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Deptford: Why Art In Perpetuity Trust is seeking up to five new trustees

Charity aims to build resilient organisation for the future to operate studios and gallery space

APT in Deptford is looking for new trustees
APT in Deptford is looking for new trustees

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We are practising ‘artist-led’ as a reality, not just terminology – we are living and breathing creative independence and that’s something we strive for in perpetuity, just as our name says.”

In a nutshell, that’s APT, as described by its administrative director, Sarah Walsh.  

The Art In Perpetuity Trust operates from, and indeed owns outright, a former textile warehouse on the banks of Deptford Creek, a complex that houses 42 artists’ studios, a thriving gallery, a performance space and a working sculpture garden off Creekside. 

But it’s much more than just a landlord, it’s a potent, creative community and, following a period of evaluation and reflection during the pandemic, the charity that runs it is reaching out to recruit new trustees to help it continue to deliver its mission, namely to support creative thought and artistic vision both in the studio and the wider world.

APT administrative director Sarah Walsh
APT administrative director Sarah Walsh

“APT was set up 20 years ago by a group of artists who were looking to find new studios after they were forced to move from their previous home,” said Sarah. 

“They made an arrangement with the guy who was selling the building to slowly purchase the freehold over a period of time and then transformed the legal structure of the organisation into a charity.

“It’s not just a studio complex, it’s a space for interaction, for the exchange of ideas – it’s a community and it’s been created that way purposefully to provide support for those who have left education and want a space that isn’t isolated but alongside their peers.”

Now APT is seeking up to five new trustees to bolster the charity’s board who will work alongside the committees of artists resident on-site that drive its activities and direction.

Sarah said: “We are looking for people who can provide a range of skills and experience in five areas to ensure we remain a resilient organisation for the future.

“We’d like an artist or curator with an excellent industry profile, a legal expert with understanding of charity, property and employment law, someone with public sector experience and knowledge of local communities in south London, a trustee with a background in fundraising and income generation and a financial professional with a knowledge of the charitable sector.

APT owns its own building outright in Deptford
APT owns its own building outright in Deptford

“Trustees bring different voices, skillsets and experiences to the table that we can use to help build partnerships, communicate what we’re doing and maintain our resilience as they govern the charity.

“We have a unique structure here – the committees of artists don’t work independently, we all work in unison to run APT together.”

Trustees meet six times a year in addition to attending the charity’s AGM. Attendance at various private views and events will also be expected.

Sarah said: “As an organisation we’re always thinking about diversity, equality and inclusion and that includes the way in which we recruit trustees. 

“It’s important to us to be accessible and transparent and to reach out as widely as possible to attract a range of people who can represent APT successfully. 

“We’re a little nugget in Deptford with the most wonderful community – anyone coming in as a trustee will experience that.”

  • The deadline for applications to become a trustee is May 30, 2022

WHAT THE TRUSTEES SAY

  • “Being a trustee means you can see the direct impact and valuing of your skills and experience to make a positive difference to the lives of others in the local community. It opens up a whole new world of networks and creative possibilities on your doorstep.”

Jenny White, co-chair, APT Trustee

  • “Being a Trustee allows you to contribute your skills and knowledge to the development of an organic and creative organisation. You gain valuable experience being part of the  contemporary art scene and wider Deptford community. Besides, it’s fascinating to be engaging with artists and their diverse practices.”

Ann Gilmore, co-chair, APT Trustee

APT's gallery space on Creekside in Deptford
APT’s gallery space on Creekside in Deptford

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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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Deptford: How Kath’s Place in Friendly Street is much more than a charity shop

Discover the work of the Kath Duncan Equality And Civil Rights Network in Lewisham and beyond

From left, volunteers Chloe Allen and Stewart Lendor with co-founders Barbara Raymond and Ray Barron-Woolford

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It may look like just another charity shop but Kath’s Place in Deptford is bigger on the inside.

Step through the Tardis-like entrance and you will find a growing mechanism for social change. 

Opened in October 2020 during the pandemic, the shop in Friendly Street houses the We Care food bank, a food pantry, a book swap library, a baby bank and a vintage clothes shop as well as serving tea and coffee and hot meals to take away for those in need.

Money from the sale of second-hand goods is used to feed the 3,000 people who use its services and the hub provides support for anyone who needs it, including the homeless, single parents, refugees and low-income families.

Word of its work has spread as far as Japan and Chile and inspired others to open similar operations.

Co-founder Ray Barron-Woolford believes its method of support will spread worldwide, as food demand and energy costs increase.

“What we do isn’t about creating dependency, it is about supporting people,” he said. 

“We do debt counselling, help if their fridge breaks down, if they need school uniforms. If they are homeless and have been given a flat, we get volunteers to help decorate.”

Kath’s Place charity shop on Friendly Street

All the projects are run by a team of 200 volunteers, headed up by Ray, as co-founder of We Care Community Hub and CEO of the Kath Duncan Equality And Civil Rights Network.

He draws no salary and puts all profit back into the organisation.

“My work isn’t about me, it’s about the people we help,” said the Deptford resident.

“It’s about empowering people to help themselves when councils and governments fail. 

“It is about generating income through our work that self-funds all our different projects, so we don’t have to spend all our time fundraising and so people don’t feel they are getting something for nothing or accepting charity.”

We Care Community Hub achieved charity status last year, but doesn’t receive any funding and has to buy almost everything it distributes.

It receives about five tonnes of food a year through the Fair Share scheme from supermarkets, but Ray said that was only 10% of what it needed. 

He visits up to 15 different supermarkets daily to buy the rest at the cheapest prices.

A mural of Barbara Raymond and Kath Duncan unveiled for International Women’s Day

“When you are buying in volume, saving a few pence on each item, it adds up to a whole other item you can buy for someone,” he said.

The We Care food bank is by referral only, as it already helps people from eight boroughs and cannot cope with more.

The We Care food pantry has 1,374 member households, including 784 children and 78 pets.

Members pay £1 a year and then £5 every time they access it and can have packages tailored to their requirements, such as vegan or Halal.

“It’s tragic we have to exist,” said Ray. ”We are all uncomfortable with it. But if we didn’t exist people would be dead.”

Ray understands because he has lived it. “I was a gay, homeless man who went through the care system and got lucky in property and that made me rich,” he said. 

“But I have never forgotten all those people who helped me out from when I was poor and living on the streets of London. So I’m paying back for all those people who had faith in me.”

Ray lived on the streets of London for 18 months before making his fortune running estate agency Housemartins in Surrey Quays, specialising in housing gay men. But he walked away after one eye-opening exchange in 2014.

“I was coming out of my office and saw two men in suits going through the bins on the council estate opposite,” he said. “I asked why and they said: ‘We have jobs so we can’t get any benefit, but it’s five weeks until we get paid and we can’t get a loan’. 

“I thought it was madness so that’s when I linked up with Barbara Raymond and decided we had to do something about it.

“We set up We Care at that moment and that led me to selling my company and becoming totally committed to tackling poverty as a full-time activist.”

Barbara, 86, had arrived in London as part of the Windrush generation and, in 1976, opened what Ray described as the “first food bank” from her home in New Cross, which still runs today.

She and Ray became instant friends and today she chairs We Care Community Hub.

The initial food bank ran from 2014-16 at a base in Deptford until the rent went from £7,500 to £32,500 and it had to shut.

This disused phone box on Deptford High Street in now the world’s first 24/7 community hub with info for those fleeing domestic violence, who are lonely or have mental health issues, are homeless and want help or ar in need of emergency food or legal aid

“We couldn’t get charity status at the time because you needed cash to have a charity registration,” said Ray.

“So we went underground and were running the business from people’s homes in the holidays and at Christmas.

“Then Covid hit and everyone was panicking. MPs vanished, the council went into lockdown and we had elderly people in their homes that couldn’t leave and people couldn’t get to them to feed them.

“We set up the buddy system that we learned through Aids in the 1970s, and that allowed us to feed 5,000 people. 

“Then someone who we had helped died and left us the £5,000 we needed to get the charity registration.

“It was sad we lost that person, but they ensured our work could continue.”

Kath’s Place opened in October 2020 after a coffee shop went bust and Ray put up the money to rent the space.

He named it after former Deptford resident Kath Duncan who he discovered he had a startling affinity with.

“She is the most important civil rights activist of the past 100 years, lived in Deptford and was gay like me,” said Ray.

“We wanted to carry on her work. It’s important to us everyone knows about her.”

A mural was unveiled on the side of the charity shop for International Women’s Day depicting Kath and Barbara, who Ray said were “extraordinary women”.

“The mural is about instilling pride in our community and hopefully inspiring other women and showing that all of them deserve recognition,” he added.

It has not been touched by graffiti and neither has the shop or a disused telephone box that volunteers recently transformed into a 24/7 community hub.

Situated under the rainbow bridge in Deptford High Street, it is for anyone who needs it and contains information on local support, a book swap library and access to a scheme providing free tea and coffee.

“When you are in crisis you don’t know where to start,” said Ray. “Most people go online and what they find is national or closed.

“Having a space which is only local organisations, with their opening times, where they’re based and how you access them, is quite unique.

“When we opened the phone box everyone said it would be trashed. We knew it wouldn’t be. 

“We are already the only place in Lewisham with black shutters because all the others have been covered in graffiti.

The charity shop is the base for all the work carried out by the We Care Community Hub

“Ours isn’t, because our work is so cutting edge and inclusive that everyone knows someone who uses our projects and wouldn’t do anything to undermine our work.”

It’s not an idle boast. Ray’s mission to change our society has travelled not just through the borough but across the world.

A Kath’s Place hub has opened in Marbella with plans for more in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, Venezuela and Chile and he has been interviewed by Japanese television about the phone box.

“Instead of a McDonalds on every high street, there should be a Kath’s Place,” said Ray. “We are in talks to open in Redhill, Brighton, Liverpool and Kirkcaldy.

“Demand for this support is only going to increase because, even if you are working and have a good income, energy prices are going through the roof.

“Climate change will undermine the food supply, so access to food and water is going to be a huge issue.

“The need for projects like ours to come up with sustainable models that aren’t dependent on handouts is the way forward.

“I think the Kath Duncan Network will be as famous in 10 years as Oxfam because what we do is unique and we haven’t forgotten what we are about.

“Our charity shop is cheap, which is how they are meant to be.”

We Care Community Hub chair Barbara Raymond

Ray has written about the work he does in the books Food Bank Britain and Last Queen Of Scotland, a biography of Kath Duncan and play Liberty, which has been optioned by Netflix.

He also found volunteers to make short film, Feeding Lewisham, during lockdown, which he said won 15 international awards and helped inspire people across the globe to copy the charity’s work.

But Ray said there would always be opposition. “A woman came in recently and said: ‘I’ve just paid £1.2million for a house nearby and don’t expect to have a foodbank as a my neighbour. When can you move?’. 

“I told her I had been here long before her and we’re not going anywhere. We still get that kind of bigotry and ignorance.

“You have to be realistic and accept that there are people who are horrible. 

“But there are also extraordinary people who do extraordinary things – Lewisham is a really empowering place to come from.”

Read more: How JP Morgan is boosting social mobility with The Sutton Trust

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Deptford: Why Bluethroat in Deptford Market Yard wants to make a name for itself

Bar and restaurant run by brothers Ari and Landi Mucaj is keeping its focus on quality drinks

Landi, left, and Ari Mucaj of Bluethroat
Landi, left, and Ari Mucaj of Bluethroat – image James Perrin

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Deptford Market Yard’s arches are typically filled with magic. It might be the ramshackle ephemera of Little Nan’s, the slick seafood of Sharkbait ‘N’ Swim or the wholesome cafe cuisine of Dirty Apron.

All of theses businesses pulse and buzz with the passions of the people behind them. It’s why the area draws ever increasing numbers of people seeking independent places to hang out.

It’s also why Bluethroat’s owners thought their idea could work.

Brothers Landi and Ari Mucaj had been talking about starting a business together since 2013.

“I’ve lived in Deptford since 1997 and I’ve worked in many central London bars,” said Ari.

“I started working as a kitchen porter and then got a job as a chef, which I did for about three years.

“I’d finish work about 10.30pm and then go behind the bar and wash glasses for fun. I fell in love with being behind the bar and that’s what I’ve done ever since.

“I’ve worked mostly in central London in places like the Cuckoo Club and Chinawhite and I ran the bar at Maddox for about six years.

“Every time Landi would come to see me in central London he would always say: ‘We should do this ourselves’.

“That was really my plan all along, at least for the last 10 years, trying to save up and do it.”

In 2018 Ari quit his job and teamed up with Landi, who had been in Deptford himself since 2001, to look for premises.

Guests at Bluethroat in Deptford Market Yard
Guests at Bluethroat in Deptford Market Yard

“We were searching and then we thought, what better place than Deptford?” said Landi.

“We’d seen a lot of changes in the area over the years, so when we saw an opportunity here, we thought it would be the best place to build something.”

The brothers took one of the larger brick arches at Deptford Market Yard, more or less next to the train station itself, and set about doing just that.

“Instead of doing it somewhere else, we thought it’s just around the corner, we can walk home and it’s the perfect place,” said Ari.

“We found this fantastic space here – it was a shell when we got it and we’ve built it from scratch.

“It took about a year to build it – we didn’t know anything about doing that so the fact we have this location and that we’ve created it from scratch is crazy, but it feels amazing.”

Landi added: “I fell in love with it really – the whole experience of setting up a business. It’s had its ups and downs and it probably took us longer to open than most other places, but we learned a lot in the process.”

Landi Mucaj pours a drink
Landi Mucaj pours a drink – image James Perrin

Unfortunately things didn’t go quite to plan. Just days after Bluethroat opened its doors, the first national lockdown came into force and they slammed shut.

Like many hospitality businesses, the brothers have since been riding a rollercoaster of uncertainty, most recently closing at Christmas as the responsible thing to do, despite the lack of official government direction to do so.

With restrictions lifted, however, both Ari and Landi can’t wait to run their cocktail-focused establishment unfettered. 

“This is the first chance we’ve had to run in a normal market, there’s been a lot of opening and closing,” said Landi.

“Our plan remains very much the same and it’s about refining our formula.

“Firstly, we’re really passionate about our drinks, delivered with great service. We’re also a very good restaurant.

“We are a place where people can come and chill out and have some really good cocktails.”

Bluethroat also serves food
Bluethroat also serves food

Walk into Bluethroat  and that focus is unmistakeable. The bar’s shelves are laden with spirits, ready to be whipped into a multitude of alcoholic concoctions.

“This is where my brother’s experience comes in,” said Landi. “We have about 11 drinks on our menu, all of which we’ve created for Bluethroat.

“There are boozy ones and lighter drinks, some that are bitter, fruity, bitter, sweet and sour – something for every taste.

“We are constantly working on the list and evolving it, but we really enjoy asking customers what they like and then building something for them.”

Bluethroat – named for a small member of the thrush family with a distinctive blue collar and a powerful song – also develops seasonal drinks, with two of its four spring specials already in hand.

“Customers will always find something new,” said Landi. “We’re getting ready to launch one made with Haku Vodka from Japan. 

“We just love the taste of this spirit, made completely from rice, and we mix that with a bergamot liqueur and blackcurrant to make a sweet drink with a hint of spiciness. We think people are really going to like it.

“The second cocktail we’ve created for our spring menu is based on whisky with a fig liqueur and mulberry syrup. 

“We make pretty much all our own syrups in the bar using a range of techniques such as sous vide and hot and cold infusion.

“The drink has a creamy taste and we also infuse the whisky with violet leaf to give it a beautiful aroma when you’re drinking it.”

Ari added: “When we opened, I gave Landi a crash course and now he’s a genius behind the bar. One of our challenges since opening has been finding bartenders with experience.

“But I think local bars are taking over in terms of quality – you can find cocktails that are as good here or in places like Hackney, as you will get in Mayfair.

“I worked in central London for 20 years and the quality here is no different. 

“You are seeing people who are going out locally to get this, instead of making the journey in.”

Bluethroat is locate in Deptford Market Yard
Bluethroat is locate in Deptford Market Yard

While its extensive collection of bottles, rich brown hues and speakeasy vibe mark Bluethroat out as a haven for drinkers, the brothers hope that its food offering will be a welcome surprise for those ordering.

“We change the dishes all the time, but we serve Mediterranean and modern European food,” said Landi.

“There’s always something new, but we love seafood. There are a lot of Italian influences because our chefs are from Italy.”

Ari added: “We serve a lot of fish – black cod, king prawns and salmon – and we do specials every week.

“I think people are a bit shocked that the food is as good as it is because of the way the bar looks.

“We started off serving smaller plates, but we’ve extended the menu because people wanted more food.” 

The primary focus remains the liquid though, and, having worked widely on the city’s bar scene, Ari is keen to build the bar’s reputation in the capital.

He said: “Ultimately we want to be known as one of the best cocktail bars in London. That’s our ambition. 

“We’re taking things slowly and we haven’t really promoted ourselves yet. We wanted to grow organically and for people to find out about us that way.”

Bluethroat is open Weds-Sun. Cocktails typically cost between £10 and £11. Small plates are £6-£11 and bigger dishes around £14. 

Read more: New team at The Pearson Room deliver fresh flavours

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Deptford: How Dirty Apron went from student dinners to supper clubs and a cafe

Deptford Market Yard venue puts community at the heart of its menu

Suzie Pennington of Dirty Apron
Suzie Pennington of Dirty Apron – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Croissant crumbs surround Suzie Pennington. But, when you run a cafe called Dirty Apron, a bit of mess and chaos is part of the fun.

“There was a show on at The Albany, so we’ve had loads of kids descending on us,” she said as we sit down to chat about her operation.

The 18-seater venue has been part of the Deptford Market Yard community since November 2016 – more or less when the arches first started opening up – and Its customers are very much at the heart of what the business does.

“A lot of the other vendors that opened with us were from food trucks, so were one-dish orientated,” said Suzie.

“But we’re more like a classic cafe with specials, a soup of the day and a brunch that changes as tastes change.”

Dishes draw inspiration from the season, feedback from regulars and what the local greengrocer has on offer.

“We like classics with a twist, “ said the 38-year-old.

“Not just British but European and Asian and we try to keep all our mains under £10 to make sure the cafe is affordable for the length and breadth of Deptford folk.

“We’re not faddy but, if there is a trend that looks interesting, and our customers ask for it, we will make it because we like to have a two-way relationship.

“We plan the menu around what our customers’ favourites are and speak to the regulars and see if they want anything revisited.”

The Anglo-Indian said her love of cooking started during her childhood in Essex.

“My mum cooked loads of Indian food growing up and I learned how to make lots of dishes quite young,” said Suzie.

“I was about eight when she first told me to make what I wanted from the fridge.

“She also ran a nursing home and I would hang out in the kitchen and learn how to do a lasagne or a roast.

“So I have always been around food and professional kitchens and got the interest and love from there.

“She’s really proud of me. One of the good things about having a cafe is everyone knows I run one so all my friend’s parents talk to me about it.

“Everyone is always interested and I love talking about food and Deptford and I really think everyone secretly wants to open a cafe.”

Dirty Apron is located in Deptford Market Yard
Dirty Apron is located in Deptford Market Yard – image Matt Grayson

The seeds of her own venture were planted when Suzie met co-founder Holly Williams at Bournemouth University.

“I studied sports science and Holly was doing animation. We met on the ladies football team. I think I tackled her and that’s how we became friends. 

“We both just had a love of food and, when we weren’t in lectures, we would go to the local supermarket and try and do student dishes on a budget for the team and make them as exciting as possible.

“We would do big extravagant roasts and lasagne. It was a chance to cater for numbers and was really fun and this working relationship kicked off naturally.”

After graduating they both moved to London and, when the supper club wave hit, they decided to jump on board.

“We would meet up at the pub and organise these themed events over a bottle of wine,” said Suzie. 

“It picked up some traction and it was when we did an Orange Is The New Black-themed event and 200 people came to this church hall in Limehouse that we knew we were on to something.”

The cafe's interior
The cafe’s interior – image Matt Grayson

Next came a six-week stint at Brick Lane Market where they cooked “way too much food” and it was a “bit of a slog”.

But rather than taking a breather, they Googled small festivals and booked every available pitch at events in the south under £100. 

“Every weekend for one summer we were somewhere different, “ said Suzie. “It was exhausting but by the end, we decided we were up for the challenge.”

That meant getting proper kitchen experience, so Suzie ditched her job in public health and spent two years at Riley Rocket on the Kingston Road, working her way up to become manager.

When Holly saw the arches in Deptford were being developed and rented, the duo decided it was time to take the plunge.

Suzie said the name Dirty Apron summed up their humour and was a nod to classic greasy spoon cafes. 

Over the years they have built up a family of loyal regulars, one of whom has even written a poem in tribute to the £5 coffee and bap deal.

Holly, who now lives in Brighton, manages the business side of things and New Cross resident Suzie takes charge of the cooking and supplies, which come from Tony’s Daily on the High Street, Bread Bread Bakery in Brixton, Ruby’s Of London in Greenwich and Alchemy Coffee Roastery in Wimbledon.

Food at Dirty Apron
Food at Dirty Apron – image Matt Grayson

Suzie said: “Our main food is hearty brunches and we always have a vegan special, meat special and a soup of the day.

“We do a curried cauliflower, spinach and sauteed halloumi wrap served with fresh mint yoghurt and a really good tofu scramble with heavily spiced peppers and onions and lovely sourdough and salad and homemade relish.”

In winter, they serve up meat and vegan pies but, now the warmer weather is finally appearing, warm salads with ingredients such as quinoa, roasted broccoli, salsa verde and beetroot will be appearing on the menu.

“I love going out for food and cafe culture to get inspiration,” said Suzie. 

“I go to all of the places around here and we are all really good friends, that’s one of the nice things about Deptford.”

The area’s social calendar is also a pivotal part of her planning.

“When the London Marathon goes past we know that we’ll need six people a day to cope with the demand and when Amal the doll came through recently I have never seen anything like it,” she said. 

“There were tens of thousands of people. So you have to look at the schedule for what’s going on in Deptford and tailor the rota for the occasion.”

Dishes are developed with customers in mind
Dishes are developed with customers in mind – image Matt Grayson

Suzie loves to bring people together and has collaborated with Villages Brewery, creating a 150cm sausage roll for their harvest festival, with plans to hold events for the New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival and for Lewisham London Borough of Culture 2022.

“When summer hits, capacity at the cafe will double because of the outdoor seating. 

“We are very lucky because it’s very rare in London to get such a large off-road space,” said Suzie. 

“It means we don’t have to hurry people. Food can take a while because sometimes we can be a 40-seater restaurant, but people can sit in the sun, have a coffee and enjoy themselves.

“Because it is one room and an open kitchen I’m good at spotting if someone needs someone and everyone does the same – there is lots of communication and chat and customers can basically talk to us from their table. There’s that real dynamic vibe.

“A lot of our customers are regulars so they get to know each other. 

“I’ll often be having a conversation with someone on table six and someone from table five will chime in and then they end up talking to each other and then someone else will come and join in.

“Before you know it the whole place is involved in the same conversation, which I think is just the best thing about working here.”

Dirty Apron is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9.30am-4pm.

Read more: How The Rattle is investing in crazy at Tobacco Dock

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Deptford: Why seafood restaurant Sharkbait ‘N’ Swim is a dream come true

Chef Steve McClarty is one to watch under the yellow brick arches of Deptford Market Yard

Steve McClarty, owner of Sharkbait 'N' Swim
Steve McClarty, owner of Sharkbait ‘N’ Swim – image Matt Grayson

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Steve McClarty – remember that name. Growing up in Croydon, he left school with no GCSEs. A turbulent home life led to him becoming homeless at 17.

A diet of McDonald’s and Subway left him craving nourishment. Living in hostels, he started to cook for friends and fellow residents. 

“At 19 I was at a stage in my life where I decided to move out of London for a bit to get my head in gear and sort my life out,” he said.

“So I moved to Margate on my own – left all my mates behind. It was either a shared house in Croydon for £500 a month or a one-bed flat overlooking the sea with a balcony for £350. 

“But I also knew Thanet College was just down the road in Broadstairs and it was really good for catering. I spent two years studying to be a chef and really found my calling.

“My passion for food came into its own – I found there was something I was good at, that I loved doing and that I wanted to pursue as a career.

“I was fully immersed in it, obsessed – winning distinctions and getting loads of opportunities.

“Then I went into my first restaurant and that’s where the real learning started.”

Steve cooking in Sharkbait’s kitchen – image Matt Grayson

Steve said he found a sense of comradeship he’d never experienced before working in kitchens and winning promotion to the level of sous chef. 

Having gained extensive experience in seafood, cooking in Michelin-starred establishments, he applied for and was cast in BBC2’s The Chefs’ Brigade, travelling across Europe under the guidance of chef Jason Atherton.

“It all happened very quickly, from Italy to Norway, Spain and then the final in Paris. 

“At the end of it all, Jason gave me this bible of all of his recipes, congratulated me on the telly and offered me a job at his flagship restaurant, Pollen Street Social in Mayfair. But I knew I always wanted to do what I’m doing now and so I decided to decline it. 

“Instead I got a job as an events chef at Google, which was a completely different style of cooking. I was running the operation between five buildings – making sure all the produce and chefs were in the right place. 

“There was a lot of logistics involved and I really enjoyed seeing a different side of the industry.”

Prawns cooking ready to join mussels and orzo
Prawns cooking ready to join mussels and orzo – image Matt Grayson

It would also prove invaluable experience for the realisation of his long-term dream – to open his own restaurant.

A brick arch in Deptford Market Yard is where we pick the story up, with a sandwich board outside, a lobster pot resting casually against it and a pink and blue neon sign that wouldn’t look out of place in 1980s Las Vegas.

Sharkbait ‘N’ Swim first launched over lockdown. It went a little something like this: 

Restrictions arrive and Steve’s girlfriend Maria Leach joins him in a shared house in Brixton. The couple decide to escape by buying a narrowboat named Roz to live on. They dislike the name and plan to rechristen her Damp Squirrel at the earliest opportunity.

On the day she sets sail, Steve proposes. Now engaged, the couple sail around southern England, still both working from home for Google and eventually pitch up in Guildford. 

The restaurant's punch neon sign
The restaurant’s punch neon sign – image Matt Grayson

Once there, Steve opens up the duck-feeding hatch and starts selling seafood orzo to passers-by with Maria taking payments via a card reader in the bow of their boat. Following this success, Steve secures a pop-up in Lewisham and storms Model Market.

“Four weeks ago we got the keys to this space at Deptford Market Yard and we’ve done a complete kit-out in three weeks,” said Steve. “We’ve just opened and we’ve been sold out every night.

“Sharkbait ‘N’ Swim is my baby. This is my dream, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s an intimate, small sharing plates restaurant serving fresh oysters, really fresh seafood, some vegan options and a couple of meat options too – something for everyone.

“I wanted an environment where people could sit together, share the food and get talking about it. There are four of us – me, another chef and we’ve just taken on an extra person front of house.

“Maria is the operations manager/absolute legend. She’s been so supportive of my dream and she sees my vision – I’ve got big plans, to make a name for myself here and then expand to multiple sites.”

A selection of Steve's small plates, costing up to £9.50
A selection of Steve’s small plates, costing up to £9.50 – image Matt Grayson

I could try to convey Steve’s passion for the food he creates and cooks in print, but printed words could never do it justice.

He fizzes with excitement as he runs through lists of ingredients, foraging trips and inspiration – driven, focused, inventive. 

Fortunately Sharkbait ‘N’ Swim has an open kitchen so he can interact with diners while making plates of smoked salmon croquetas, skate wing with cod roe in a caper beurre blanc or Goan curry mussels with a fresh naan bread puffed up on the barbecue. 

Deeply rooted in sustainability, the name of his restaurant reflects his view that nobody should be eating an apex predator (or tuna), accompanied by the ripples in the water his and Maria’s home makes as it moves around.

“I want to take people on a journey to all the places I’ve been and cooked in – I want to put my personality on the plate,” said Steve. “This is a fun, sociable restaurant serving sick food, mate.”

That says it all. Having sampled some of Steve’s menu, I’ll be back for the rest and, frankly, just to have his vegan vanilla poached pear with a chocolate mousse made from tofu and maple syrup again. Go now.

Sharkbait's vegan vanilla poached pear with chocolate mousse
Sharkbait’s vegan vanilla poached pear with chocolate mousse – image Matt Grayson

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