pantry Pandemonium – a game where missiles are thrown to knock targets off shelves and Circus Freak, where contestants try to accurately aim a water gun to raise a clown’s head faster than their opponents.

It’s the variety that Richard thinks will be key to the venue’s success.

“I don’t have a favourite – I love them all,” he said. “That was the joy in selecting them – I chose the ones I enjoyed the most and was best at.

Final Furlong – our roller derby – is great and we also have one called Dunk The Junk, which hasn’t been made since the 1970s.

“You have to try and get as many balls as you can into these rubbish bins, but the lids keep opening and closing so you have to time it just right. I love it

“The majority come from the USA, but one – Phoney Island – our version of a duck shoot, comes from Oldham and is made by a guy who just takes joy in creating games. 

“They all test different abilities – shooting, throwing, hitting – the idea was to do something more stimulating than having a venue dedicated to one thing. 

“The reason funfair games are great is the variety, and nobody else has thought about putting them together like this in a circuit.”

Richard himself has history as an entrepreneur.

Having started out in the advertising world, he spotted Crunch while working in New York and created Gymbox in 2001 for the London market. 

Fairgame's five-metre high duck is outside the venue in the dock
Fairgame’s five-metre high duck is outside the venue in the dock

“I saw something in the States and wondered why nobody had done it in Britain,” said Richard, who sold most of his shares in 2016, while remaining a director of the company. 

“I was going to retire, but realised I was too young.

“My wife definitely wasn’t ready for me to give up work, so I began to look into something called competitive socialising.

“If I go out, I’m quite happy sitting in a pub and talking to a  friend, but the younger generation want a bit more. 

“So I had a go on one of the golf concepts but found it a bit repetitive.

“That’s where the idea for Fairgame came from.

“The reason we picked Canary Wharf for the first one is that it’s a really interesting area and now that Crossrail is here, it’s even more accessible.

“There’s the business community but with Wood Wharf and the areas around the estate, there’s a large residential population too.

“You’re getting brands like Hawksmoor and Patty&Bun that I don’t think would have opened a decade ago – it’s evolving and changing.

“I live on the other side of London and it’s not what I thought it would be. 

“That’s thanks to Canary Wharf Group – there’s a vision for the place and it’s going to get even better, especially now its five minutes from Liverpool Street and 13 from Tottenham Court Road.

“It’s an exciting journey when you think what it was like even five years ago and it’s great to be a part of it.”

Players of dunk the junk attempt to get balls into bins
Players of dunk the junk attempt to get balls into bins

Read more: How The PA Show Canary Wharf is bringing a community together

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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 jon.massey@wharf-life.com

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Canary Wharf: How The Pearson Room’s winter cocktails mix warmth and beauty

The Canada Square venue is offering seasonal flavours and a special offer for PAs and party planners

The Pearson Room’s Theo Damse

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Right now there are two things to tell you about The Pearson Room.

  • The first is that it’s just launched its new cocktail list for winter 2022, with the bar team working hard to come up with 14 drinks to tickle the tastebuds of thirsty Wharfers.

“I would describe it as focused on smoky, spicy and sweet flavours as those are right for this time of year,” said Theo Damse, assistant bar manager at The Pearson Room. 

“We try to make it so we have as little waste as possible behind the bar and we make use of as much of each ingredient as we can.”

That means the venue, which is located above Waitrose overlooking Canada Square, is all set for winter, with a special Christmas drink – Santa’s Little Helper – also in the pipeline for the festive season. 

General manager at The Pearson Room, Emilie Parker-Burrell said: “We like our menu to be original, creative and something you won’t find anywhere else. 

“The team have been amazing, coming up with all these drinks since we first talked about changing the menu in June.”

See below for our six picks from the new list.

  • Also on Wharfers’ radars should be the venue’s loyalty scheme, which applies to PAs, EAs and anyone working at a company who has responsibility for making corporate bookings.

“We’re calling it The Pearson Collective,” said Emilie.

“The way it works is that those on the scheme get points based on the number and size of booking that they make with us.

“Because we are owned by Third Space, those points can be used as credit at the club, Natural Fitness Food and Third Space Spa.

“You’d get one point for a booking for four people, which works out at £5.

“The Pearson Room is very flexible – it can handle small dinners right up to receptions for 350 people.

“If you booked exclusive hire of the whole venue, that would be 40 points, so £200 in credit. We want to reward those who are loyal to us – it makes sense if we give something back.”

Email events@thepearsonroom.co.uk for more information about The Pearson Collective

SIX OF THE BEST – OUR PEARSON ROOM PICKS

1. Cinema Seat – £14

Mezcal Montelobos, Cointreau, popcorn syrup, lime, pineapple juice

This punchy drink comes garnished with a few sweet kernels of popped corn and some sticky syrup to help the medicine go down

2. Fairy Belle – £12.50

Belle De Brillete, Benedictine, pistachio, pear, Prosecco

The ideal welcome drink for a festive bash, this slender, elegant flute comes with a couple of pistachio nuts and a crisp, clean flavour

3. First Frost – £11

Whitley Neill Violet Gin, violette liqueur, lavender

This pale purple drink lies as lightly on the tongue as the first whisper of ice crystals forming from the morning dew. A subtle cocktail in debt to the classic Aviation

4. Winter Drop – £14.50

Rémy Martin 1738 cinnamon, lemon, orange juice, fresh orange segments

This is a proper, grown-up drink served with slices of fun – literally three toasted orange segements dipped in sugar and cinnamon

5. Just Chill – £11

Ocho Tequila, watermelon liqueur, grenadine, watermelon syrup and chilli

This is the partygoer who makes an entrance in a stunning shade before hitting the dance floor to spice things up. Carefully balanced

6. Santa’s Little Helper – £14.50

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte, Mount Gay Rum, Cherry Heering (served hot)

Available from November, this brilliant, potent drink should be a Wharf rite of passage. Heady, smoky and warming for winter

Read more: How Third Space helps Wharfers make the most of their time

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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 jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: Why Market Hall Canary Wharf is set to take the estate by storm

Venue at Cargo off Adams Plaza will feature eight food traders and is set to open on April 7, 2022

Founder and chief executive at Market Halls, Andy Lewis-Pratt
Founder and chief executive at Market Halls, Andy Lewis-Pratt

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Unusually, this is a story that starts with retirement.

At the age of 49, having worked extensively in commercial property and run a big public company, Andy Lewis-Pratt decided he hated what he was doing, resigned and headed to the Algarve with his wife and daughter.  

“I had no intention of doing any kind of work ever again,” he said.

“I burnt all my suits and it was one of the most cathartic moments of my life.”

But after five years of Yoga, tennis and golf, boredom was setting in.

Coupled with a desire to see their daughter educated more effectively than ex-pat life allowed, the family decided to return to the UK.

“Being retired in your 50s in Portugal is great because you find people like yourself – the average age of retirees like me out there was 42 and we had lots of fun,” said Andy.

“But it’s not fine in the UK – I was bored out of my skull, so I started googling some ideas about what I might do before we left.

“Then one of my friends asked if I’d been to this market hall in Lisbon. It was in an old fruit market and it was fantastic.

“There were lots of different restaurants – all kinds of food from all over the world – and communal seating.

“You could get what you wanted, when you wanted it and there were bars too that were full of life. I just loved it.

“Then, about five years ago, I’d travelled to the UK for an ‘old farts’ reunion where I saw an old friend who was CEO of a big property agency and I asked how many market halls there were in London.

“He told me that, while there was street food, there wasn’t anything like the one in Lisbon.”

Market Hall Canary Wharf will be based in the Cargo building
Market Hall Canary Wharf will be based in the Cargo building

From those seeds of an idea, Andy swung into action and put a team together, researching the business in Europe and New York. 

Convinced this was no passing fad, he raised finance and launched Market Halls with its first location in Fulham in the old ticket office next to the station.

“People loved it, we made lots of mistakes of course, but then we opened our second site at Victoria which was in an old ticket hall that had become a nightclub on two floors,” said Andy.

“I was nervous of that because my old retail background said don’t put anything on the first floor. 

“But it had a big roof and so we created a roof terrace and it was an unbelievable success, almost from the moment we opened its doors, it was full all of the time.”

The venue will have two bars and eight food traders
The venue will have two bars and eight food traders

A third site at Oxford Street also proved successful but, at twice the size of Victoria, proved unwieldy and has now been altered to fit the latter’s template. 

The original site in Fulham has also closed, more a recognition that to reach its best, the business is dependent on office workers.

Which brings us to Market Hall Canary Wharf – set to officially open on the ground floor of Cargo, off Adams Plaza, on April 7. 

“If I’m honest I was reluctant to come here,” said Andy. “I was a bit reticent as to how traditional City suit types would take to my cool venture with independent traders. 

“But my colleagues had told me the area had changed. I read up on it and I had to learn that my impression was wrong. 

“I spent time on the Wharf and realised it was ready for Market Halls – that’s why we took the lease on the space four months before lockdown.”

Wharf favourite Black Bear Burger will be returning to the estate
Wharf favourite Black Bear Burger will be returning to the estate

So, having overcome the “interesting journey” to get to the point of opening and with the pandemic receding, what can Wharfers expect from the latest hospitality venue to hit the estate?

“Market Hall Canary Wharf is a slightly more premium offering than our sites at Oxford Street and Victoria, but the concept is the same,” said Andy.

“We have eight independent traders that serve bloody good food and that’s their only job.

“As a business, we do everything else – we provide standardised kitchens – so the cost of entry is very low for them.

“There’s no deposit and they don’t have to worry about paying a quarter’s rent up front – we just take a percentage of their turnover every week.

“We look after the clearing of the tables, the dishwashing, the promotion of the venue and we operate the bars. 

“They just do what they’re good at, which is making great food with all the hassles taken away.

“We have a long list of people who want to be in our venues but they need to show their quality and that they can serve food fast and consistently.

“In Canary Wharf, the lunchtime trade will be big and that’s 45 minutes. If you can’t cook your food in seven minutes, you’re probably not going to have many customers coming back.”

Diners can expect Mexican cuisine from DF Tacos
Diners can expect Mexican cuisine from DF Tacos

Visitors to Market Hall Canary Wharf will be free to order from any of the traders and bars, with buzzers given out so diners know when their food is ready.

The opening line-up of eight restaurants includes Le Bab’s modern gourmet kebabs, Baoziinn’s dim sum and Chinese dishes, Mexican cuisine from DF Tacos, Malaysian roti canai from Gopals, fried chicken from Chick Chick Crew and Italian food from Pasta Evangelists.

There will also be Japanese flavours from Inamo Sukoshi and a welcome return to the Wharf by Black Bear Burger, which used to serve up fine patties at Giant Robot before its closure due to the pandemic.

Andy said: “This is a starting place for some with us and growth ground for others, so I’m particularly excited about opening up here.

“People ask me why I do it. I’m not young any more, but I go to the gym and I feel 30, even when I’m not.

The Canary Wharf venue will have dim sum by Baoziin
The Canary Wharf venue will have dim sum by Baoziin

“I’m not a foodie, but I love seeing people having fun – joy is the word we keep using – I like to see people having a bloody great time, and that’s why I do this.

“I get real enjoyment in seeing people smiling, laughing and having a blast.

“The great thing about Market Halls as a concept is that you can come here by yourself, in pairs, in a group of 10, 15 or 20 – it doesn’t matter.

“You can arrive any time, eat what you want to eat and there’s no grumbling about who’s going to pay the bill because mostly everyone has paid for themselves. 

“You can come and choose what you like, when you like and then just concentrate on enjoying yourself.”

And here’s a little music, appropriate for stepping into the hall of the food court king…

Read more: The Pearson Room reopens with a new team and fresh flavours

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