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Royal Docks: How Little Hudson cafe at Royal Wharf was inspired by New York

Owner Nicola Micah talks banking, motherhood and serving up all sorts of dishes to east Londoners

Nicola Micah outside her cafe - Little Hudson
Nicola Micah outside her cafe – Little Hudson – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

The concrete jungle is “where dreams are made of” according to Alicia Keys’ song New York.

But for Nicola Micah the Big Apple simply provided the inspiration for her Royal Docks reality.

The Londoner was living it up in Manhattan with her husband – banking by day and soaking up all the city had to offer by night

“We moved to New York in our late 20s and loved it,” she said.

“For me, the whole point of being there was to be in the centre of everything. 

“But we knew we wanted to start a family and I didn’t want to do it there. We knew we wanted to move back home.”

By 2019 she was back – running fledgling café Little Hudson around the corner from Thames Barrier Park and raising her newborn son.

It was a huge transition, but one Nicola makes seem as natural as breathing.

“In New York, brunch is such a big part of the lifestyle and I’ve always loved food – working in a bank wasn’t really me,” she said. 

“So I decided I was going to have a look into it and see if there were any units around.

“When I did, I quickly realised we needed to go for it because there were some available. 

“I knew if we waited we might miss out or other places might move in and then there would already be competition.

“Then I got pregnant, unexpectedly, and that really pushed us to do it. I could have moved back to the UK and got a job in banking, but I wanted to do something I really loved.”

Little Hudson is located in Starboard Way, Royal Wharf
Little Hudson is located in Starboard Way, Royal Wharf – image Matt Grayson

Nicola named Little Hudson to “bring a little slice of New York to Royal Docks” and juggles running it with raising her three-year-old son Rafi.

The café, in Starboard Way, is open seven days a week until 4pm with a staff of 10 and the menu is very much inspired by the brunch scene in Manhattan while also including some English classics.

Dishes include banana and caramel pancakes (£11), a brekkie bagel (£8) with scrambled egg, cheese, chives, turkey bacon or smoked salmon, and the popular ​​Hudson brekky plate (£12) with turkey bacon, two eggs, hash brown, Hudson beans, sautéed mushrooms and sourdough toast. 

Nicola said: “When we were planning I was thinking about what kind of place people would go to regularly, not just once every two weeks.

“I wanted to choose the best thing to do in terms of being able to survive.

“Our food is the kind people want to eat every day, because it’s not really greasy. I like to keep the menu fresh and change it every few months for people who come quite regularly.”

Royal Docks is no Manhattan – the population is still small – but Nicola said that was the draw for her.

“Before we went to New York we were living in the area, so we knew it really well but there was literally nothing there,” said the 32-year-old.

“Then they started developing it and all the flats were put up and I thought it was a great opportunity to open something related to food, because there’s nothing else around there.”

Nicola's food is inspired by her life in New York
Nicola’s food is inspired by her life in New York – image Matt Grayson

She and her husband left the area to move Stateside after he landed a role with financial services company Moody’s.

Data analyst Nicola had previously worked for Santander and HSBC and then found work with Citibank.

When they decided to return, Nicola used her financial skills to create a business plan, carried out market research to build her brand and organised the lease, all from across the pond.

She said of husband Salem: “I’m pretty sure he was freaking out inside, but he was really supportive of it and he always has been.

“When we opened, he was in between two jobs, so was able to help out a bit, which was great because our son had just been born.”

Nicola launched the café in September 2019 with her six-month-old strapped to her chest.

“My son has grown up in the café,” said the Beckton resident. “When everything was being put together, we set up a play area for him in the back and, when we first opened, I had just started weaning him, so he had avocado and bits from the menu, which was fun.”

Nicola is now pregnant again but setting up the business is not an experience she is keen to repeat.

“It was probably good that I was quite naive about the café beforehand,” she said. “I can’t even imagine being able to do it now while raising two children. 

“The beginning was so intense, getting everything right, getting the processes right.

“When you’re new, you really want to make sure that every customer is happy so that they come back.

“I didn’t realise how intensive it would be, but in hospitality if your main driver is to make lots of lots of money, then it’s not the best sort of industry for you.

Little Hudson serves up a range of dishes at Royal Wharf
Little Hudson serves up a range of dishes at Royal Wharf – image Matt Grayson

“Even though it’s stressful with ups and downs and a pandemic and everything, I actually genuinely do love it, especially now we’ve got a really supportive team and people who actually care about the business.

“That makes such a difference and we have a lot less stress now.”

Six months after opening, the UK went into lockdown and the café was forced to shut. It was a strange time for Nicola.

“Looking back it was actually quite nice, because I had my son so we were able to kind of spend that quality time together,” she said.

“But it was really upsetting shutting the café. 

“We kept the community involved by doing supply boxes with fruit and veg, milk, eggs, flour, yeast, bread and coffee.

“We delivered them to people’s doors using a little trolley.

“No-one in our area could get anything because we only have a small Sainsbury’s, so the queue would literally wrap around the whole development. 

“When we reopened, we actually had a lot of support then from people who bought from us. All those same customers came in, which was really nice.”

Nicola said lockdown also forced Little Hudson to launch on Deliveroo, which has prompted her to consider opening a dark kitchen.

“Delivery has just blown up since the pandemic, it is about 15% of the business.

“Sometimes, on weekends, we have to switch it off because it’s so busy already in the café.

“I didn’t think people would order brunch for delivery, but they do, especially at weekends.

“I’ve been thinking about doing some sort of delivery kitchen and maybe expanding other parts of the business as well to do more cakes for events and celebrations and expand the catering side.”

The café is open seven days a week until 4pm and has just launched a burger night on Fridays from 6pm-9pm. Nicola is also looking into holding live music events in the future.

So does she want to expand to another location now she is expanding her family?

“Maybe,” she said. “But I’ll wait a little bit until my next child is a bit older.”

Little Hudson’s interior – image Matt Grayson

Read more: How chefs created From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Fish Island: How From The Ashes BBQ rose to success from the desolation of lockdown

Co-founder Curtis Bell talks inspiration, meat and serving up pulled pork in a doughnut from his hatch

Curtis Bell, co-founder of From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island
Curtis Bell, co-founder of From The Ashes BBQ in Fish Island – image James Perrin

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Fire can be a sudden spark that ignites with a burst or a softly glowing flame that slowly smoulders.

Curtis Bell has experienced both since founding barbecue business From The Ashes BBQ in June 2020 after just a few weeks of planning.

“It was just a burning desire,” said the Swansea-born chef, with no hint of a pun intended.

“My favourite thing was always to cook on the beach. Maybe it’s a primitive thing, but I have always just been drawn to the flame. I tried doing the posh stuff – fine dining – and it just isn’t me. 

“I just like the rawness of cooking in a very direct and simple way over the flames.”

Tucked behind a hatch on Fish Island, the takeaway experienced a rush of fame in lockdown, with its salty smoked pork served in sugary handmade doughnuts.

Customers were walking from as far as London Fields to queue for up to an hour. It was a success that took Curtis and his co-founders by surprise.

“It just exploded overnight and we were getting reviews and write-ups in the papers – we had to hire staff,” said Curtis.

“It was daunting, unexpected and an amazing thing to happen out of lockdown.”

The “we” is Frank Fellows and Martin Anderson, who Curtis met when he moved to the big smoke (pun very much intended), having landed a job at barbecue joint Temper in Soho.

Until then he had followed the recipes of another renowned restaurant, Pitt Cue, “like the bible” – bosses had even offered him a job, which he wound up turning down.

“I felt like it was ‘don’t meet your heroes’ and I wanted to keep it almost as a fantasy,” said the 29-year-old.

“By then they had gone from this really gritty, basement barbecue to this corporate steakhouse for City workers and it had kind of lost its magic.”

It is that hands-on flavour that Curtis loved and wanted to capture with From The Ashes.

That, he feels, is achieved by working directly with farmers such as Farmer Tom in Herefordshire and McDuff in Scotland to source meat.

Curtis at wok in the kitchen
Curtis at wok in the kitchen – image James Perrin

The team also does most of the butchery themselves in a tiny eight foot by six-foot kitchen, so they can stick to their whole animal approach.

“We make sausages from the legs and smoke down the necks and shoulders and bellies and then smoke the loin like a rib roast,” said Curtis.

“We get half cows and use the bones for stock and the fat for potatoes and trimmings for mince for a special. 

“It’s not only more cost effective, it’s also a much more efficient way to cook. I think everyone needs to be cooking like this.”

They launched the business thanks to a loan from his dad and a pig from Farmer Tom who said: “Pay me when you can”.

A friend made them a smoker from recycled parts, which they dubbed “The Piggy” and they began experimenting.

“The hardest thing is patience,” said Curtis. “From seasoning it right the way through, to resting it can be 12 hours and the temptation to get into it earlier is huge. 

“It does take its toll when you’re doing big events and have to start at 6am and go through until midnight. It’s endurance, stamina and hard work.

“Sometimes you cut into it and it’s overcooked. That’s disappointing, but I will braise it down and make a brisket ragu and try and make the best of a bad situation.

“We try to avoid as much wastage as possible.”

From The Ashes serves up its food from a hole in the wall
From The Ashes serves up its food from a hole in the wall – image James Perrin

So is it worth all the effort?

“Yes, I love it – all good things come to those who wait,” said Curtis.

“You can have a steak, which takes 15 minutes to cook, or a piece of rib, which has taken seven hours. I guarantee you will be way more satisfied with the latter.

“As much as my back hurts and my legs hurt, there is so much satisfaction in the joy it brings people.

“When you put all those hours in and it pays off watching those people bite into it – it’s just amazing.”

The chance to birth his own business came when he, Martin and Frank were made redundant during the pandemic.

Curtis and Frank opened a dark kitchen for fried chicken restaurant Coqfighter and decided they should “copy the formula” with barbecue.

“The person who was renting out the Coqfighter kitchen had one on Fish Island too and we went over and had a look at it and scrambled some money for the deposit and the first month’s rent, and in we went,” said Curtis.

Martin came on board and they spent four weeks testing out recipes, eventually landing on a doughnut filled with pulled pork as their signature dish, inspired by Black Axe Mangal restaurant in Islington.

“Lee Tiernan up there is a genius and did a duck liver parfait and prune doughnut which probably changed my whole life, it was that good,” said Curtis.

“We were just toying with ideas and one day ordered some really shit Tesco doughnuts and tried putting some pulled pork in the centre of it – it just worked with the sweet, savoury, salt, smoked fat.

“A lot of people are still very cautious but, because you have every sense in your mouth, it’s perfect.

“We put it on Instagram as a draw and it worked. It was a magnet and there was a time I couldn’t open Instagram without seeing my doughnut. 

“Some people may think of it as a gimmick and are not impressed, but I find that hilarious.”

A party in June 2020 with all their hospitality mates, kicked things off for the trio and they just began opening the hatch every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Del Piero doughnuts ready to go
Del Piero doughnuts ready to go – image James Perrin

“People started walking up  – it built momentum and, the next thing we knew, we had queues round the block,” said Curtis.

At the peak, he was waking at 6am on Saturdays to tend to the smoker and meats and start rolling and proving the 120 doughnuts they were selling a day.

Made over two days from a laminated enriched dough, they included sweet options such as custard in different flavours and dark chocolate Hennessy and hazelnut praline.

Other creations included a smoked pork bun with pickles, sriracha Marmite mayo, smoked garlic mayo and a slaw made with hispi cabbage, fennel, apple, lime juice, walnut, jalapeño dressing and gorgonzola sauce.

They quickly attracted queues, which stretched as far as the Premier shop on Roach Road with punters soaking up the sun and free shots handed out by Curtis.

“It was just a really special time and something I would love to relive again,” he said. “But we’re back in the real world now, sadly.”

Since London went back to business, Curtis has found himself having to stoke the flames of success in new directions.

Following their early success, From The Ashes landed spots at food venues Two Tribes Campfire in Kings Cross and Kerb Seven Dials.

And their summer has a full roster of festivals, events and private parties, including Bigfoot Festival, British Summertime, Bike Shed in Tobacco Dock, Big Grill Festival in Ireland, London Craft Beer Festival and Manchester Craft Beer Festival.

Frank left in October last year to work with his girlfriend at the cafe of local company Barkney Wick, but Curtis now has a team of seven chefs and said there is no such thing as a day off for him.

“The hatch will remain open and we want it to go from strength to strength,” he said.

“We’re looking to get an outside licence so we can have benches and seats.

From The Ashes cooks up a range of meats – image James Perrin

“We now sell some craft beers and park wines, perfect for a summer day when you’re sitting on the kerb eating barbecue.”

He’s also been implementing a huge shake-up of the menu to help with the business’ longevity.

“Now summer is coming, I’m changing the menu on a weekly basis,” he said. “I ring my farmers and see what’s available and create the menu around that.

“This weekend we have got some whole smoked chicken with some wild garlic pesto, an aged sirloin with horseradish cream and roasted beef fat.

“Last week I had an aged beef meatball sub with mozzarella, parmesan and wild garlic again. We’re going to become seasonal.”

Curtis said the founders had been a bit unsure of themselves as they tried to transition from their blaze of glory in lockdown to the more even tempered real world.

“It’s been daunting,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out what our dream is but I think it is to be a bit of a household name in London and keep on enjoying what we are doing.

“I just want to keep cooking outside and doing amazing pop-ups – happy and free. I don’t want to do anything too serious. I’ll never be the person who wants a big huge chain.”

Curtis said the pressure of running a small business was enough. They’ve never had any investors and are just about breaking even.

But with prices skyrocketing across the board, the profit margin is getting smaller.

“We are increasing our prices and I hope customers understand why we need to do that,” he said. 

“I think the next year will be incredibly tough on hospitality with everyone trying to save pennies.

“I can already feel the pressure, but hopefully, we can keep our heads above water and keep going and growing.”

Read more: How Squid Markets is bringing street food and fresh produce to Canada Water Market

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Wapping: How Pop Skewer is serving up a taste of Brazil underneath the railway

Marina Simoes and Marcio Yokota opened their kiosk after both losing their jobs during lockdown

Marcio Yokota and Marina Simoes of Pop Skewer
Marcio Yokota and Marina Simoes of Pop Skewer – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Underneath the grey stretch of railway tracks in Wapping lies a surprise. Well, more than one, actually.

Venture off the beaten path of Cable Street and you will find Brazil’s most popular street food on offer at Pop Skewer

Succulent beef on sticks, halal chicken and sausage are freshly barbecued and served up on the side of the road, just like in South America.

The compact kiosk was opened by Brazilian couple Marina Simoes, 46, and Marcio Yokota, 53, after they both lost their jobs during the first lockdown.

They had never worked together, but decided to use their skills and take a chance on their new venture.

Marina said: “We were both doing something completely different before.

“I was working in property sales and then started temping because I knew I wanted to do something else but never thought of opening my own business.

“My husband was working in a coffee shop as manager but because of lockdown we were both at home unemployed, so we said: ‘Why not work together?’.

“He’s a very good cook, so we thought we’d do something that uses his skills and gives people a taste of Brazil.”

They decided to serve the skewers with another popular dish from their home country – rice and beans.

“In Brazil, they wouldn’t normally be served together,” said Marina. “But we decided to combine them. 

“The skewers are everywhere in Brazil. You grab them and eat them on the street really informally on the stick.

“They’re a really profitable business there and, hopefully, we will get the same success here.”

Pop Burger and Pop Sandwich from the kiosk
Pop Burger and Pop Sandwich from the kiosk – image Matt Grayson

They also serve up a Pop Sandwich and Pop Burger and daily specials like beef stew with cassava, beef stroganoff, beef parmigiana and, once a month, slow-cooked beef ribs.

“Every Saturday we serve the feijoada, which is black bean and pork stew,” said Marina.

“It’s made with different types of pork meat served with rice, tomato salad, spring greens and the farofa, toasted cassava flour with bacon and something else.

“Forgive me, I forget as I’ve been a vegetarian for  20 years.”

A vegetarian running a meat-based business? How does that work? 

“To be honest, I don’t like the smell of the BBQ, but I respect everyone whether they are vegetarian or not,” she said.

Marina admits she mostly stays away from the kitchen and sticks to handling other parts of the business.

The couple buy all their food fresh every few days and have items like the black beans delivered from a Brazilian supplier.

“I don’t cook anything, I’m terrible with that,” she said. “Of course, I help put the meals together. But cooking? No.”

Thanks to her, Pop Skewer also serves up plenty of vegetarian options, including a halloumi, onion and courgette skewer, a halloumi burger with courgette and lettuce, tomato and homemade sauce and a vegetarian sandwich in ciabatta bread.

Marina said: “Cooking with a charcoal grill makes such a difference to the taste. 

“We have never just aimed to target Brazilians and, so far, everyone is enjoying eating it, which we find amazing.”

A range of dishes are available from the kiosk
A range of dishes are available from the kiosk – image Matt Grayson

It’s not the first time the Bromley residents have taken a leap into the unknown.

Marina, who is of Italian heritage and grew up in Minas Gerais, left Brazil in her 20s on a one-way ticket to London.

She said: “My first job was working in silver service in hotels. I was terrible. Then I started in retail sales and then management and then property sales.”

Marcio, who is of Japanese heritage and grew up in Sao Paulo, arrived in England 15 years ago. He left behind a clothes business and found work in restaurants and coffee shops.

 Having grown up 370 miles apart, it took them both travelling 5,900 miles across the Atlantic for their love story to begin on the streets of London.

“We met through a mutual friend and have been together ever since,” said Marina.

Their relationship is being put to the test with the challenges presented by their joint venture.

They built the business in just eight weeks, launching just after the first lockdown, and have faced struggles with supplies during the pandemic, getting word out to customers on a shoestring, and working together in very close quarters.

“Sometimes I want to strangle my husband,” said Marina

“But we have separate areas with me in the front taking orders and the other two guys in the cooking area. Sometimes we do bump into each other and bicker.

“It’s been very challenging having our own business under these conditions for the past year, but I’m really enjoying it.”

Pop skewers are very popular in Brazil
Pop skewers are very popular in Brazil – image Matt Grayson

They have also taken on fellow Brazilian Lucas Montagnini and trained him up to work on the grill.

“It was very hard to find someone because of the pandemic,” said Marina.

“He was a friend of a friend who was an engineer in Brazil, but he’d had enough and decided to leave and do something else.

“That’s what we all do when we come to England – something completely different. It’s great and challenging, leaving our comfort zone.”

The Pop Skewer site was empty before they took it over and they rely on Instagram, Google and word of mouth to gain customers. 

But business can be unpredictable, with the lunch crowd sometimes arriving at 11am and sometimes not until 1.30pm, which makes it hard to plan.

“It can be really unpredictable,” said Marina.“We are not just building up Pop Skewer but also the location.

“The residents kept us going during the pandemic, but now the office workers are coming back. Hopefully, when the weather gets warmer, there will be lots of BBQ for everyone.

“We really want Pop Skewer to grow and get more customers.

“The past year has been about working hard and not getting much money, so we really want to move to the next level now and become known by everyone for Brazilian food.”

Pop Skewer is located by the side of Cable Street
Pop Skewer is located by the side of Cable Street – image Matt Grayson

Read more: BabaBoom set to launch kebab restaurant in Stratford

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Stratford: How BabaBoom combines its founder’s love of travel, running and kebabs

Latest branch of London business at Westfield Stratford City will offer £1 meals on its launch day

BabaBoom founder Eve Bugler
BabaBoom founder Eve Bugler

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A little like the kebabs her company serves, there are lots of ingredients to Eve Bugler.

There’s the degree in PPE from Oxford, time spent working for a Democrat in the States, a stint at McKinsey and a spell at a development bank in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated the island.

Then there’s the lifelong passion for distance running culminating in selection to compete for England at ultramarathon distances, a prospect stymied by Covid cancellations and now on hold due to the fact that she’s currently pregnant.

We’re here to talk about all of that, because it’s all relevant to her move into the hospitality industry and the decision to start her own business – BabaBoom – which is set to open what will technically be its third location at Westfield Stratford City in April.

- In celebration of its opening on Thursday, April 21, 2022, Bababoom will be offering kebabs for £1 between noon and 2pm with all proceeds going to Greenhouse Sports, a charity that supports and mentors children.



- There’s more: Starting May 1, BabaBoom will be sending its Kebab Chase from its Battersea branch to its new Stratford location and back. Participants should turn up at Battersea from 11am, do the run by 4pm (proof via selfie), and get a FREE kebab for their trouble. Usually chases take place on the first Sunday of the month. Find out more about the Kebab Chase here

“When I was in Haiti working on an infrastructure project, I realised that the people having the greatest impact were the entrepreneurs,” said Eve.

“I came back with the idea that I really wanted to start my own business, and I wanted to do hospitality – it’s great for social mobility.

“It’s the only industry where you can come in completely unskilled, and you can move up really quickly.

“Because I’d worked behind a bar in Greece and in a ski chalet in France, I knew it was a really positive industry to be part of – when you’re working in hospitality it’s easy to make someone’s day.” 

A selection of the dishes available at BabaBoom
A selection of the dishes available at BabaBoom

Having returned to the UK, Eve first landed a role at Nando’s, working for the company for four years, first in London and then Johannesburg and Delhi.

She then secured investment from the hospitality giant’s then CEO, among others, to develop her own business, launching BabaBoom in Battersea in 2015.

“Boom is my favourite word – it’s filled with positivity,” said Eve.

“My dad has been a massive influence on me – an Irishman who came to London and someone who’s always interested in the next opportunity.

“Baba is the Turkish and Arabic word for father and the two together just means we’re doing things with energy.

“BabaBoom is a passion project. As an elite runner and someone who’s lived around the world, I always found myself gravitating towards kebabs as the best sort of fast food.

Eve says kebabs are a comparatively healthy fast food
Eve says kebabs are a comparatively healthy fast food

“I can’t really eat pizzas and burgers when I’m training properly, whereas kebabs are generous, protein-filled with salad, fresh bread and good Middle Eastern flavours.

“I thought that somebody needed to do that in the UK and make it a fast food accessible and welcoming to everybody.

“Kebabs have often been marginalised as a late night snack but they’re good all day.

“We’re all about making really fresh kebabs with good quality ingredients and cooking over charcoal, which helps the flavour.

“We import a lot of our spices and flavours from the Middle East and that gives our products a fresh taste. 

“It’s bringing the fire to the table and I think that’s why we’ll stand out at Westfield – customers want that immediacy but also that theatre of cooking.”

Eve after completing the Paris Half Marathon while pregnant

Having launched in Battersea, BabaBoom’s second location in Islington fell victim to the pressures of the pandemic but with restrictions receding, a fresh opening beckoned.

“Westfield came along as an opportunity, and it’s great for us,” said Eve.

“To have a site which is a stone’s throw from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is incredibly exciting, because it fits the upbeat, energetic nature of our brand.

“It’s really easy to slag off kebabs, but small businesses largely run by immigrants are really successful, and I think there’s a real vibe in kebab shops – they’re a refuge, there’s a sense of fun, you chat to the people next to you.

“When people come down to us they will be struck by our friendliness – we say we’re gluten-friendly, vegan-friendly, but overall we’re just friendly.

“Then it’s about freshness and the generosity of our portions.

“Time Out said our food was as healthy as people want it to be and that’s hitting it on the nose.

“We’re not here to preach or to make you eat low-calorie food. We’re here to provide really generous plates that can be really good for you.

“Then, if you want some curly fries, you deserve them too. We’re here to be accessible to everyone.”

That extends to kebabs made with beef (a cheaper option than lamb), chicken and plenty of options for veggies and vegans.

“In Middle Eastern food, the vegan thing isn’t a cop out, it’s accidental,” said Eve.

“For example, our super green falafel and sweet potato hummus are entirely vegan, as is our Triple-B sauce – a fiery condiment made with Aleppo chilli.

“Our bread is baked fresh and all our kebabs come with slaw with apple in it, which gives it a sweet crunchiness. We’ve thought about  the detail to make everything delicious.”

Super green falafel at BabaBoom

Read more: How Humble Grape in Canary Wharf is raising its food game

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Isle Of Dogs: How The Sushi Co has ambitions to spread throughout the UK

Brand intends to open 13 takeaway restaurants in 2022 serving sushi made to order without the chill

Sushi from The Sushi Co on the Isle Of Dogs
Sushi from The Sushi Co on the Isle Of Dogs – image Matt Grayson

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When branches of The Sushi Co have swept the nation, with outposts in every major city and restaurants every couple of miles in London, remember that it all started on the Isle Of Dogs.

The business opened its first restaurant and takeaway at the eastern tip of Westward Parade opposite Crossharbour DLR in January and already it’s one of three locations in the capital. 

Targeting rapid growth, with plans for at least 13 restaurants this year, its owners believe they’ve spotted a gap in the takeaway market and they’re moving fast to claim it as their territory.

“We already had a background in food, running pizza franchises,” said Sam Reddy, who oversees operations on the ground for The Sushi Co.

“We’d seen the trend for sushi and initially we thought we’d become franchisees but we decided to create our own brand instead. 

“Doing that gives you a lot more freedom – you are able to determine the quality of everything and you can make decisions much more quickly.

“Personally, two years ago, I’d never even tried sushi so we had to do a lot of research. We ate in so many places, we must have tried every brand in London.”

Peng Zheng and Sam Reddy of The Sushi Co
Peng Zheng, left, and Sam Reddy of The Sushi Co – image Matt Grayson

That included eating at the restaurant of Peng Zheng, whose food impressed so much that The Sushi Co approached him to join the project. 

“Peng has designed the whole menu from scratch,” said Sam. “He’s our head chef, so while we’re good at building the sites, finding the best suppliers and investing the money where it needs to be, he can concentrate on creating the right food.

“We told him our idea – to create a UK-wide brand – and he really liked it.”

Part of the reason for that is a shared commitment to the quality of the food. Walk into The Sushi Co’s Isle Of Dogs branch and you’ll see a chiller cabinet with a selection of drinks and a couple of cheery signs explaining that the kitchen hasn’t run out of food, but that all dishes are made to order.

“When we were doing our research, we realised there were lots of brands storing products in the fridge,” said Sam.

“But that’s not sushi. It should never be stored that way and you shouldn’t eat it chilled. It should be eaten warm and freshly made.

“That is what we do. It’s not instant, customers have to wait five or 10 minutes. But because they want to eat good quality sushi, they’re happy to do that.

“Whether a customer has come to the restaurant to collect the food, or it’s being given to a delivery driver, it’s all made and served to order.

“Top sushi restaurants would never put their products in the fridge, so why would we?”

While the first restaurant has some seating for diners to eat in, The Sushi Co has primarily been conceived as a takeaway and is available through Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat. 

Sam said: “Our main target is that customers should receive food from our restaurants in under 25 minutes.

“Our focus now is on scaling up because there’s nobody else in this market in terms of delivering fresh sushi. There are some independent restaurants, but we want to grow quickly.”

The Sushi Co is located on Westward Parade
The Sushi Co is located on Westward Parade – image Matt Grayson

With an eye on maximising accessibility, Peng and the team have developed a menu rich in sushi and sashimi but that also includes a range of poke bowls, gyoza dumplings and hot meals as an alternative to the core dishes.

“Some people think sushi isn’t for them, but it is for everyone,” said Sam.

“To be honest, I had that feeling two years ago, but not anymore and that’s because I experienced it.

“When people see that it’s raw, some wonder if it’s safe to eat, but our brand follows the highest standards of food hygiene.

“We think we’ve developed a really good product, quite different to pre-prepared boxes you might buy at the supermarket and now we just really want people to try it.

“Once people come to us, they will realise how much better sushi that hasn’t been chilled really is. 

“The feedback from customers has been really great – in the end you can’t build a business if the product isn’t right.”

All of the brand's sushi is made fresh, never chilled
All of the brand’s sushi is made fresh, never chilled – image Matt Grayson

As for the future, The Sushi Co plans to roll out branches across London first, with slightly larger outposts in big cities across the country being an ambition for the future.

Food-wise, having found its feet, there are also plans afoot to collaborate with chefs on signature dishes on a regular basis.

The brand serves an extensive range of sushi including nigiri, uramaki, hosomaki and futo maki as well as selection boxes. Hot dishes include the likes of curries, noodle dishes and soups.

“Personally I really like the prawn katsu, which is fried in breadcrumbs,” said Sam. 

“But I also really enjoy the rolls we offer, many of which come with special sauces that we also make in-house.

“I really like to eat sushi, but my wife doesn’t, so having that variety on the menu is very important because it means we offer something for everyone.

“Not every takeaway business does this but we think it’s essential.

“There’s still a lot to learn for us on this brand, of course, but the first two branches have been really, really successful and we’ve just opened the third so we’re very excited about the future.

“I really believe you can’t get the quality of food that we’re serving in any other fast food takeaway.

“Of course you can go to an expensive sushi restaurant, but many of our dishes are only £10-12 and we use top quality ingredients.”

The Sushi Co is trading on the Isle Of Dogs and in Chiswick and Holborn with branches in Woodford and Lewisham set to be open by May 9.

Expect to see quite a few popping up over the coming years.

The restaurant does have space to dine in
The restaurant does have space to dine in – image Matt Grayson

Read more: Market Hall Canary Wharf set to open on April 7, 2022

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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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Stratford: How The Gantry hotel’s head chef combines his roots with travel

Why Salvatore Coco is willing to go the extra 332 miles to get the right flavours for its restaurant

Head chef at The Gantry, Salvatore Coco
Head chef at The Gantry, Salvatore Coco

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

All head chefs want to make great food. But Salvatore Coco is literally willing to go the extra 332 miles.

That’s how far it is from his job as executive head chef at The Gantry hotel in Stratford to Wageningen University in the Netherlands. 

“I recently discovered a professor there who had grown vanilla – one of the first times that’s successfully been done in Europe,” said Salvatore. 

“There are a lot of problems with the vanilla trade – it’s a money business. So when I heard about this I fell in love because it is such a unique product.

“That’s why I’ll be travelling to Holland to bring back a bit of the vanilla to use at The Gantry.

“It isn’t on sale because it’s just for research, but I persuaded the professor to give me some. It’s like gold for me.”

The Italian native will be using his foreign treasure to create an ice cream and a dark chocolate brownie dish that will feature on the new spring menu at Union Social, the hotel’s first-floor restaurant.

But he has also been looking much closer to home for his inspiration.

“Just in front of the hotel is a small set of seven beehives in East Village run by the locals,” said the 36-year-old.

“They produce a very small quantity of honey, only about 30 jars a year and I was able to meet them and get half.

“It’s a beautiful product created just a few steps away and tastes amazing.

“I have used it to create a Greek-inspired dessert, which uses filo pastry, ricotta cheese, cinnamon, orange, all the ingredients that were available during the time of Homer, which pair perfectly with this local honey.”

Union Social at The Gantry
Union Social at The Gantry

Like many Italians, Salvatore grew up in the kitchen watching the family matriarch cook.

“As a kid I would always spend time close to my grandma and was fascinated seeing her make focaccia and pasta,” he said.

“The first dish she let me cook was prawn spaghetti for my grandfather. It was so bad, tough and salty.”

By the age of 13, however, he was working in a professional kitchen at a local restaurant in his native Sicily, doing everything from pot washing to working the grill.

Next came a tourist resort where the 18-year-old Salvatore was in at the deep end.

“It had room service and three restaurants, but I was so passionate about my job that after a couple of months they left me running the kitchen by myself,” he said.

“Looking back, I don’t know how I did it, but I survived and it didn’t put me off.”

Stints at hotelier school and as a chef de partie in a Sheraton hotel followed, before he landed in London and was seduced by the capital’s eclectic culture.

“The plan was to stay a couple of years, but I never left and I became a British citizen in 2019 and don’t think I will ever go back,” he said.

“You get such a variety of food here. Places like France, Italy, Spain are focused on their own food – but here there are all sorts of cuisines. For a chef, it is like a candy shop.”

The Gantry's food reflects Salvatore's travels
The Gantry’s food reflects Salvatore’s travels

His big break came when he bagged the role of head chef at the Pestana Hotel in Chelsea.

“But when the pandemic hit, it closed and Salvatore was out of a job. He returned to his roots, taking a job at Park Lane Kitchen, a small deli and rotisserie near where he used to live in Battersea.

“It was really strange but kind of nice, like going back to when I started out 20 years ago,” said Salvatore.

“The owner didn’t know I was a head chef. I just started working and after a week he was really impressed so I told him.

“It was a funny moment. It wasn’t stressful at all working there and I loved it.”

But when The Gantry came calling, he could not resist the chance to unleash his creative side.

“The general manager told me he didn’t want to have the normal international food other hotels have, like the club sandwich and Caesar salad,” said Salvatore.

“He wanted the menu to be personal to me and be created with fresh ingredients on a daily basis. 

“That’s hard to find in the hotel business and, while it was a big challenge, the menu is based on my travels, which is something I’m really passionate about so it was easy, in a way.”

A dessert at Union Social

Diners at Union Social can expect dishes such as a dessert made with crystallised violet petals Salvatore found while visiting Toulouse, a Jack-In-The-Green salad based on a mythological figure he discovered in Scotland and a slow-roasted shoulder of lamb from Kent. 

“I’m not competitive with other chefs at all,” said Salvatore.

“I just do my own thing. Of course, the food has to be tasty but it is about sustainability and the exclusivity of the food. 

“It has to have a story behind it because I’m very interested in culture and history. I call it food with a soul.

“I don’t want to just make food with a Michelin Star which looks pretty and tastes nice but has no character. 

“I’m not a fan of fancy decorations, just simple food that has value behind it. That’s really important and the main reason behind my cooking.”

Like a surgeon, Salvatore said he is “always on call” and has moved 10 minutes away from the hotel in Stratford in case of any kitchen emergencies.

“My private life is zero at the moment,” he said.

“But if you don’t have a passion for this job you can’t do it because it is so many hours.

“You cannot just be selfish and narrow-minded because otherwise, you don’t go very far. But you need to explore your own creativity and, in a way, be single-minded.

“I remember taking a boat in Thailand and the wife of the captain was cooking some noodles on board. 

“I was amazed at how easy it was for her to combine ingredients and make something that tasted amazing. 

“Sometimes you go to restaurants with a full brigade of chefs and the food doesn’t taste that good. 

“I’ll always remember that because it really made me think a lot about how food is passion.” 

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

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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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Greenwich: How Joy’s Caribbean Fusion tackles waste and meat consumption

Founder Tescha Joy blended banana skins, spices and veganism to create a street food business

Tescha Joy of Joy's Caribbean Fusion
Tescha Joy of Joy’s Caribbean Fusion image Matt Grayson

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Taste and waste is what Tescha Joy is all about. Driven by a desire to create sustainable, eco-friendly, flavourful food, she created Joy’s Caribbean Fusion – a street food brand that had its debut at Bexley’s Wasteless Market two-and-a-half years ago.

Since then she’s gone on to establish herself at RARE Farmers Market at Royal Arsenal Riverside and recently started a residency every Thursday from noon-8pm, at Pegler Square in Kidbrooke Village, just by the station.

 Her food is vegan and contains only plant-based ingredients, cooked with Caribbean spices to create dishes that attract longer queues at the markets she serves than stalls selling meat. And it all started with some banana skins.

Scroll down for Tescha’s Banana Skin Curry recipe

“I’m a public health nurse and work three days a week in the NHS,” said Tescha.

“My first dish was banana skin curry – I was at work one day and everyone was throwing away their banana skins and I asked them to give them to me instead.

“I hate waste so I took those skins and created a dish with them. There’s lots of iron, fibre and many other nutrients in them. The whole point of the dish was that I wanted to show people that you don’t have to throw away certain ingredients. 

“I showed you can create a nice meal from them and that’s where I got the idea for the business – it’s the dish I took to the Wasteless Market and it’s the only recipe I’m happy to share because I want people to recreate it at home.

“I want to have it printed in this paper so readers can use it rather than throw away their banana skins. 

“We’d normally throw them away in the Caribbean too – people over there are amazed when I tell them.   

“I’d decided to go vegan for environmental reasons – I think we eat too much meat in this country. I’m not anti-meat, but I think it’s important to cut down.

“Climate change is important to me because I want a better future for my children – I want them to grow up in a world where we waste less food. 

“I know what it’s like to be hungry. The majority of people in this country don’t know what that’s like and we need to cut the amount of food we throw away.

“I’ll literally make a dish from nothing – some potato peelings can be put in the oven with olive oil and you have some crisps.”

Tescha's take on doubles with chickpea curry
Tescha’s take on doubles with chickpea curry and pickles – image Matt Grayson

Tescha’s banana skin curry remains a firm favourite on the menu at Joy’s, joined by a host of core dishes intended to delight diners with both flavour and texture.

She said: “Cooking is also my passion and it’s in my blood. My parents owned a restaurant in the Caribbean. I would have to just get changed after school and go and help whether I wanted to or not.

“My brother owns a restaurant in Catford and I have another brother who is in America and has a restaurant there.

“There’s a long family tradition of cooking, but I’m the only one who does vegan.

“Normally you’d have jerk chicken and jerk pork – quite meaty dishes. I wanted to explore different types of food using Caribbean flavours.

“Also, I think it’s good for my children to see that vegetables can be really tasty and it’s better for the planet.

“On the classic menu, I have chickpea curry with flatbread – it’s really naughty because it’s deep fried – and that’s served with mango chutney, which I make from scratch before every market, tamarind sauce and pickled onion, red cabbage and cucumber.

“In the Caribbean we call it doubles because you get two smaller breads, but I do it as one large one, just to be a bit different.

“We also do rice bowls with toppings of barbecue jerk mushroom, jerk tofu and cauliflower bites.

“My best seller is the combination bowl where you get a bit of everything including the chickpea curry and the flatbread. It all comes with the same toppings – the chutney and the pickles.

“Then we do specials such as vegan fish, which is made from jackfruit or banana blossom with plant-based marine ingredients to give it that fishy flavour.

“People can be a bit hesitant to try vegan dishes, but once they do, they usually come back and say they don’t need the meat.

“I catered for a wedding in December and the bride told me some of the guests thought they’d need to go to the local burger shop after they’d eaten the food.

“But she called me back later and told me nobody had gone – they all were amazed at the texture of the dishes and the different flavours.

“I’ve built up a big following in the areas where I trade – at RARE in Woolwich I have a queue, which is longer than the meat queue and I think people are becoming more aware of veganism and meat-eaters are also cutting down and having plant-based food instead.”

Joy's serves a range of vegan dishes
Joy’s serves a range of vegan dishes – image Matt Grayson

New dishes undergo strict quality control from Tescha’s children who taste all of her dishes before they’re allowed to make it onto the stall.

Her ambition is to keep growing the business to the point where it can operate more widely and be her sole focus.

“I’m still working as a nurse, which is something I’ve been doing for 20 years,” she said. “I’d love to have Joy’s in multiple locations, to train people up to run those stalls and serve the food. 

“At the moment my goal is to get a van so the business can be more mobile.

“This really is my passion – it’s something I want to develop. I now make and sell my own sauces too – called Island Drizzle. 

“People kept coming and asking me for my recipes and my husband said: ‘Don’t tell them, just put it in a bottle’.

“It comes in medium, hot and extra hot. They’re all vegan too and are quite different to a lot of sauces out there because you can use them as a marinade, a dressing and as a condiment.

“It’s not the hottest sauce around because I’m more into the flavour than the heat – customers can come down and try it.”

Cook it: Banana Skin Curry

While most of Tescha’s recipes remain secret, she’s happy to help people cut down on waste by sharing this one – perfect for using up that unwanted peel…

Tescha's Banana Skin Curry
Tescha’s Banana Skin Curry

Ingredients (serves three-four)

4-5 large ripe banana skins

1 cup peeled, diced potato

3 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp curry powder 

1 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp fennel seeds 

1/4 tsp cumin seed

2 cardamom pods

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp ground coriander 

1/3 tsp chopped scotch bonnet 

       chilli pepper (optional) 

3 tbsp vegetable oil

1 large onion finely (chopped) 

1 tbsp fresh thyme (chopped)

1 tbs curry leaves (optional)

2 tbsp fresh coriander (chopped)

1 cup water 

1/2 cup coconut milk

Method

Thoroughly wash the banana skins, remove the rigid woody end at the top and dark spot at the end. 

Add lemon juice to the skins to stop them going dark while chopping (they will still be edible, even if this happens, so don’t worry).

Use a spoon to scrape out the inner lining and discard the scrapings. Depending on your preference, finely or roughly chop the skins. Then add the diced potato to them and combine with salt, curry powder and turmeric. 

In a pestle and mortar, place the fennel seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom pod, garlic, ground coriander and chilli. Grind into a paste. Add the paste to the banana skins and potatoes and mix in well. Add chilli here if preferred for a spicier dish.

Add the oil to a frying pan, heat and turn down. Add the chopped onion and stir until softened and then tip in the chopped banana skin mix. Increase  the heat and sauté for 10 minutes. 

Add the coconut milk, water, thyme, curry leaves and fresh coriander to the pan. Cover and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes. 

Add an extra 1/4 cup of water if you prefer a more moist curry. Remove from heat once the banana skins and potatoes are soft. Serve with rice of your choice, a flatbread or on a bed of salad.

Tescha Joy

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

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Canary Wharf: Shutters opens doors at two sites in One Canada Square’s marble lobby

Restaurant, cafe and bar aims to offer hotel-style service to workers and visitors to the estate

Taskin Muzaffer of The Happiness Cartel
Taskin Muzaffer of The Happiness Cartel – image Matt Grayson

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Organised crime syndicates are in my mind, having just binge-watched the latest series of Netflix drugsploitation epic Narcos: Mexico.

Fortunately The Happiness Cartel, which recently opened Shutters across two sites in the lobby of One Canada Square, bears little resemblance to the brutal mobs of Sinaloa, Juarez, Tijuana and Guadalajara.

But its creative director and founder, Taskin Muzaffer, does want Wharfers to keep coming back for more.

It’s one of the reasons why the group’s latest establishment is really three venues in one.

Firstly, Shutters itself has taken the shell of what was ETM’s One Canada Square, stripped out the walls, opened up the windows and painted everything white to form a welcoming, accessible restaurant and bar.

Secondly, head up its diagonal stairways and there’s Cartel – a separate bar space tucked away on the mezzanine, specialising in spirits and cocktails. 

Finally, look round the corner and there’s a cafe space called SuperNatural that shifts seamlessly from breakfast bar and lunch joint to wine bar after 5pm.

Shutters at One Canada Square
Shutters at One Canada Square – image Matt Grayson

That means there’s something available at all hours to keep Wharfers in a state of temptation, something that’s also down to the brand’s lineage.

“We started as a group in London, and, like most people, had a bit of a revelation in lockdown,” said Taskin, who previously worked for Drake And Morgan around the time it opened Shutters’ near neighbour, The Parlour, in 2009.

“Our first venue was Pedler in Peckham in 2014 (now reborn as Pedler Good Fortune) and we have always got a lot of our produce from Cornwall and Devon – in fact most of our fish came up from Cornish day boats on the back of a bike, so there was always that love affair with that area. 

“In 2017, we started looking for a site there, and finally opened the Unicorn On The Beach at Porthtowan in August of 2019.

“That ran really well until March 2020, when everything had to close. We decided we would keep the sites shut in London over last summer and the other members of the Cartel and myself moved to Cornwall, reopened the Unicorn and worked it as hard as possible last summer.

“Then the opportunity came up for us to purchase The Godolphin hotel in Marazion, which we renovated and briefly opened in December 2020, then properly in April 2021.

“We were very fortunate that both the Unicorn and The Godolphin had large outside areas so that was amazing when people could only be outdoors.

“Shutters was born in Cornwall as it’s the restaurant for our hotel there and we wanted to bring a slice of that back to London.

Looking down from Cartel
Looking down from Cartel – image Matt Grayson

“We’ve come to Canary Wharf with that service mindset. We essentially view anyone who passes by or who is working in the offices above at One Canada Square as a hotel guest. We want to be somewhere people can come back to multiple times a day.

“We’ve brought down the walls of the old restaurant and expanded out into the lobby, creating what we call a library area that is almost a co-working space.

“People can sit there with their laptops and have a breakfast or a lunch. It’s not bookable, it’s walk-ins only.

“On the other side of the lobby, SuperNatural serves our own Happiness coffee blend, hand-roasted in Cornwall, as well as fresh juice and smoothies. 

“In the morning you’ll see pastries and croissants – all those breakfast things – until 11am when salads with different proteins, like smoked chicken or smoked trout appear.

“Then at about 5pm it flips and becomes all about natural and low-intervention wines and build-your-own nibbles. Expect cured duck or venison done a bit like Parma ham, all made in Cornwall.”

Tuna tataki with pistachio at Shutters
Tuna tataki with pistachio at Shutters – image Matt Grayson

While the produce is Cornish, Shutters’ core menu has a pronounced American flavour to it, with dishes such as crab nachos and the Vegan Cali Sur burger.

“We wanted to give everything a kind of southern Californian twist,” said Taskin. “Cartel, for example will be doing nibbles and tacos. 

“Down in the restaurant we’ll be serving a lot of seafood dishes with those west coast flavours. 

“Personally I like the crab cakes – it’s the kind of thing you’d see on menus years ago but they’ve kind of disappeared. We’ve brought them back with a little twist – bois boudrin sauce, burnt leeks and anchovy mayo.

“I also really like the nachos, which come with a light cheese, scallions, pickles and a lime sour cream. They’re really, really good.

“As for drinks we have tank-fresh beer from Meantime, brewed about a mile away as the crow flies. 

“Otherwise we’re very much about cocktails at a reasonable price. Good value is something we’ve always tried to offer as a brand.

“We want people to come to us for breakfast, come back for a drink after work, meet their mate or a girlfriend or boyfriend for lunch and come back and have dinner.

“Maybe during the week you’ll have a glass of wine and only one course or a little nibble.

Shutters’ second site SuperNatural – image Matt Grayson

“Perhaps you’ll come back towards the end of the week and have three courses with a cocktail before or after. It’s all about creating different areas, different spaces, to make it exciting.

“You could be here having a chat with me now, then you might go and work over in the library this afternoon.

“Maybe then you’ll go over to SuperNatural tonight and meet friends and have a glass of low-intervention wine and a couple of nibbles on the board.

“Tomorrow you’ll maybe come in for breakfast or for lunch, or you might stick around for dinner.

“Then we have Cartel, which specialises in tequila and mescal with a range of 28 so far. There are some really special bottles to try. 

“We’ve tried to create something going on at all times, whether you want a quiet little corner just to get on with something, or you want to be a bit raucous.”

Shutters is set to reopen from January 9 followed by SuperNatural on January 17. Check opening hours and menus online.

Read more: How Hawksmoor constantly refines its offering

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