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Blackwall: How Gelato A Casa offers refreshment with a Greek twist at Republic

Dessert restaurant near East India DLR station serves layered gelato and a range of sweet treats

Bitter chocolate and sour cherry gelato at Gelato A Casa
Bitter chocolate and sour cherry gelato at Gelato A Casa

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This might be the perfect time to be writing about Gelato A Casa.

As the UK endures another heatwave – an increasingly common occurrence – what better establishment to showcase than an independent business that predominantly trades in edible products served below freezing.   

Gelato A Casa opened a year ago at the Republic campus in Blackwall and is the brainchild of directors Theo Alatas and Elvira Govosti.

Having met in Athens, the couple decided to relocate to London, moving to the Isle Of Dogs six years ago. 

“We met nine years ago and very quickly became a couple – we had similar outlooks on life,” said Elvira. 

“We both wanted to pursue something more than what we had in Greece.

“We came to the UK to see what we could do with our skills in advertising, sales, construction, organisation and project management. 

“Covid was one of the things that sparked the creation of our own business – we thought we wanted to do something with our lives that we were passionate about.”

Gelato A Casa directors Theo Alatas and Elvira Govosti
Gelato A Casa directors Theo Alatas and Elvira Govosti

The couple decided to combine a love of food with connections to a gelato business in Greece, by opening a hospitality business primarily focused on sweet, frozen refreshments.

“This comes from our culture, the way we grew up – you can go to a restaurant at midnight for a steak or whatever in Athens,” said Theo.

“Hence the concept of the dessert restaurant. We’re open all the time – from 8.30am until 9pm every day.

“We were looking for somewhere with a nice exterior so people could sit down and enjoy our food.

“Republic is a lovely development that’s full of small gems that people need to find. Even though we lived in Crossharbour for five years we never knew about it.

“The biggest challenge for us at the moment is to say to the people that this is who we are, this is what we do and that they can have a lovely experience. 

“We serve eastern Mediterranean flavours and we have a wide variety of options.

“Back in the day our grandparents would take us to pastry shops with desserts rich in syrups and spices – this is how we grew up – and now we’re serving those same flavours here.

“The idea is to serve those desserts, but to also bring the tastes into the gelato we sell as well.

“We want people to come and try as many different flavours as they like, for free.

“There are two categories – customers who are already aware, because they come from these cultures and others who are new to them.

“It’s very interesting describing the flavours and telling the stories of how they came to be developed. 

“For us, growing up and eating these desserts was another level of happiness.

“The ultimate goal of this shop is to be exactly the same as those our grandfathers and grandmothers took us to when we were children. 

“That way, people can bring their families here and have those hand-made desserts that they will remember in 30 or 50 years.”

Gelato A Casa is located at Republic near East India DLR
Gelato A Casa is located at Republic near East India DLR

The couple had no experience in the hospitality industry when they decided to set the business up, but see this as an asset.

“We are both passionate about food, good quality and finding the best ingredients,” said Elvira.

“The desserts we make are something you would serve your friends at home, not just something to sell and earn money.

“We like to feel proud about what we serve to our customers.

“When our amazing friends created their gelato laboratory in Greece we were among the first people to experience it.

“There’s nothing like it in the UK, so we thought we should find a way to work with them and to share it with the world.

“The response was: ‘Wow’. If you do things honestly and are hospitable when people come through the door you can really stand behind what you’re doing.

“We have approached the business as though we were inviting people into our home – we want to make it as safe and as comfortable as possible for families and everybody else to enjoy.”

Cadif gelato at Gelato A Casa
Cadif gelato at Gelato A Casa

Gelato A Casa offers an extensive array of flavours including kadaif, bitter chocolate and sour cherry, banofi and even bubblegum.

“Pastries include baklava, ravani and terkenlis brioche chocolate alongside savouries such as Feta pie and the sesame-coated koulouri.

“We serve food that we miss from our country and that’s what people appreciate the most,” said Theo.

“We get people who are trying these things for the very first time and have no idea what they’re all about and others who say that we have done the impossible by putting these flavours into gelato.

“It’s also lovely that we’re here because the walls surrounding Republic were originally to protect the East India Company’s docks to stop thieves stealing from the sugar and spice warehouses.

“We want people to come through the walls for a taste.”

Located just across the bridge from East India DLR, Gelato A Casa also sells coffee including another Greek favourite.

“Coffee freddo is not a thing in the UK,” said Elvira.

“People usually have it warm and if you want an iced coffee then you’re pretty much out of options unless you have a latte from a chain which is usually really acidic and milk-heavy.

“We serve it because it’s complementary to the other flavours we have here.

“What we’ve discovered is that not everyone is very adventurous with what they want to try, but here people can sample as many flavours as they want.

“Then they get that confidence and when they discover something, that becomes their favourite.”

Theo added: “It’s important to realise the difference between ice cream and gelato. Ice cream is what you buy from the supermarkets, with an expiry date of two, maybe three years, and it’s as solid as a brick.

“Gelato is made from milk – we have our own machinery to pasteurise it ourselves – and then we buy the fruits from producers, and it needs to be eaten within a few days.

“Some of our flavours are seasonal because the variety of ingredients we’re able to source changes.

“We think we have a great product and we’d love people to come and try it.”

Gelato A Casa also offers savoury food and coffee
Gelato A Casa also offers savoury food and coffee

Read more: How Just Vibez is set to take over Greenwich Peninsula

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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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Blackwall: How Republic is placing future talent at the heart of its growing campus

Trilogy Real Estate head of asset management Laurence Jones on the project’s present and future

Some of the extensive public space at Republic
Some of the extensive public space at Republic

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“We’d always had the talent of the future at the forefront of our minds while the whole complex was being designed,” said Laurence Jones. “To see that finally coming to fruition is hugely gratifying.”

The head of asset management at Trilogy Real Estate is in a buoyant but humble mood as we chat about the present and the future.

His employer, in partnership with LaSalle Investment Management, is at the helm of Republic London, a project to regenerate four unloved and unlovely buildings around Clove Crescent near East India DLR, after acquiring them in 2015.

The project is entering its sixth year and appears in rude health with 2021 seeing 120,000sq ft let to organisations – around 30% of the Docklands market over the last 12 months.

While Trilogy’s strategy has been to deliberately target a diverse range of tenants, an emerging trend as a place ideal for education has emerged.

The University Of The West Of Scotland (UWS) and Anglia Ruskin University have both increased the size of their operations on-site, together occupying more than 125,000sq ft across the scheme’s Import and Export buildings.

York St John University is also relocating to Republic in a move to expand and consolidate its existing courses and apprenticeships while allowing it to launch seven new postgrad programmes and professional education courses at a 25,000sq ft facility.

Trilogy’s Laurence Jones – image Matt Grayson

“We’ve seen the emergence of higher education as a key sector and that really underpins the ethos of what we want to be – an innovation hub,” said Laurence.

“We want universities sat next to business, sat next to real, meaningful community engagement.

“When you have all those elements collaborating with each other, benefiting from that proximity, you get an environment that’s greater than the sum of its parts and huge opportunities.

“In terms of winning these expansions and clients, it’s been very helpful to work alongside the organisations already based here.

“People kick around this idea of landlords and tenants being partners but at Republic we really do mean that.

“We’re here from first viewings to agreeing terms and ensuring fit-outs are undertaken effectively because we want to work with operators and make sure they have the maximum chance of success.

“We’ve created a fantastic environment here but, crucially for the educators, it offers something more. You have business – the City and Canary Wharf – close by.

“The endgame for most of the graduates and postgraduates here is employment, so to be in a place that lends itself to getting direct work experience for their CVs is incredibly powerful.”

The Greenhouse at Republic
The Greenhouse at Republic – image Matt Grayson

Republic isn’t simply about providing big buildings for large organisations, however. Laurence and his team are determined to accommodate businesses ranging in size from a single entrepreneur to thousands.

He said: “In partnership with UWS and The Trampery we’ve created The Greenhouse which essentially provides incubator space.

“It has a real focus on offering a support network and a space for local businesses to make that leap from an idea at home to making it a reality.

“Equally, it gives a platform for some of the university students here to start trying out their entrepreneurial ideas.

“Once someone has a credible business with a track record, they’re going to want staff and their own front door.

“So, just before Christmas, we created five micro studios. They’re a very simple prospect – 500-to-1,000sq ft – an all inclusive rent for SMEs and startups to come and occupy space on a relatively flexible basis.

“It’s a short-form lease that a business can sign there and then on the day. One is already let to Your Parking Space and, as its business grows, we can accommodate the firm’s expansion.

“We see that journey for businesses as being absolutely crucial to our campus – that there’s an entry point for everyone.” 

Trilogy is also sharply focused on opening its campus up to the local community and visitors from further afield, with a range of places to eat, drink, exercise and even shop, framing its Wi-fi enabled water gardens. 

Open and trading are the likes of physiotherapy and fitness centre Myoset, exercise powerhouse F45, independent bakery and cafe Sweet Nothing Bakehouse, ice cream parlour Gelato A Casa and recently opened specialist whisky bar Black Rock.

“The local community is, for us, very important,” said Laurence. “We’ve always strived to ensure Republic isn’t just perceived as a business park.

“We created the public areas here because we want people to come and use them, to understand what’s here and I think our big objective for 2022 is to make certain there continues to be a huge amount of community engagement to de-mystify things.

“The early indications are the next 12 months will hopefully deliver some degree of normality and we’re super excited about people coming back.

“There will be experimentation for many organisations who will be asking what their working practices will look like and what their use of space will be.

“But the early indications are good and that’s fantastic news for the food and beverage businesses and the fitness companies we have here. There’s a lot of excitement.

The Export Building's full-height atrium
The Export Building’s full-height atrium

“We’re 94% let in the Import Building and 55% let in Export and we want to keep the leasing momentum going and finish the job that we started.”

Looking further forward, a planning application for the second phase of the project is currently under consideration.

Trilogy and LaSalle hope to build homes for rent, student accommodation, more office space and a data centre on-site.

“That will help us in our ambition to crack the night time economy here,” said Laurence.

“Part of that will come from having beds on campus for students and other residents, but equally by making sure there are more people coming here from the local area.

“We always knew we needed provision here outside traditional working hours because otherwise it could just be a 9am-5pm destination.

“We see this is as the next logical step, especially given the universities we have based here now.

“The student body at Republic is incredibly diverse – many are mature students and there are those from overseas.

“We are a centre of gravity for them and we want to be somewhere that they can call home.” 

Read more: How Peabody is transforming Thamesmead

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Leamouth: How Lightship95 offers musicians high quality recording riverside

Trinity Buoy Wharf-based studio on a boat is all set up to capture any sound you can make

Giles Barrett, left, and Dave Holmes of Lightship95
Giles Barrett, left, and Dave Holmes of Lightship95 – image Matt Grayson

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There’s a moment during my interview with Giles Barrett and Dave Holmes when the waters of the Thames sweep into the mouth of the Lea and lift the entire venue we’re sat in, gently off the riverbed.

But it’s not the subtle undulation of the liquid beneath that these two are primarily interested in – they spend their days tuning into and capturing waves of sound created by a diverse stream of musicians flowing through the recording studio they run.

Now moored at Trinity Buoy Wharf, Lightship95 was originally built as a floating lighthouse, part of a fleet of similarly sturdy vessels capable of holding position in all weathers.   

Owner Ben Phillips, a producer and engineer, bought her after she’d left active service and conceived and undertook a two-year project to turn her into a recording studio – an alternative to the pressures and uncertainty of building one on land.

He ran the business until 2017, when Soup Studios relocated to the vessel from Cable Street in Limehouse.

In 2021 Soup moved back onto dry land, but Giles and Dave – two of its crew members – opted to remain aboard, launching their own partnership under the name Lightship95 and continuing to record.

“I’d been running small studios in London since 2005, when I graduated, but the weird coincidence for me about this ship is that I could see it from where I grew up in Kent,” said Giles who takes the role of Lightship95’s studio manager.

“It was working as a lightship on the Goodwin Sands and I could see it on the horizon pretty much every day, so it’s quite strange to be on it now.

“The reason I’m here now is tied in with the reason that Ben decided to build a studio on the ship in the first place.

“I’ve built and then been kicked out by gentrification very quickly from a number of studios in London over the last 16 years.

“That’s what happens – artists go in, they build something, it’s a nice building and then the landlords realise it’s time to raise the rent.

“That’s difficult when you’re trying to run a studio.

“Soup wasn’t kicked out of our last studios in Cable Street, but we never had any security there, because there was a yearly rolling lease, so you’re terrified of the landlords the whole time.

“The really good thing about Trinity Buoy Wharf is that it has written into its lease an obligation to make a certain section of its income from cultural activities and that’s a rare thing in London.”

Lightship95 moored at Trinity Buoy Wharf
Lightship95 moored at Trinity Buoy Wharf – image Matt Grayson

Dave is Lightship95’s senior engineer and didn’t see the vessel growing up, on account of doing that in New Zealand. 

He said: “I came over in 2011 after a couple of years backpacking in Europe and South-East Asia and thought I would have a look around and see what was happening on the other side of the world.

“Initially I was freelancing, doing bits and pieces for about a year, mostly at the Royal College Of Music, before a mutual contact put me in touch with Giles in 2015.

“Then I started hanging around at Soup, bringing my microphones and other equipment over from New Zealand bit by bit.

“We worked hard to grow the studio and the client base and then we found out the ship was available. It was a bit of a risk, but our clients followed us, so it paid off.

“The pandemic has been different to normal, obviously, but it has given us the opportunity to refocus and get this business the way we’d imagined it.”

The studio’s 1980s tape recorder – image Matt Grayson

With a control room contained inside the ship’s former diesel tank, its live space occupying the former engine room and a vocal booth nestled between the two, Lightship95 offers a wealth of flexible facilities and expertise to its clients.

“The lion’s share of what we do, apart from making good coffee, is to allow people to forget what is normally invading their conscious minds and come and do what they’ve booked the place to do,” said Dave.

“It’s about looking after our relationships with our clients, because we want them to come back.

“It’s our job to understand what they’re trying to do, what their set-up is so we can arrange the live space in the best possible way.

“There are lots of little things – like the sounds of the instruments in the room, the sight lines and the monitoring so that when we take them into the control room and play it back people say: ‘That’s what we’re looking for’.

“There’s a huge amount of experience and knowledge which is hard to break down, that goes into building what that sound is.

“But I quite like the idea that our clients aren’t really aware of that – we want them to focus on what they’re doing and not be worried about the technical stuff.”

The live room at Lightship95
The live room at Lightship95 – image Matt Grayson

Giles added: “We make records in lots of different ways and one of the things that we do in a studio of this size is to encourage whole bands to come and record together. 

“Lots of records get made in a layered, computerised way – one instrument at a time – and that’s fine, but it’s great to encourage musicians to come and play together to get that interaction, that live feeling.”

Alongside different recording set-ups, Lightship95 is equipped with a bewildering array of tech, both digital and analogue. 

Giles said: “From a technological point of view, this is the best time to be making music. We’ve gone through the time when everyone chucked out their analogue gear, brought in the digital stuff and realised that a lot of it wasn’t good enough

“But now we can make a record on just a MacMini and challenge anyone to tell whether it went through analogue or digital.

“Then we still have all the analogue gear which we can use as creative inspiration and with total flexibility because it can be integrated into a digital environment.” 

Dave added: “Some of our microphones are 80 years old and we have a tape machine from the 1980s, which was the pinnacle of analogue.

“The mixing board is analogue too – the last model before the company went totally digital.

“The beauty of digital is that it’s such a clean result – you might want a 1960s-style guitar and you can get an instrument from that era, use a microphone that will give it that colour and then, digital capture of that will be perfect.

“It’s also the flexibility of having so many inputs and outputs that means you’re never short of workspace – the computer power is ridiculous.”

The studio offers both digital and analogue tech
The studio offers both digital and analogue tech – image Matt Grayson

While the extensive soundproofing prevents anything much being heard outside the boat itself, Lightship95 has hosted all sorts of clients – many on the modern jazz scene – as well as the likes of Ghostpoet, Mike Skinner and Roots Manuva.

“It’s a really exciting time to have a studio business,” said Dave.

“We want the place to be used – we’ve been quite crafty in that we have all these things we like to use, but it’s still affordable, and that’s important.

“This is our life – as we’ve grown, our clients have grown at the same time and it’s been really exciting to see the successes of people we’ve been working with for for many years.” 

Lightship95 costs £480 per day to hire with discounts for block bookings. Rates include use of instruments, equipment and an engineer.

Read more: Tom Carradine celebrates six years of Cockney sing-a-longs at Wilton’s

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