Riverscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve cooking in Sharkbait’s kitchen – image Matt Grayson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wapping: Why baked goods from Wapping Sourdough have a real flavour of the area

How Robin Weekes and Clare Kelly create and sell their loaves and baguettes fresh at London Dock

Robin Weekes and Clare Kelly of Wapping Sourdough
Robin Weekes and Clare Kelly of Wapping Sourdough – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Parents of six, Robin Weekes and Clare Kelly, say their youngest and most temperamental seventh “child” has been the hardest to raise.

The husband and wife team have spent the last decade wrangling baking business Wapping Sourdough through its startling birth, challenging toddlerhood and now maturing childhood.

They went from launching at the London 2012 Games and finding success selling their products at markets to striking out on their own at Thomas Moore Square in Wapping.

Now they have entered a new phase of the business with a food van at London Dock, selling their sourdough loaves, filled baguettes and cakes. There are also plans to expand into coffee and toasties.

Robin said through the whole journey, one thing had remained the same – their doughy child – a 20-year-old mixture of water, flour and salt that needs constant attention.

“Sourdough is the best bread in the world and it’s made from only three ingredients,” said the 58-year-old.

“But you have to look after your starter every day or it dies. I have taken it through customs, on aeroplanes and on holiday. 

“The flour ferments and has a bacterial culture in it and a wild yeast culture that makes the bread rise. It’s massively temperamental and takes so long to get it so you can make real sourdough and not use commercial yeast.”

Clare added: “It can’t be neglected. I think a lot of people in lockdown started making it, but the fact you are then committed put a lot of people off.

“It’s amazing when you see it bubbling and growing. When Robin started it was like a science experiment and he had pots and jars of starter around the kitchen that would hiss and sometimes explode.

“Everyone who came round the house had it shoved in their face to smell.”

Wapping Sourdough's filled baguettes
Wapping Sourdough’s filled baguettes – image Matt Grayson

Robin rises at 5am every morning to tend to his creation, heading to the bakery expansion on their home in Vaughan Road, which they built after landing £20,000 contracts for the London 2012 Games.

“I was a social worker in child protection for 20 years and bread making was an obsessive hobby,” he said.

“I was so into sourdough from when it first became popular. I built a brick oven in the garden and started making it with the kids. 

“I made it for charity and people started wanting to buy it. Then I saw an advert in East End Life for the Olympics, looking for local producers.

“I made an application, very naively as we weren’t a business – we were just doing market stalls on a Saturday. 

“We won two contracts for the corporate events for three weeks of work, despite competition from Angela Hartnett, so I gave up social work and set up a bakery.”

From there the couple were invited to sell at St Katharine Docks market with Clare stepping naturally into the business side of the partnership and fitting running the stall around looking after their children.

The 55-year-old said: “We had just had our sixth child when we launched the business and I think we were quite lucky in our relationship that I was able to stay at home and Robin was the breadwinner.

“It all happened accidentally really, our youngest was two when we got the opportunity to do the market at St Katharine Docks and these were always in school hours so I could drop the kids off and then pack up in time to pick them up.

“The people who used to run the market owned Partridges food store on the King’s Road invited us to do their Saturday market, which we did for seven years and really gave us a boost. 

“We did 10 different breads then and that was a lot harder for Robin because we would start on the Saturday evening, mixing the doughs and going right through to Saturday morning baking.”

So, the obvious question is, which is harder – making sourdough or raising six kids?

“Well I wouldn’t have got up that early for the kids and Robin never had to,” said Clare.

“I used to breastfeed and they were all in bed with us when they were little so he never had to wake up at all.

“But now he has to get up at 4am so I would say the six kids are easier. 

“One changes your life completely and two seems like hard work because you can’t split yourself. After three it doesn’t make any difference.”

Robin stayed diplomatically silent but said making sourdough was much less demanding than his previous career.

“It’s so ancient and there is so much respect for bread,” he said. “What I can’t get over is the amount of respect people have. 

“I was a senior manager in social work and I think I get more kudos now for making the bread than I ever did as a social worker. 

“It’s really important to people and our culture. I’ve had kids round from the local school, teaching them about bread and how to make it.”

He is keeping the secret of his sourdough to himself but said: “I can only make the bread I do now because I have been doing it for 20 years. It takes that long.

“The consistency is really difficult to achieve. You can look at a YouTube video and you might get lucky and make a great loaf the first time but I doubt you’d make a great loaf 10 times on the trot. 

“It’s something you have to judge all the time because we don’t have temperature controls and proving machines like in a professional bakery so you have to change what you are doing throughout the year. 

“Now winter is coming the bread tastes different and every loaf has a  varied flavour, which is what I love about it. You are not just churning out the same thing every day.” 

Robin said his bread didn’t taste like any other in the world because people were imbibing the very essence of Wapping itself.

“When you start learning about yeast you realise that it’s everywhere – pretty much on everything, on us and just flying around. 

“That’s where the name Wapping Sourdough comes from – the flavour of the bread is unique to wherever it’s created. You can’t recreate San Francisco sourdough here because the yeast is latent in the air. Hence why we’re Wapping Sourdough.”

Wapping Sourdough's focaccia
Wapping Sourdough’s focaccia – image Matt Grayson

Robin bakes about 25 loaves (£3.50 for 800g) a day, 50 vegetarian and vegan baguettes (£3) with fillings that include handmade hummus and pesto, focaccia with olive and sundried tomatoes (£3 a slice), 30 cakes and 20 flapjacks (£1.50).

The couple, whose other hobby is performing in panto for their local church St Patrick’s, had a crisis last year when flour supplies dried up during lockdown.

Clare said: “Everyone was going crazy buying supplies and we thought we would be stopped in our tracks. We just couldn’t get any.”

Luckily they managed to get a direct supply from Wright’s Flour and carried on. But Robin said the pandemic saw sales plummet from 150 baguettes a day to nine.

They survived by launching a home delivery and a pizza service but have now stopped those to focus on trading with the van.

Robin said: “Now we’re in the right place at the right time and it’s a really good deal for us. We want to take it forward and try to add to our repertoire.

“It’s got a coffee machine and electricity which opens up a world of opportunity for us. We’ll be starting to do Vagabond Coffee, sourdough melts and who knows what else?  

“I still love that it seems like a really honest transaction. We make something, people give us money for it and we can make a living from that. It is stressful in terms of it being hard, physical work but there isn’t that mental stress behind it. 

“We had the philosophy right from the start that we would only buy equipment once we had earned the money for it rather than paying it back later.”

Clare was previously out in Thomas Moore Square with a gazebo or umbrella and constantly watching the weather forecast.

She said London Dock bosses invited them to take on the van and have made it an easy transition for them.

Bake Off fan Clare hopes it is a step towards an easier life as she dreams of one day owning a shop.

“So far the business has really fitted in with our lifestyle, we could take time off for trips and assemblies, but now the kids are getting older, I would like to have a shop so we get other people who can do our jobs if needed.”

Robin, who reckons he could get a handshake from Paul Hollywood, but prefers Masterchef, said: “I’m quite happy. 

“Even though it’s been a long time I still feel very lucky to be able to do it. We still have two kids at home and I work from home and still get to spend a lot of time with them.”

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Stratford: Haugen opens its doors at The Pavilion in Endeavour Square

D&D London chairman and CEO Des Gunewardena tells us all about the new restaurant, cafe and bar

D&D London chairman and CEO Des Gunewardena
D&D London chairman and CEO Des Gunewardena

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Look at the cranes poking up behind The Pavilion at International Quarter London’s Endeavour Square in Stratford.

They, and the structures emerging from the top of its wooden ripples, herald the concrete arrival of nearby East Bank.  

They mean the BBC, Sadler’s Wells, the V&A, UCL and UAL are all on their way to east London and that’s just one of the reasons that Des Gunewardena sounds so cheerful on the phone.

While I couldn’t see the chairman and CEO of restaurant group D&D London during our chat, his voice held an easy, upbeat tone and no wonder.

The company he runs, which operates more than 40 venues in the capital and overseas, has just opened Haugen.

Spread across all three floors of The Pavilion, it stands on the main path from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to Westfield Stratford City and, crucially, the area’s multiple stations.

That also puts it squarely on the route not only for West Ham’s regular influx of fans, but also the forthcoming footfall for East Bank

It’s a fair bet the inhabitants of its arts and educational establishments will need a decent place to unwind and that’s what Des and his team aim to provide. 

The Pavilion sits in Stratford's Endeavour Square
The Pavilion sits in Stratford’s Endeavour Square

“Firstly, it’s in an amazing building, so hats off to Lendlease – the developer – for building it,” he said. “They approached D&D about doing restaurants in it, because they know we take  on madly big and crazy spaces, so we were perfect for The Pavilion.

“It’s a very bold design – when I first saw it, I thought that it was a real statement and the thing about that is it has to be good, otherwise people will hate it.

“They worked with Acme, who are top-class architects and really know what they are doing. They’ve created a very beautiful building, with all the curved wood and the glass – it is a total eye-catcher.

“When people first saw the building, I don’t think they knew what it was – whether it was  going to be a museum or a gallery?

“It has that central staircase and looks terribly grand for housing restaurants, cafes and bars.

“People asked me if it was going to be a Japanese restaurant, because it looked like a great pavilion from Kyoto.”

Spurred on from the success of its German Gymnasium in King’s Cross, however, D&D had other ideas for the space.

“The reason we’ve created the restaurant we have is because we felt the building looked like a beautiful modern chalet in Switzerland,” said Des.

“We’ve had big success with German Gymnasium so we wanted to do a bit of a variant on that. The food at Haugen is Swiss Alpine so you’ve got your raclettes, your tartiflettes and your fondues – those are the things that are flying out of the kitchen at the moment.

“We wanted to create the feeling of being in a restaurant in a ski resort – imagine coming inside from a windswept Stratford to open fires, wood and warm lighting and cosy furnishings.”

Haugen features a rooftop bar area
Haugen features a rooftop bar area

Haugen, which turns out to be a Norwegian word meaning ‘mound’, boasts a cafe-brasserie on its ground floor and a rooftop bar, sculpted to form an amphitheatre overlooking the square below with a second space open to East Bank and the park beyond. 

The restaurant proper – located on the first floor of the building and accessible by lift for those who don’t fancy climbing the stairs outside, is set to open on November 1.

Prior to that happening, diners can get a feel for things in the brasserie with two courses for £14.50 or three for £18.50 via a set menu that features dishes including truffled potato soup, Tiroler Wurstsalat with pork sausage and Emmental cheese, Alpine meatballs with raclette and Vegan schnitzel club roll with red pepper hummus.

The a la carte menu is heavy on the cheese, sausage and schnitzel options too, with numerous sharing options including a butcher’s platter of pork, chicken, bratwurst, red cabbage and potato dumplings. 

Mains are typically around the £20 mark and there is plenty of cake, gateau, torte and strudel to finish for about £7.

“Haugen is a bit of a guilty pleasure type restaurant in terms of the food,” said Des.

“Most people manage their food on the basis of what they eat the whole week, so occasionally you can go and have a lovely bottle of wine and a good old tartiflette, which is really good value at £12.50.

“I don’t honestly know if Germanic food is having a moment – we don’t really follow trends. We have the German Gymnasium and that’s very successful and we recently opened a restaurant in Bristol called Klosterhaus, which also serves Germanic food and that’s doing pretty well too.

“There are certainly more men and women drinking steins of beer in the places we run. Our main concern is doing things we think will be fun and that are going to work.”

While the longer-term future of Stratford looks bright with the influx of businesses, cultural institutions and housing developments ensuring the area will only become busier, it’s a short term shortage that has delayed Haugen’s full launch.

“As a business we’re struggling with staff,” said Des. “We’re currently employing about 1,700 people across London, but we are desperately short. 

“For Haugen it suited us to open the brasserie and the rooftop bar to get the kitchen and the front-of-house team working so we can fully open in November.

“The problem for us is you can’t take young kids off the street and have them serve customers who are spending £100 a head on dinner. They want people who know what they’re talking about in terms of wine, food and so on.

“The Government’s view is that we should just suck it up, pay everyone a bit more money and they’ll all come – that’s like a Sixth Form economic theory response in practice.

“Right now, for the skilled and semi-skilled jobs, particularly in the kitchen, the staff are not there. It’s not an easy issue to resolve, but provided we have control over immigration, why would we not want to ease up on visas and get more people in to work to help the economy, the NHS and the care sector?

“We are working almost day and night on initiatives to get more people into our industry, our business – those who were working in other sectors or different kinds of restaurants and that’s how we are addressing the problem at least for ourselves.” 

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Canary Wharf: German Doner Kebab opens restaurant on top floor of Cabot Place

Berlin-born fast food brand unveils its 71st branch as it promises products made with lean meats

An Original German Doner Kebab from the Canary Wharf branch
An Original German Doner Kebab from the Canary Wharf branch

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Much change is afoot at the top of Cabot Place’s mighty cylinder of escalators. Ride to the top and you’ll find hoardings abound as a fresh crop of restaurants moves in to Canary Wharf.

Lewis Hamilton’s plant-based Neat Burger is soon to arrive as is Marugame Udon, which promises to supply oodles of noodles.

Already open though is German Doner Kebab as the chain continues its roll-out across the UK. Canary Wharf is its 71st branch in this country with a further 26 in the pipeline worldwide this year.

We called up the chain’s managing director for UK and Europe, Daniel Bunce, to find out what Wharfers can expect from this emerging powerhouse of fast food.

what is GDK?

Our brand was born in Berlin in 1989 and expanded at the end of the century into the Middle East to Dubai. Then we came to the UK in 2015. We had six restaurants here at the end of 2017 and Canary Wharf is our 71st opening.

There is a fight about whether Germany or Turkey invented this kebab concept. Germany laid claim to it in 1971. What we offer is different from a  Turkish kebab.

We serve beef and chicken – you’ll notice I didn’t mention lamb. That’s where we differ. Both our beef and chicken skewers contain 93% pure lean meat with the rest seasoning and binding – that’s probably double the meat content you’d find in a standard kebab.

what should people try?

We’d always recommend you start with our Original German Doner Kebab with either meat or a mixture.

It’s such a great product – that combination of the bread, the sauces, the salad and the meat. It’s the right one to go to.

what other options are there?

We have an option called the Doner Box, which contains all the ingredients in a kebab and fries but allows you to avoid the bread – that’s great as a lunchtime snack.

We’re famous for a product we call the Boss Box, which has a rather large and grand feel. It was conceived during lockdown, originally for click and collect but it’s proven to be a huge hit with customers.

You get a choice of kebab, sauces and a choice of fries – we do different kinds such as spicy flaming fries, cheesy fries and curry fries.

We also have a home-grown product, which we invented called the Doner Spring Roll. We take our meats, add some jalapenos and a spring roll pastry, so you get a full meal in a box, with a drink, which you could eat outside, if the sun is shining, or it’s very handy to take back to your office and it’s not going to create a mess. It’s proving very popular.

MORE FOOD IN CANARY WHARF
Kaleido offers salads in rice paper roles
Yole sells sugar-free ice cream and frozen yoghurt
Urban Greens offers punchy salad bowls

what else are people ordering?

We do a selection of burgers with kebab meat in a brioche bun. We launched the Doritos Crunch Burger as a limited offer but it’s proved so popular it’s become a staple part of the menu.

Basically it’s our standard burger jazzed up using Doritos crisps and some melted cheese, which gives us another flavour.

We also have healthier options like the gym box which has up to 44g of protein and no carbs.

The Canary Wharf branch is already attracting a flow of diners
The Canary Wharf branch is already attracting a flow of diners

why Canary Wharf?

It’s a prime real estate – a really prestigious venue and the consumer here is very much our target demographic.

We’ve opened up in very nearly every major city in the UK and we know that our customers are young professionals, although our products are also eaten by families at the weekend.

what’s the restaurant like?

We don’t look like a kebab shop – we’re very bright with lots of colours and our kitchens are all behind glass.

We don’t hide anything from our guests. All the veg that we use is prepared in the morning, or during the day, depending on the levels of business.

We don’t carry any skewers of meat or any of our salad into the next day. So if you look into our kitchens last thing at night or first thing in the morning, there’s no leftover food – everything’s fresh and every single order is prepared in front of the customer. We’re very proud of that. We like to say that we serve quality food done fast.

what about sustainability?

We operate with very little waste – we use the meat from our kebabs in your spring rolls and our vegetables are prepared on a day-to-day basis and we top up later in shift if we need to.

We shave our meat very thinly so our products need to be wrapped up well to ensure everything is kept in the best possible condition, but we’ve made a conscious effort in the last couple of years to reduce the amount of plastic we use.

We want to do more and it’s definitely something we’re working on as well as with our suppliers to overcome the challenges that are presented by a business of our scale.

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Canary Wharf: Emilia’s Crafted Pasta prepares to open flagship at Wood Wharf

The restaurant and bar is set for the ground floor at 12 George Street and features table bocce

Emilia's Crafted Pasta founder Andrew Macleod
Emilia’s Crafted Pasta founder Andrew Macleod – image Matt Grayson

Five years ago, Andrew Macleod opened the first branch of Emilia’s Crafted Pasta at St Katherine Docks in east London. Following its success he opened a second, larger establishment in Aldgate in 2019.

Born of a passion for good pasta and a desire to bring it to Londoners freshly made, served with a punchy array of sauces and at a reasonable price, the brand continue to grow.

Now Andrew and his team are preparing to launch Emilia’s flagship restaurant at Wood Wharf, with the doors expected to open in November.

That will place his dishes within easy walking distance of the whole Canary Wharf estate, not to mention much of the Isle Of Dogs, for the first time.

“Wood Wharf is an evolved concept,” said Andrew. “Part of what we do at Emilia’s is to keep everything simple and fresh. That’s what we stand by in terms of our food, our business and how we run stuff.

“Whenever we go into an area, we want to be part of it, not impostors. So, what we’ve done with Wood Wharf is to have half the restaurant as more of an all-day bar – for example, there will be a tabletop version of bocce, an Italian game similar to French boules.

“Wood Wharf is going to be a neighbourhood where people come to work, live and enjoy themselves, so what we wanted was the space to be tailored to that.

“For me, that means I want people to walk in, play a bit of bocce, have a drink, a coffee and a catch up, or for them to be hanging out, sitting on a beautiful terrace overlooking the water and the park, eating pasta and drinking cocktails.

“The idea is that you’re coming into a bustling trattoria in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy – a place the whole concept pays homage to, both its food and the techniques used to make it.

“For me, the vision is that we want to bring 100% natural, affordable, fresh pasta to as many people as possible, in a way that respects those traditions, and feels very casual and Italian

“The more we can spread that, the happier I’ll be. We’re not in a rush, we’re not here just to open other branches – we just want to make this one right.”

The Wood Wharf restaurant will feature table bocce
The Wood Wharf restaurant will feature table bocce

The new restaurant will be located on the ground floor at 12 George Street, overlooking Harbour Quay Gardens and the boardwalk along West India South Dock. Inside visitors can expect rustic wooden furniture, plenty of marble and hand-painted tiles.

New dishes are promised, alongside Emilia’s core menu, which offers bowls of pasta costing between £8 and £14 – the Canary Wharf bar is also expected to offer a range of cocktails based on locally sourced fruits and Italian spirits. 

At full capacity, the restaurant will be able to accommodate 100 diners with 70 inside and 30 outdoors.

Andrew said: “For me, launching a pasta restaurant never had anything to do with trends. When I was at university, I loved pasta, but I was really disappointed, because I’d moved out of home and was trying to find good places that did it and the only ones  were big chains.

“About 10 years ago most of it was just frozen and horrible and places were charging £15 a bowl. You could pay £20 and get something a bit more high-end but I felt that didn’t really represent pasta in the way it was traditionally consumed in Italy, informally.

“I thought if Emilia’s could make pasta that was significantly better than what people were having at home in the UK, then we would be in with a shot as a brand.

“At the heart of Emilia’s, from day one, has always been that all our food is 100% natural.

“We make it on-site, start to finish, and anything we source, comes from people who are suppliers of food that I would eat every day at home myself and be proud to do so.

“That’s how we’ve built it, and we’ve never stepped away from that. We started in St Katharine Docks in November 2016. We had some nights in the early days without a single customer, but slowly people discovered us and we built up a following.

A bowl of pasta at Emilia's
A bowl of pasta at Emilia’s – image Matt Grayson

“Then we got so busy we decided to expand. Aldgate came in 2019 and now we have this fabulous opportunity to open in Wood Wharf.

“We want to be at the forefront of showcasing that, as a young brand, without much funding, you can, with tight cost control, a good team and a good culture, build something very meaningful, and we’ve grown organically from day one. Each of our restaurants comes off the back of our previous operation.

“For us, the key thing is that, if you do something sustainably, it should be able to continue for a very long time without damaging the world or the people who are with you.

“Most of our managers have been with us for more than three years. When Covid hit, we didn’t sack anyone, we paid furlough and topped up people’s wages because that’s who we are.

“Emilia’s is like a family, it lives on. It’s got to be that people are coming to work happy, doing their shift and going home happy. That’s our company culture.

“It’s about being able to see that you’re leaving the world a better place for all the people who have been part of the journey – that’s what sustainability is all about.

“When a business is built, you create jobs, livelihoods. You develop people, help them grow and, hopefully, the soil somewhere is better because it gets properly kept as farmers are following sustainable agriculture and processes to make it better. That’s what it’s about, and that’s what we strive towards.

“I’m very excited to be opening this restaurant and that we’re continuing our mission in one of London’s most exciting developments in a beautiful setting surrounded by green spaces and water.”

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Canary Wharf: How Urban Greens salads are all about depth, flavour and taste

Recently opened in the West Wintergarden, the brand believes it’s found a gap in the market

Urban Greens co-founder Houman Ashrafzadeh
Urban Greens co-founder Houman Ashrafzadeh – image Matt Grayson

While alone in offering frisbees, Kaleido isn’t the only new salad game in town. It’s also not the only company to bill itself as delivering something fresh.

Following the success of its first branch in St James’ Park, Urban Greens has opened a second in Canary Wharf, filling space opposite Obica in the West Wintergarden with leafy plants and plenty of pickled and blanched ingredients.  

The brand is the brainchild of co-founders Houman Ashrafzadeh, Rushil Ramjee and Ioannis Divas. The three met while studying and remained friends as their separate careers flourished. 

“We weren’t business partners to begin with,” said Houman. “But we’d always explore food places together – we’ve always had a big interest in it.

“I grew up in Sweden, Rushil in South Africa, although he’d also lived in London for a long time, and Ioannis in Greece. We would travel to South Africa and other places together and spot these amazing places for food.

“We always had the entrepreneurial spirit in us and, although we had successful careers in the corporate world, we knew that we wanted to do something of our own. A couple of years ago, one thing that came to our minds – London has always been, for us, an amazing place with the best restaurants that you can find on the planet.

“But when it came to the healthy fast food side of things, we always thought it was lagging behind. 

“We discovered that in Scandinavia and the US a lot of food brands were doing things that we couldn’t even find here. 

“So we started looking into different brands to get some inspiration and we spotted that, when it came to salads, there was a huge gap – no-one was doing them properly.

“You could find salads that had been around a long time, but these were plain ingredients in a bowl with a bit of dressing chucked in.

“They were nothing special, just very traditional, boring salads, which didn’t excite us. People would have them because they were considered healthy, but there was something missing.”

Serving up salad at Urban Greens
Serving up salad at Urban Greens – image Matt Grayson

It took the trio about two years to formulate their business plan, working between Athens, London and Stockholm, slowly creating the concept, discussing the menu and eventually negotiating with a landlord to open their first site in 2019.

Rushil and Houman left their jobs to concentrate on running Urban Greens in the UK with Ioannis taking a more passive role.

“It felt scary at first, because we were leaving very steady jobs – very predictable and comfortable lifestyles – doing something that was in a new industry for us,” said Houman.

“Our approach was that, we may not have experience, but we know what good food is, what good service is – we know what we like when we go to a good place. We wanted to try to implement those things in our own business.

“We launched in July 2019 and it started picking up really quickly. People would come in and try it and be very pleasantly surprised from a taste point of view, but also by the whole concept.”

That reaction may very well be down to Urban Greens’ tireless approach to creating a core menu of balanced salads that all offer something out of the ordinary.

“Our salads are not side salads – our portions are quite big,” said Houman. “It’s also impossible to replicate our salads at home because every flavour is elevated – we don’t have any plain ingredients.

“Each salad has a few elements in common – they all have a base such as cabbage marinated in olive oil and salt. 

“They all come with one form of protein. That could be quinoa or red rice, for example. 

“Then you have something pickled but not just a plain pickle – we add flavours to it. Our carrots are pickled with ginger so that enters the salad.

“Not everything can be pickled, as that would be overpowering, so we add other ingredients but again, we don’t just put cauliflower or broccoli in a bowl – we blanch them to take away that harshness. 

“They still add crunch – we don’t boil them – it’s the elevation of taste and flavour that comes with it. There are always vegetarian and vegan options.”

Urban Greens' Canary Wharf branch
Urban Greens’ Canary Wharf branch – image Matt Grayson

Core dishes include the Jakarta with tempeh, seasame marinated glass noodles, pickled carrots, edamame, bean sprouts, coriander, toasted peanuts and seasame seeds and the Beef Saigon with Irish pulled brisket, glass noodles, blanched broccoli, pickled cabbage, edamame, bean sprouts, fresh mint and toasted peanuts.

“The funny thing is I never get tired of the Beef Saigon or the Seoul Chicken because they both come with a really nice spicy dressing,” said Houman. 

“But we always try to encourage our customers to get out of their comfort zones and to try something new.

“The prices vary – the vegan ones start from £7.85, the ones in the middle are £8.85, and the premium ones are £9.95.

“When you visit Urban Greens, everything you see is the result of decisions we have been taking consciously – we are in control of it, involved in every little part of the business.

“After we opened our first store we were approached by quite a few landlords and Canary Wharf approached us.

“We took a look into it and, although neither of us had worked in Canary Wharf – we had worked in the City – we definitely thought that it was one place we wanted to move to as an expansion, but it came much sooner than we had anticipated when we were starting up in the beginning.”

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Canary Wharf: Why Kaleido is putting all kinds of salads in rice paper rolls

Co-founder Laura Mimoun explains how she and husband Denis Dahan came up with the brand

Kaleido co-founder Laura Mimoun
Kaleido co-founder Laura Mimoun – image by Matt Grayson

Kaleido sets itself a little bit apart. First of all, its Canary Wharf branch – the latest location to open and the third in a growing chain – is tucked away off the main stretch of mall that joins Canada Place to Cabot Place, round the corner and into the lower floor of One Canada Square. 

When Crossrail opens (although we’ve given up betting on when that will be), the shop will be on one of the main routes into the estate proper. But those days are in the future and Kaleido is slowly building by word of mouth and tempting visitors to nearby Santander.

It’s also an outlier in terms of design – arranged into an angular unit that used to house ATM machines, it doesn’t so much invite passers-by in as push out into the space in front of it with its wares proudly displayed on a bright island unit. 

Bright circular murals depicting some of the ingredients used in its products adorn the walls – bright, playful colours and graphics are the thing here. And that’s a choice too because it communicates something about the brand – that it’s approach to salad stands out from the crowd.

Salad rolls by Kaleido
Salad rolls by Kaleido – image by Matt Grayson

Kaleido was created by wife and husband team Laura Mimoun and Denis Dahan.

“I wasn’t working in hospitality at all,” said Laura. “I was working in marketing for chocolate brand Green & Black’s. One night, with my husband, we were making Vietnamese rice paper salad rolls – some people know then as summer rolls.

“We’re both French and these rolls are very well known in France. We don’t like to waste food and we had some rice paper.

“We just started putting other ingredients in the rolls and found that it worked very well as a salad sandwich.

“That was how we got the idea for Kaleido. We thought that this is something you can eat with your hands, much like you’d eat a burrito. You can dip it in sauces and have all sorts of different flavours inside. It’s mix and match and this is something we really like.”

From that initial spark of an idea sprung Kaleido, a shop that offers a range of 10 different salads wrapped in transparent rice paper.

Customers can order between one and 10 ranging in price from £2.75 to £19.95 respectively. The cost is the same regardless of the salads chosen The selection currently includes Falafel And Hummus, Tuna And Cucumber, Sweet Potato And Tahini and Chicken Caesar.

“The first part of starting the business was a lot of thinking – evaluating the risk and the opportunities, looking at market trends, and then making the jump,” said Laura. “We wanted to create a fun, healthy brand, so this is why you have the name Kaleido, from kaleidoscope, and it looks a bit different because it’s fun.

“We began by making the recipes at home, and created five flavours that we were happy with and liked cooking. The great thing about rice paper is it’s only 30 calories and what you see through it is what you get. First we did food markets and grew from there. 

“In 2018 we did what was supposed to be a pop-up at Selfridge’s but has since become permanent. Then we opened up in Kingly Street  and now Canary Wharf. 

“More and more people are eating our rolls at our existing units so we are growing, which is great because it’s been a tough year. 

“We were originally due to open in Canary Wharf in 2020, but then the pandemic hit – it may not have been the best idea to put ‘coming soon’ on the hoarding. But we launched on Freedom Day in July and we’re very happy with business growing week-on-week.”

Kaleido's Canary Wharf branch
Kaleido’s Canary Wharf branch – image by Matt Grayson

Part of that growth could well be down to the sheer numerical variety Kaleido’s model offers. Eating two rolls a day, it would take a working week to try everything available at lunchtime. The combinations multiply further when you factor in the optional dipping sauces available.

“When people come here they will find 10 flavours each day – some changing, some staying the same and all prepared at our Rainbow Kitchen in Bermondsey,” said Laura.

“The product is innovative in the way we execute the salads – we are the only people doing these rolls here and the idea is to reinvent the way people eat healthy food so it’s also convenient and fun. 

“The mix and match is very much about my personality – I’m a Libra and all my life I have wanted this and then that, so here you can have different flavours and sauces.

“My husband and I both come from corporate backgrounds – we’ve worked long hours at desks so we value the benefit of variety, of rotating flavours.

“No-one wants to eat the same sandwich everyday – if they do, then bring them to me and I’ll have a chat with them.”

In addition to the extra attractions of Little Moons Mochi ice cream for dessert, a range of drinks and pre-packed boxes of rice paper rolls – for those who just don’t have time to choose their lunch – Kaleido is responsible for another first.

As far as we know, the shop is the first in Canary Wharf to lend out frisbees to its customers, with six displayed on a wall below an invitation to borrow.

“So far, one person has played with a frisbee,” said Laura. “This idea comes from the fact that we want people to eat healthy and live healthy – coming here and having a few throws with your colleagues outside is what we want to promote – embracing health.

“Our Kaleido rolls are not a diet food product and we would never position ourselves like that. But we believe they are healthy – they’re made only with ingredients you would find in a normal kitchen.

“They’re fresh, they’re simple and this is our vision of healthy food – the frisbee is a bit of fun to go alongside that. The rolls are also very filling – when you see the box, you don’t realise.

“People often don’t know how packed they are with the salad, so we’re going to do more imagery of what is inside in the future.”

Laura, who is originally from Paris said she and her husband wanted to grow the brand in London and then continue to expand.

“First we want to have more of our cabinets so that people can experience this iconic Kaleido way of serving food,” she said.

“Then we would like to branch out to other cities in the UK and across Europe. I’d love to, one day, open a shop in Paris.” 

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Canary Wharf: Six By Nico opens Canary Wharf restaurant at Chancellor Passage

Brand owner Nico Simeone brings his six-course tasting menu concept to diners in east London

Six By Nico head chef Nico Simeone outside the Canary Wharf restaurant
Six By Nico head chef Nico Simeone outside the Canary Wharf restaurant

There’s something new in Canary Wharf. The estate has played host to many different kinds of cuisine served at everything from fine-dining establishments to street food kiosks. There was even a place that only served steak frites.

Six By Nico is different. Housed in a long, single-storey space in Chancellor Passage, opposite the Wharf’s Post Office, the venue is all dark finishes, dramatic lighting, plants in pots and banquettes decorated with antique maps of Docklands.

But it’s the food that’s the contrast. All guests are served a six-course tasting menu, the content of which changes every six weeks. There’s a vegetarian variant, a few extra dishes to bulk things out if wanted and an optional wine flight, but that’s the bare bones of it.

And it’s a model that works. Honed by Scottish head chef Nico Simeone in Glasgow, Canary Wharf is his eighth site in the UK as his brand expands.

“It was all kind of an evolution,” said the softly spoken cook. “I left school and then just stumbled into kitchens. I’ve been really fortunate that I found my passion.

“I just fell in love with it – that was bit of luck. From there I wanted to keep learning, work my way up in kitchens. I did that and then I was in the fortunate position where I was able to open a wee restaurant in Cleveden Road in Glasgow.

“It was called La Famiglia – an Italian family-run restaurant and then I re-branded it as Simply Fish.

“It probably spent about four years failing, to be honest – breaking even or losing money.

“I’ve made so many mistakes over the years. It’s cost us lots of money in some cases, but nobody should be scared to do that – you’re always going to take hits and bumps along the road and you just have to keep moving forward in the hardest times.

Filo canneloni with taramasalata – part of the extras bundle
Filo Canneloni With Taramasalata – part of the extras bundle

“I had one last roll of the dice and re-branded the restaurant as 111 By Nico. That was really the first time I’d put my personality in the food and we made tasting menus work. Then another site came up in Glasgow in the Finneston area of the city and I grabbed it with both hands – spending a wee bit of money from the year we’d been trading, which was the first time I’d made a profit. 

“Then I came up with the idea – I asked the question: ‘Why can’t we just change what we cook every six weeks?’. It started with Italian, then French and just evolved into Six By Nico.

“We serve a six-course tasting menu with the inspiration for it taken from a theme.

“For example, we may want our dishes to evoke memory or a destination. Right now, for the first six weeks in Canary Wharf – until September 20 – we’re doing a menu called The Chippie.

“My parents ran a fish and chip shop, so that’s a memory for me and all the flavours and courses through that menu are things I’d associate with that environment.

“What we say is it’s a new story every six weeks. That’s something to look forward to. The downside is you can get something that’s so successful and popular and then you throw it in the bin, so we’re always trying to create and improve on the last theme.

“We change the dishes eight times a year and, about four times a year, all the restaurants sync up, but London’s never done the New York menu, for example, which we know is good so it would be silly not to bring it here – we mix it up across the country.

“As far as working on new menus goes, I’ve been so fortunate – as the company’s grown we’ve been able to get talented people in, we have an amazing creative team.

“We all sit down and come up with ideas constantly, we do tastings to tweak and improve things and that’s how we do it.

Chips And Cheese - the first course at Six By Nico
Chips And Cheese – the first course at Six By Nico

“The Chippie starts off with chips and cheese – Parmesan, curry oil and a pressed potato terrine. It all finishes off with our take on a deep-fried Mars bar.

“The main course is smoked sausage with a trio of pork smoked under a cloche with the flavours of celeriac and apple.”

Nico said opening on the estate was simply down to visiting and getting a feel for the area.

“We work with agents to find sites and somebody said there was an opportunity in Canary Wharf,” he said. “I see a lot of places, but sometimes you go somewhere and you get that feeling – a gut instinct.

“I loved the spot and spent some time going around the area. I thought it was perfect for the restaurant. 

“I don’t even know what’s coming after The Chippie on the Wharf yet – we don’t necessarily plan that far ahead. 

“The big thing about Six By Nico is that we try to work seasonally – we’d never do the Amalfi Coast that’s in the other venues in winter, for example.

“I want people who come here to enjoy themselves, to have a good experience and be happy. 

“When I go to a restaurant I enjoy everything – the atmosphere, the staff, the team and the setting.

“The vibes of a place are a big thing for me. With the team here we’re really customer-focused – everything is about that.

“We don’t look at other businesses, we try to compete with ourselves to make us better.”

Trying The Chippie

So, what’s eating at Six By Nico actually like? The first thing to be aware of is the price. The six courses are priced at £37 per head. Add the wine flight – for £33 – and aperitif for £7.50 and a snack to go with it for £5 and you’re looking at £82.50 plus service. 

The dishes arrive as perfect little morsels – Six is the sort of place that errs on the side of quality rather than quantity, so the ravenous will need the add-ons, one of which comes in the form of delicious hunks of sourdough. 

As for the main attractions, they’re well presented, with artful dabs of sauce here and a sprig of greenery there. 

It’s very much dining as theatre – each arrival preceded by a discussion of what might appear and then the excitement of hunting around the plates for the promised flavours. 

The Chippie turns out to be a complex homage to the flavours of Nico’s youth, refined well away from their genesis but nevertheless amusing.

The scampi is crisp and rich, while the smoked sausage is more pork three ways than an improbably red saveloy and the chips and cheese, a gentle nod in the direction of the deep fat fryer rather than a full-on takeaway delight.

But the restaurant is beautifully kitted out, dressed in golds and rich coppers that lift the whole experience – an engaging venue to tempt back the audience for the next performance. 

And a special mention should go to the steak pie – a smart, meaty delight of a course.

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Canary Wharf: Yole opens Canada Place branch as two friends grow their business

Brand developed in Spain sells ice cream and frozen yoghurt with no added sugar as a healthier dessert

Image shows Milad Nawaz and Salman Qureshi of Yole - image by Matt Grayson
Milad Nawaz and Salman Qureshi of Yole – image by Matt Grayson

Milad Nawaz and Salman Qureshi have been friends for about 20 years. Friends at university, the pair sold sunglasses together at Harvey Nichols before both embarking on careers in banking.

“I was probably the better salesman,” said Milad, who subsequently became a consultant. “We used to try to take each other’s customers.”

“We’ve actually had arguments over this,” said Salman, who left banking after a couple of years to go into retail, partially at least because he didn’t like wearing a suit every day.

The warmth between the two men – born 20 days apart – is palpable. As we chat they earnestly praise each other’s skillsets, the foundation of a business partnership born in 2014 as they began to discuss working together.

The pair’s first experience of franchising came in 2016 when they opened a branch of Subway in Leyton. They grew that business to 11 outlets before selling two and maintaining a portfolio of nine.

In 2019 they became the master franchisors for Wok & Go – a food store where customers see their noodles cooked fresh in front of them – in a deal that gave them the rights to the whole of greater London.

It’s a business they’re keen to grow with an east London branch expected to open in Canning Town in the coming months.

But right now the focus is on something sweeter, albeit without the usual sugar rush – ice cream and frozen yoghurt brand Yole, which opened in Canary Wharf on August 14.

“We actually debated for a while because we were looking for another venture and it was Milad’s idea to get a dessert, but something healthy,” said Salman.

“We spent a lot of time doing research – about a year searching for a brand – and we found Yole and it ticked the boxes.”

A serving of ice cream from Yole - image by Matt Grayson
A serving of ice cream from Yole – image by Matt Grayson

Milad added: “We’d been looking at bubble tea, which is a big trend, but that’s full of sugar – for me, I want to enjoy dessert and not worry about the calories.

“A medium cup of Yole is equivalent to a mango, a small cup works out at about a banana.

“Our servings start at 55 calories and then you add the fruit so you have something that has protein and fibre in it and it’s gluten free.

“Every new product that the owners are developing is also sugar-free.

“For example we’ll have a bubble waffle coming out later this year and that’s the first sugar-free one in the world. Yole started off in Singapore – the founders began by franchising for another ice cream brand but they decided they wanted to change it up and spent two years making a sugar-free version. 

“The whole concept is healthy desserts – something you don’t have to feel guilty about. That’s how we fell in love with it”

Salman said: “The products are developed in Spain and the owners are Spanish. They have massive plans to open worldwide.

“We’re looking to expand in the UK and we have master franchisor rights for that.”

Canary Wharf is the pair’s second opening in the UK, having already launched an outlet at Lakeside shopping centre. Plans are in the pipeline for further branches at Canary Wharf, Covent Garden, Shaftesbury Avenue and Westfield White City, with further hope for one at Westfield Stratford City.

“Our plan is to open five stores initially – the first thing you want to do is to make sure the customers love it and that it works in this country,” said Milad. “Then we want to roll it out across the rest of the UK.”

Yole offers its core products in a variety of different ways – in small, medium and large cups with a selection of toppings including fresh fruit, sauces and – for those who need a bit of sugar, marshmallows and M&Ms.

“The customers who have tried it at Lakeside have loved the taste,” said Salman. “We also have something unique – the cone, which we make in front of them once they’ve ordered. I haven’t come across anyone making them fresh and warm and also, the size of it is a lot larger than you’ll find in many other places, making it really good value.”

The Canary Wharf branch of Yole - image by Matt Grayson
The Canary Wharf branch of Yole – image by Matt Grayson

Cones cost around £3.95 at Yole, while other options such as having bubble tea pearls included with your ice cream or a serving of pre-flavoured Twist cost £4.95 and £4.45 respectively.

“The Twist has been very well received – people sometimes think it’s like a McFlurry but it’s covered with fruit and it’s sugar-free,” said Salman.

Milad added: “The Boba is following the trend of bubble tea, so you’ll have the tapioca balls with mango or strawberry and you have it with the ice cream instead of with the tea. Our products are great for children because they don’t get that sugar rush and they’re also suitable for diabetics. There’s something for everyone.”

Salman said: “I have a four-year-old and this is the first time I’ve let him go crazy on ice cream.

“We really believe in the ethics of the brands we’re working with now. We’re very conscious about promoting things that are healthy. I want my son to be eating healthy food and I want to sell things I’d give to my kids.

“We’re also very conscious of being environmentally friendly – everything that can be is recyclable or breaks down.

“We’ve all seen the weather recently and we can all do our bit by educating the people around us and raising awareness about climate change. We all need to work together and brands need to get behind that. Yole is certainly doing its bit.”

Canary Wharf was selected as a place to open partly due to Milad’s knowledge of the area.

“Because Milad has worked in Canary Wharf for years he had a particular vision,” said Salman. “For example, he just knew this site would work for Yole.”

Milad said: “Everyone here works really hard and they are concerned about what they eat. 

“You can see Farmer J is doing really well because it’s all freshly made in the morning.

“People don’t mind paying a little bit more for something healthy. Investment bankers work 12 hours a day, the least they can do is eat healthily. For us, it’s about getting the message out there that Yole is healthy.”

While the pair are currently working hard on their various franchise options, they said they were very happy to talk with anyone else who was considering leaving the corporate world to start their own business.

Milad said: “If there’s anyone who wants to talk about doing it, we’re very open. We’ll always try and help because we had mentors when we were younger and they guided us. I would say for those considering starting their own thing that you should stay working in your job at the start.

“There is a lot of risk involved and you should work to get it to a point where the business is stable first.”

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Royal Docks: Cyrus Todiwala’s Cafe Spice Namaste set to open at Royal Albert Wharf

Relocation of Prescot Street restaurant after 25 years sees east London welcome chef to quayside

Cyrus and Pervin are set to open Cafe Spice Namaste in August
Cyrus and Pervin are set to open Cafe Spice Namaste in August – image James Perrin

Aldgate’s loss is the Royal Docks’ gain. After more than a quarter of a century operating in Prescot Street, Cafe Spice Namaste – the flagship restaurant in Pervin and Cyrus Todiwala’s family business – has been forced to relocate, after losing its lease to a new landlord with an eye on redeveloping the venerable red brick building it occupied, as offices.

With the pandemic biting and hospitality reeling, the couple initially looked at opening on Commercial Street in nearby Shoreditch before a former employee, living in east London, got in touch.

“She said: ‘Why don’t you come to Royal Albert Wharf? It would be nice for a little cafe’,” said chef patron Cyrus. “So we looked at it and decided in the end to establish a wider business.

“There are lots of plans in my brain, which gradually we will put into action and, fingers crossed, we will succeed.”

At the heart of everything will be a fresh incarnation of Cafe Spice Namaste, set to open in August and located on Lower Dock Walk, less than 10 minutes on foot from Gallions Reach DLR.  

While the setting – overlooking the waters of Royal Albert Dock towards the University Of East London, Excel and London City Airport – provides the backdrop, there’s little doubt that the food will be the most potent draw. 

It would be easy to fill the remaining space on this spread by simply listing Cyrus and Pervin’s many achievements – not least holding a Michelin Bib Gourmand for nearly two decades, which would make the new restaurant the farthest east in the capital (by some distance) to trouble the guide, should it be similarly recognised.

But rather than cover the same ground as a recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme – which has already done a great job of distilling and presenting the background to the Todiwalas’ current situation (including their notice to quit their old premises, Cyrus’ successful battle with cancer and the story of Bombay Duck) – we’re going to focus on the future. 

Cyrus intends to start things off with a few informal evenings for those signed up online to his Greedy Pigs Club before opening the venue officially.

He said: “We always had a splash of colour and I think that will come here too. This space is a lot more modern, with big windows, so it will feel different, but we want to bring back as much of the feel of the original Cafe Spice Namaste as we can. The food is a variety of Indian cuisine, not stuck to any one region or area, though we do have an emphasis on my own style of cooking which is Parsee and we do a lot of Goan food because of my background working there for several years. We try to bring in as much of the sub-continent as possible. At the new restaurant, the classics that our regulars will be familiar with will remain – the rest will evolve.

“We will do specials around seasonal British produce and we’re also thinking that, in this area, it may be easier for people to have more shared plates, which will be small plates so we can present a bigger variety and bring more choice to the menu. We’ll also hold supper-club style events once a month that people can register for online.”

Cyrus has many ideas he hopes to develop in Royal Docks
Cyrus has many ideas he hopes to develop in Royal Docks – image James Perrin

Without the goodwill and support of its loyal group of regulars, it’s likely Cafe Spice Namaste wouldn’t be coming to the Royal Docks or anywhere else, for that matter. 

It was hit especially hard by the pandemic because of its location in the City – losing almost all passing trade – and never having focused much on takeaways, so a group of three customers led a funding drive, raising nearly £50,000 to help with the move.

Cyrus said: “That felt really amazing – where else would you have customers willing to put money in and help you relocate and re-establish yourselves? 

“That money gave us a big stepping stone. Hospitality has been decimated and we were certainly not alone in many of the difficulties we faced, but we had other problems and issues as well. We weren’t able to benefit from local sales as the City was deserted.”

His other restaurants, based in Hilton hotels, including Mr Todiwala’s on the Isle Of Dogs and one near Heathrow, remain closed too, victims of business models upset by Covid-19. In the short-term, then, it’s up to Cafe Spice Namaste to be the lead in the charge for recovery. 

During the photoshoot for this piece, a service boat was visiting Royal Docks, loading up on fresh water to supply a recently arrived superyacht in central London. Having not used the craft in a while, its crew were allowing the excess to gush through the system and down into the depths below to Cyrus’ visible discomfort. The spectacle of so much water apparently going to waste was a tough watch for a man from Bombay – a visible sign of one of the key ingredients in his makeup.

Perhaps one of the reasons the Todiwalas were able to find support in the community is that Cyrus has been persistently outward looking, keen to get deeply involved with the creation of the produce he uses and to ensure as light a touch as possible on the planet. 

“I grew up in an area with acute water shortages and no electricity for most of the day,” he said. “I wish I could get more people to see how the culture here is so wasteful – nobody considers what happens to things once they’ve been put in the bin.

“We started recycling bottles in 1992 – nobody had heard of it then and nobody wanted to do it, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of throwing them away.”

He’s also run farms producing pigs and poultry as well as agricultural plantations of pineapples, coconuts, cashews and mangos. More recently, he was the first chef ambassador for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, presenting Mudchute Park And Farm on the Isle Of Dogs with its approved status in 2017 and in June took over from the late Albert Roux as group chef ambassador with The Clink Charity, which delivers training to inmates in British prisons. He’s also in talks with a farm project in Greenwich to supply Cafe Spice Namaste with seasonal vegetables to minimise food miles.

As part of his latest venture he is also hoping to establish an academy to train young people at Royal Albert Wharf.

“We will start with one-off classes for four hours and it will grow slowly,” said Cyrus. “But some people will want to do a week and, if there’s interest and demand then we’ll build that in.

“As the restaurant opens it will be a stressful time – it’s always difficult to find your feet, but we’ve been at this for many, many years and so we’re prepared, compared to the newer operators.

“I want this to be a place that the community accepts, that draws people to us, supplying their needs at different levels. 

“One gentleman living across the water has already asked us to supply a week’s menu to him every seven days, so we’re doing that, and other people may want the same. If people sign up to our newsletter then they’ll get all the information about what we’re doing, what we’re developing. There are loads of ideas that are brewing and, when we are established, we can start to implement them.

“I’ve had a great life and a good career so far. It’s been hard, but that’s because I take on extra things, thinking about how I can help the community and what I can do for young people. But if I’d done it differently I probably wouldn’t have learned as much as I have.”

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