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Canary Wharf: How Kerb’s West India Quay operation has gone social

Street food business sets up not-for-profit to help traders start and grown their operations

Wandercrust founder Gavin Dunn is running Kerb Social Enterprise

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Buy a meal from a street food trader at Kerb On The Quay and you will be doing much more than filling your stomach, from now on.

A year ago, Kerb made a radical change. 

After nine years of running markets across London that championed food startups – including the popular West India Quay spot – the business decided it needed to do more.

So it set up a not-for-profit social enterprise arm and hired Gavin Dunn, founder of pizza company Wandercrust and graduate of its own Inkerbator programme, to run it.

“I’ve always been really passionate about the ethos of Kerb – of breathing life and vitality into otherwise quiet areas of London and supporting a really diverse ecosystem of great foods from around the world,” said the 49-year-old, who is managing director of the company Kerb Social Enterprise.

“When I saw the job on LinkedIn, I felt pretty well placed to apply.”

Kerb already knew Gavin had experience with street food and his own consultancy in business development and HR, but its managers were impressed to find out he also had an extensive background with social enterprises and charities.

Gavin said it meant his experience perfectly matched the extremely niche role.

“There’s not that many food-based social enterprises so, not to blow my own trumpet, but I knew as soon as I saw the role it was quite nailed-on for me,” he said.

The first step in creating the new company ecosystem was “engaging” and, over the last 12 months, Gavin has worked to find more charity partners across four areas – youth unemployment, ex-offenders, refugee support and homelessness.

The aim is to discover hidden talent among the most disadvantaged communities in London to join its programmes and help diversify the street food scene.

“That early stage of the ecosystem is really important to me,” said Gavin.

“I went through the Inkerbator programme but was absolutely fortunate enough to have been able to afford my own pizza truck. 

 “I had a certain level of privilege to be able to set up Wandercrust while running my consultancy. 

“I’m well aware that early stage presents such a barrier to individuals in being able to pursue their dream of running their own food businesses.

“We’re reaching out to these charities to see how we can remove those barriers, work with them and offer support to get them onto our Inkerbator programme and trading at our markets.

Meatstop founder Benjamin Page began barbecuing aged 11. He now serves burgers, made from the finest ingredients and graduated from Kerb’s Inkerbator in October

“That’s where we are really plugged in to parts of London that we otherwise would have overlooked in the past.”

The new era, which dawned as Kerb began celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2022, relies heavily on its West India Quay market.

It restarted in March and is now where all Inkerbators must cut their teeth every Wednesday from 11.30am to 2.30pm.

Full Kerb members trade at the site every Thursday from 11.30am to 2.30pm.

So far this year it has produced 23 graduates, including The Yeast Brothers, who have now opened their own restaurant in Deptford.

The last cohort graduated in October, so the Wednesday market is paused for now, but will return in 2023 with a fresh set of traders for Wharfers to try.

“We take a lot of time and care to make sure the businesses that come through the programme have the best experience possible and we can rely on West India Quay for that,” said Gavin.

“Canary Wharf is the home of London’s markets, and street food markets are the original business incubators, where people shared ideas and practices.

“It’s really nice to have brought it back to Canary Wharf this year and long may it last. 

“We choose to do it there because of the crowd. The customers love it and recognise its value and you can feel it at an Inkerbator market.”

The Woolwich resident still remembers the buzz of trading there for the first time in 2016 with Wandercrust, which now trades in Greenwich.

“There’s nothing like it really,” said Gavin. “It’s excitement but you are anxious and you can still feel that at Inkerbator markets now.

“It means I know exactly how new businesses owners coming on to the programme feel.”

He also knows first hand the world of opportunities the programme can open up.

“One of the main benefits I found at Inkerbator was just this development of a network of like-minded creative, food-loving small businesses. It enables that collective spirit,” he said.

“It feels incredible for me to now be responsible for it and help rebuild it after the pandemic.”

Sadish Gurung, left, and Subash Gurung, both worked in IT before launching Nepalese food business Filili which serves up Momo bite-size dumplings, below. They graduated in October

Kerb, which also runs markets across London and a successful event catering arm with food service group Compass, shut down most of its activities over 2020 and 2021.

During that time it received 750 applications for Inkerbator.

Its team research and chat to each one, but also scout and approach businesses to invite, to ensure they are finding the best.

Those offered a place go through the coaching stage of the ecosystem, followed by six weeks of trading at West India Quay.

Once the incubating stage is complete and traders have graduated into full members, the accelerating stage kicks in.

Many go on to trade at the Thursday market at West India Quay and Kerb also offers regular networking events to its 100-plus members, some of whom have been with the business since its inception.

“It can be a lonely place, being a food business owner,” said Gavin. “So being part of a collective really helps to get everyone’s creative juices flowing.”

Becoming a social enterprise was a big change but Kerb was already working with charities such as Food Behind Bars to find potential members.

“We’ve worked with a guy called Marcus who had the idea of setting up a Caribbean pie and mash business,” said Gavin.

“I first met him in Brixton prison and now he’s working with us to gain work experience to help get him work in hospitality, but also to hopefully one day get onto our Inkerbator programme to set up his own street food business.”

It also works with The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN) and one of its founders is on Kerb’s advisory board. 

One of the most popular traders at the Quay is Oshpaz, which was set up by Uzbekistan refugee Muzaffar Sadykov after he was referred by TERN and completed Kerb’s Inkerbator programme in February 2019.

Transforming into a social enterprise means the company now has more money to invest in its work with these charities as there are no shareholders or dividends.

“If you buy a bowl of plov from Muzaffa, not only will the the money go straight to him, but any pitch fee he pays Kerb is reinvested back into supporting early stage food businesses to help them grow through the Inkerbator,” said Gavin.

Kerb partnered with both charities and new partner homeless charity The Connection at St Martin In The Fields, to launch its first big move for the new social enterprise in the summer.

It partnered with McCain for initiative Streets Ahead offering free workshops to 100 less advantaged people. 

“We’re already seeing individuals that The Connection has worked with referred to us and we’re supporting them either into work or talking about how they would go about setting up their own food businesses,” said Gavin.

Jan Manrique from RiceON.LDN serves Korean bulgogi and graduated from the Inkerbator in March

“We’re always looking for new partners and more support and we would like to do a lot more because there’s so much food talent out there and individuals that would love the opportunity to do it.

“But there are still a lot of barriers in the way, which we’re working really hard to remove.”

Gavin said next year was going to be a big one for Kerb.

“There’s loads of things in the pipeline that we’re excited about,” he said.

“Not least, working with all of the charities I’ve mentioned and removing those barriers to entry into food entrepreneurship for individuals who are just leaving prison or have refugee status. 

“It really does feel as though we’re in a unique position – we’ve got so much to offer.”

He added: “I’m passionate about supporting small, independent businesses and have yet to come across a business that is better at doing that than Kerb.

“It’s a privilege to be able to be the person doing this for Kerb. 

“It’s had such success over the first 10 years and I’m determined to make the next 10 years equally as successful and ground breaking.”

He hopes West India Quay will continue to embrace its new traders as they diversify and hopefully extend the number of days they trade there next year.

“We’ve had such amazing support from the customer base,” said Gavin. 

“It hasn’t been as busy this year because with hybrid working not everyone’s in the office all the time.

“But what we have seen is real support from people who want to make sure that we remain there.

“People tell us they plan their days in the office around market day and some people come over and order 30 different meals to take back and make it into an office event.

 “Kerb’s remit has always been to breathe life into spaces, to bring some colour, diversity and flavour to an area that might otherwise be less vibrant. 

“I really think we’ve done that at West India Quay but also in the wider Canary Wharf area. You see so many more small food businesses there now and I like to think Kerb played a small part.”

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Deptford: How Taca Tacos mixes flavours of Mexico and California in Deptford

Restaurant owner Thorne Addyman talks juggling looking after a newborn with opening his first site

Thorne Addyman, owner of Taca Tacos in Deptford – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

When we chat, Thorne Addyman is rumpled, tired and a little distracted.

Pretty standard for someone who has launched their first restaurant – Taca Tacos – during an economic crisis.

But his disarray is also due to the Deptford resident recently becoming a father.

If you think it sounds bonkers to bring new life into the world at the same time as launching a Mexican restaurant, I agree.

But Thorne said opening in Deptford Market Yard a few weeks before his daughter was born felt just right.

“I’ve been interested in the arches for a while but it’s a big commitment,” said Thorne, who has spent years cooking at pop-ups and markets. 

“A year ago, I did go and view one, but didn’t feel ready.

“Then, it was still available in June, so I asked to have another look and it felt like the right decision to go for it.

“Deptford feels more alive this year and it seems like people who don’t live here are taking it more seriously and saying it is really coming up. 

“I only live four minutes away and was having a baby, so that made it all very manageable.”

Reality is hitting a bit differently now he has to get up in the night for nappy changes and feeds.

But Thorne does seem to be managing the juggle admirably, roping in family to help with babysitting while he preps ingredients.

The restaurant serves up six varieties of tacos, inspired by Thorne’s trips round the food truck scenes in California and Mexico – where he had his eyes opened to the amazing variations of the dish.

Food at Taca Tacos in Deptford Market Yard – image Matt Grayson

His menu includes the bestselling beef birria, which takes six-hours to slow-cook in a broth flavoured with four different chillies that’s then served on the side for dipping.

There is also the green chile pork served with avocado, pink onions, jalapeno salsa and coriander; the chicken pibil, baja fish, pulled ‘shrooms quesataco and a black bean taco.

“There are no rules for tacos,” said Thorne. “There are combinations of flavours that work better, but it is just about carrying food to your mouth.

“Going on those trips really helped me understand how amazing Mexican food can be and how that’s missing in this country.

“It’s mind-boggling that everywhere you go they have their own styles.

“In Mexico City I had an Argentinian fusion taco with smoked cheese and rib-eye steak.

“I’m interpreting different areas and bringing a different collection of flavours and styles to London.

“The Mexican wave is very early on and I’m hopefully catching it at the right time.”

Formerly an east Londoner, Thorne and his wife moved to Deptford in 2018 attracted by its “cool vibe”.

“It felt like there was a strong community here and such an array of food and drinks and shops as well,” he said.

“Walking down the high street, it almost felt like you could be in a different country with the smells, colours and fabrics.”

As we talk I can sense Thorne is in that new baby haze, where parents are prone to streams of consciousness.

“It is still in the phase where it’s all very new and we’re like: ‘What is this thing? How do we keep it alive?’,” he said.

The restaurant blends Mexican and Californian flavours – image Matt Grayson

My request for some career background is met with a 20-minute rundown of his life from age 14, when he started as a pot washer in his home town of Hay On Wye in Wales.

He talks about learning the importance of little things such as caramelizing onions for flavour, his move to London to work at Jamie Oliver’s steak restaurant Barbecoa in St Paul’s, and his two-year hiatus at a food and drink PR agency in Shoreditch.

The pull between kitchen and office continued, with a stint doing savoury waffle pop-ups in east London followed by a job for St Austell brewery in sales. 

“I didn’t love it or hate it,” said Thorne. “But fast forward two-and-a-half years and I got that itch again to do something with food. 

“My mum’s family are American and we were very lucky as kids that we were able to go to California near enough every year, where there’s lots of Mexican food.

“So my wife and I went on a road trip there and spent a lot of time eating tacos to really soak up some of the Mexican food that was about.

“When we came back, I started recipe testing and finding authentic suppliers in London.”

In June 2019 Thorne started with a four-week taco pop-up at The Greenhouse in New Cross Road (since closed), which sold out every night.

A three-month stint at a tequila bar in Dalston was juggled around his job, but just as momentum was building, Covid hit.

Furloughed from work, Thorne sold taco meal kits and a partnership with Plateaway saw his numbers jump from batches of  20 that he hand-delivered in south-east London to selling 200 a week nationwide.

“We got lots of good reviews, lots of bloggers wanted to try them but, as lockdown began to ease, we had to stop,” he said.

“All the way back in 2018, I’d put in a proposal for Brockley market, which is notoriously difficult to get into, but then the guy who runs it contacted me the day before we got married last August, and asked if I could do tacos there.

“It was a big moment as it’s established – some of the traders have been there for 10 years and it was a gateway to something a bit more serious.

“I could buy some equipment and it wouldn’t just be a pop-up.

Thorne cooks beef for six hours for his beef birria tacos – image Matt Grayson

“We did that every Saturday and built up a customer base and got lots of good feedback.  

“It was the first time I was able to interact with customers and having them come up and tell you they’ve enjoyed it makes it all worthwhile.”

Events with Kerb and wedding catering followed and then Thorne decided to up his game with a trip to Mexico.

“I hadn’t ever been before, which I didn’t feel was great given I was selling tacos,” he said.

“I went to Mexico, southern California and Austin, Texas – I read lots of books and blogs and ate tacos and burritos all day.

“The food trucks of LA  became a big inspiration for our business.

“It’s a pretty good way of bringing it over to London because they are Mexican families but they cater for western buyers.

“Going there, seeing it, eating it, tasting it was so important. Knowing my food was up to scratch compared to those who have cooked it from recipes that have been in families for generations.

“When I came back, I felt fully inspired.”

He had taken on Deptford local Tung Van Phan as head chef in November who encouraged him to go for it, when the Market Yard space came back on the table.

“Tung has completely thrown himself in and I could not have done this without his help,” said Thorne. “He is such a big part of the story and the journey. “

The duo spent time building the menu and the venue, with handmade tables, authentic Mexican ingredients and finishing touches Thorne said made all the difference.

“We spend three hours making a salsa because the ones you buy aren’t fresh,” he said. 

“They don’t really give you that hit of deliciousness and umami, where you taste all of the different levels.

“We spend a lot of time recipe testing and speaking to butchers and suppliers about what they’ve got. 

“I think the tortillas I use are the best in the UK because they are made fresh by two Mexican guys and delivered the next day.”

So how is he managing to juggle childrearing and restaurant running?

“It’s been a crazy couple of months really,” he said.

“We’ve got family based in Deptford so yesterday my auntie picked our daughter up and one of her cousins was playing with her all day.

“I was able to do prep and my wife was able to sleep.

“Being a parent is a completely new area of life that you never knew existed until you’re in it. It’s definitely been interesting doing both.”

Thorne visited California and Mexico for inspiration – image Matt Grayson

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Canary Wharf: Why Feels Like June is all about the warmth of welcome

Restaurant and bar at recently opened Tribe hotel wants to draw residents and workers to Wood Wharf

Feels Like June is located in Wood Wharf
Feels Like June is located in Wood Wharf

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It wasn’t so very long ago that there wasn’t really much to visit Wood Wharf for. Those days of promissory hoardings are long gone.

MMy Wood Wharf is finding its feet, complete with a basement jazz club, Emilia’s Crafted Pasta is well established as a place for generous bowls and Hawksmoor continues to be a lunchtime hit, ably assisted by arguably one of the best bars on the Wharf – The Lowback – beneath.

But those are just for starters. Patty&Bun, a chain so hip all its melons are twisted, is serving decent drippy burgers on Park Drive and recently launched hotel Tribe has opened its doors as the first place for visitors to stay actually on the Canary Wharf estate. 

Its bar and restaurant, which also acts as a workspace, is the optimistically named Feels Like June – a moniker that is entirely appropriate for a heatwave but that might be more a reach in, say, January.

For restaurant manager, Juan Esquivel, the name is more about the warmth of welcome his team and the hotel aim to extend to visitors and guests.

“First of all, we are casual – you won’t find us in suits,” he said.

“We want people to feel like they are on holiday when they come here and we don’t want people staying with us at Tribe in their rooms, we want them here.

“The social hub is the lobby and there’s a salad bar and a grab-and-go coffee shop.

Feels Like June manager Juan Esquivel
Feels Like June manager Juan Esquivel

“But Feels Like June also works as a standalone restaurant. It’s inspired by California both in what we serve, but also by the state’s summer vibe.

“I think the designers have done a really good job – you won’t find a normal linear restaurant here.

“It’s more relaxed, like a lounge, so people can sit with a drink and a book or do some work on a laptop.

“We want this place to be for everybody – an approachable product with great service – a place where Wood Wharf’s residents can meet holidaymakers, Canary Wharf workers and the hotel’s guests.

“The name isn’t about the weather, it’s about the warmth we bring to our guests. The seasons may change, but here you will get that same summery feel – always welcoming.”

Originally from Argentina, Juan has worked in Mexico, Spain and London, most recently for six months at Gaucho.

“I’ve always worked for luxury brands and, for me, coming here was about asking why we can’t bring that level of service and product to a wider audience,” he said.

“Tribe is part of Ennismore (which recently merged with hospitality giant Accor), and we are really proud to be the first hotel on the Canary Wharf estate.

“As a brand it’s a new concept and this is the first in the UK – the flagship for all of the openings around the world.”

Open all day with options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, food and drink-wise, Feels Like June promises diners dishes that prioritise health and natural ingredients.

“Personally I love the sea bass, which comes with herb butter and lemon curd,” said Juan. “It’s very tasty and the steaks are good as well.

“All of our desserts are gluten-free and we do things like a banana split because that’s something fun to share – we have a lot of families at the weekend so it works for kids as well.

Food at Feels Like June
Food at Feels Like June

“We also have a caramelised pineapple dish with mango sorbet, which is very summery and has rum in it so there are lots of tropical flavours.

“At the bar we are looking to have lots of low alcohol versions of drinks – our versions of classics.

“For example, guests can have our Minimal Colada, a version of a Pina Colada that’s clarified and more summery with coconut rum, banana, pineapple, coconut water and salt.

“The idea is you can have a drink with lunch and be fine to do some work.”

Guests can expect to pay around £13 for a cocktail, while small plates cost between £8 and £17. Main dishes range from £14 to £25 and salads are about £12. 

“We’re open for breakfast and we will have a lot of guests from the hotel, but we also have an a la carte menu for our other customers,” said Juan.

“We’ve also just introduced a brunch menu, which we think is going to be very popular at the weekend.

“Feels Like June really brings a different kind of space to Canary Wharf where everyone can find something to enjoy.

“We already have regulars and I really like our staff to engage with our customers and to have conversations with them. 

“In turn I think the people who are living here are very happy that more things are opening. Here we want people to always feel that they are welcome.”

The bar at Feels Like June
The bar at Feels Like June

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Deptford: How The Yeast Brothers blend youth and experience in their business

Pizza restaurant at Artworks Creekside uses secret blend of flour and time to create signature dough

Rafael Pinto and Ale De Menezes are The Yeast Brothers
Rafael Pinto and Ale De Menezes are The Yeast Brothers – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

They say you are what you eat. Well, layers of Deptford life are folded into the pizza at The Yeast Brothers.

Firstly, the sourdough base is made by catching the wild yeast in the air around the Artworks Creekside and fermenting each ball of dough for 48 hours.

“The dough is the main thing,” said co-founder Rafael Pinto, 25. “We don’t like to talk about what goes into ours – it’s secret – but we mix different types of flour so it is very light and crispy at the same time.

“It’s all about the fermentation. If you leave it to over-ferment it’s not going to be nice and we have to control the temperature and hydration overnight. It’s a science.”

The next layer is their background. Bermondsey resident Rafael and co-founder Ale De Menezes, 43, both hail from São Paulo in Brazil, but left their homeland’s traditions behind to mix Italian style with their own modern take, which includes vegetables from Deptford and chorizo from Spain.

“Pizza is a very big thing in Brazil,” said Rafael. “They say it’s the best in the world. The Italians would disagree with that, I’m sure.

“It’s a different style because they don’t use a long fermentation like the Italians. They make the dough in the morning for that night. 

“Here, the long dough is very important to us. We like to be patient and let it grow by itself and don’t try to push it.

“It makes it easier to digest because you use less yeast but, of course, without the yeast we would be nothing.”

Hence The Yeast Brothers. Except they’re not actually related. Not by blood anyway.

Ale has been friends with Rafael’s father since they were teenagers in Brazil and it was he who introduced the youngster to pizza making in Deptford.

Ale creates a base
Ale creates a base – image Matt Grayson

“When my dad knew I was coming to London, he contacted Ale to help me,” said Rafael.

“Ale used to work in TV production in Brazil and made pizzas but it wasn’t his main job. 

“A few years back he went to live in Australia and started working in a kitchen making pizza. When he came to London, he kept doing it.”

When Rafael arrived in London, fresh from culinary school in Brazil, Ale helped him settle in and get a job at Wandercrust at The Duke pub in Deptford.

It was here that the ingredients of The Yeast Brothers began slowly fermenting.

“Ale was the master who taught me everything I know about pizza and we sort of became brothers for life,” said Rafael.

The duo worked at Wandercrust until April 2021 when the business moved to Greenwich, building on their shared love of pizza and dreaming of their own operation.

The Brazilian duo offer a range of flavours
The Brazilian duo offer a range of flavours – image Matt Grayson

It was lockdown that gave them the push to roll out their own dough.

“During the pandemic, it was just us in the kitchen not talking to anyone but the drivers, so it gave us time to talk and come up with the concept and choose our identity,” said Rafael.

“Ale’s the most hard-working guy I know, so I knew he would be the best partner for me.

“I feel like the pandemic helped because otherwise, it would have taken a lot longer.”

Money to make the dream a reality was tight, but then the team from Deptford Bus approached them with “the perfect opportunity” – a space and some equipment to get them started.

They traded there until December last year but once again were left stranded when the business closed.

Again, Deptford came to the rescue when the team from Artworks approached them with a space.

Hopefully now settled for a while, they are concentrating on developing their menu which offers up classic pizza flavours and some surprises.

Ready for the oven
Ready for the oven – image Matt Grayson

“We used to do Neapolitan pizza, which is popular in London, but we thought we could do something different,” said Rafael.

“People who make it tend to follow the traditional techniques but we use a different flour and folding method and try to expand our ingredients – charcuterie from Spain, cheeses from France and not just Italian products.

“For us to actually have an impact we had to have the classics, because that’s what people look for.

“So we use tomato and mozzarella from Italy, but we try to mix it up as well. We do a pizza with Montgomery Cheddar from England and chorizo from Spain.”

His favourite is the burrata and nduja pizza and they also offer four vegan options – a truffle pizza  and a weekly special.

“I feel like eventually we’re gonna get rid of some of the classics and try to have more unique flavours,” said Rafael.

It’s a very competitive market and there are so many different styles as well. You have the cheap pizzas, the Domino’s, and the more artisanal ones.

Served up, the finished pizza
Served up, the finished pizza – image Matt Grayson

“I feel like we are in the high end of pizzas now in terms of quality and prices.”

They are also adding another layer to the business with a van featuring a wood-fired oven.

The duo have just used it for a stint at West India Quay as part of the Kerb Incubator programme and will now be heading to the street market at the Gherkin in the City.

Rafael said he couldn’t see the business leaving Deptford though – they love the neighbourhood so much and are enjoying experimenting with how they do things there.

Their wives take turns to help out in the restaurant at weekends and they have been adapting their hours and menu as they go along based on what customers want.

“We’re still figuring out when is best to be here but enjoying it all,” said Rafael.

“I don’t remember once having an argument with Ale – we are pretty chill.

“We know how to respect one another, that everyone has their moments and how to give one another space.”

So how does this bubbling, almost-finished business compare to their Deptford pizza past?

“It’s just us in the kitchen like it was before, but it’s great, because here the customers can see the pizzas being made and we get to see them eating it,” said Rafael.

“That’s what we’re here for – to see their faces when they enjoy the food.”

Pizzas at The Yeast Brothers – image Matt Grayson

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Canary Wharf: How M restaurant takes dining on the estate to another level

Founder of the steak specialist, Martin Williams, on water bikes, St Tropez and carbon-neutral meat

M founder and CEO Martin Williams
M founder and CEO Martin Williams – image Matt Grayson

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Water bikes, duck eggs from the local waterfowl, hydroponically grown salad ingredients from the Isle Of Dogs – oh, and steak, a great deal of steak.

There’s something happening on the lower floors of Newfoundland tower at the eastern edge of Canary Wharf and it promises a completely different experience to anything the estate has seen before.

Open now for summer previews, with an official launch set for September 5, M restaurant has been long in the making.

For the brand’s CEO and founder Martin Williams, to see the doors open is both a thrill and a challenge.

“We signed the deal for the space when the building was just foundations and it went up pretty spectacularly,” he said. 

“But it’s taken a bit longer than everybody planned, with the pandemics and the war, but it’s great that six years on the dream has become a reality.”

That dream is one that builds on the success of M’s first two sites – in the City’s Threadneedle Street and Victoria. 

Cobia tartare at M restuarant
Cobia tartare at M restuarant

Its latest opening, in Canary Wharf, promises to further the spirit and verve of the brand.

It’s a reflection of the complementary dichotomy Martin’s character hints at – a man who is at once laser-focused on the detail of the businesses he runs, balanced by the kind of sense of fun that has seen his restaurants offer wheel of fortune prizes to Christmas revellers and an hour of free wine and cheese to mark the recent spate of Governmental resignations.

The slick operation of the venues is a given, but it doesn’t take much for him to sail away on the romance of the inspiration behind them.

“While there are small moments of self-congratulation in running a business – when everybody’s gone home and you sit there and feel you’ve achieved something – in your mind you’re always thinking what more you can do, how you can make the place super special,” said Martin.

“When you walk into any restaurant, you’re looking at the micro details – when I dine out with my wife, she makes me sit facing the wall.

“And there’s so much detail in our Canary Wharf restaurant – the inspirations are from the Cote d’Azur, the Riviera and Lake Como.

“We want to stay with the water – we’re surrounded by it with 360º glass – and we wanted to play on that with the colours.

“There are lots of net details, metalwork inspired by yachts, portholes, seagulls – real maritime inspiration and that feels very fitting.

Tuna tataki at M restaurant
Tuna tataki at M

“There’s nothing like this on the Isle Of Dogs or in Canary Wharf – it’s a different level in terms of decor, the level of hospitality and the quality of the products.

“When combined with the wow factor of the views, people who visit will very quickly acknowledge this is somewhere special.”

M is set to launch its St Tropez Beach Brunch on August 27 and 28, slightly ahead of its official opening.

Running from noon-3pm on the Saturday and Sunday of the Bank Holiday weekend, £65 buys a two-course meal and 90 minutes of free-flowing Mirabeau wine or  cocktails.

As with other M sites, the venue has a range of facilities that will act as host to a varied programme of events in addition to its core business.

“We’ve tried to create a venue that you can use for a number of different reasons,” said Martin

“On the ground floor we have La Petite M, which is a wine and wagyu bar with wagyu sausage muffins and bacon sandwiches for breakfast – then it goes into wagyu Cuban sandwiches for lunch and, in the evening, charcuterie plates and wine

“The cafe is very much a grab and go concept and with 600 residents above us, we think it will be very popular for breakfast.

“Then, the main venue is our gastro playground, which is reached via a spiral staircase. It’s akin to walking into a hotel lobby, a very sensory environment that we hope will build anticipation.

Martin says M is a gastronomic playground
Martin says M is a gastronomic playground – image Matt Grayson

“Go up and you’ll be confronted with six ageing chambers for our beef – it’s a bit in-your-face.

“Then there’s a cocktail bar, two private dining rooms, a private members’ lounge, a wine tasting area, a terrace and the grill restaurant specialising in Provencal cuisine.

“Throughout, you can enjoy heightened hospitality.

“It’s always our intention to give you an amazing dining experience.

“We’re cooking on wood, coal and smoke and we specialise in beef with the best meat from around the world.

“We have quality wagyu from Japan and cuts of Blackmore wagyu from Australia – exclusive to us, Heston Blumenthal and The Ledbury – so there are some incredible beef offerings

“All of our steaks are carbon neutral – the way we do that is by having partner farms across the globe where we know the farmers very well and we measure their carbon footprint and the methane output of the cattle. 

“Then we measure the transportation impact of bringing all of our foods to the table, and then we mitigate or reduce that at source as much as possible, and we offset it with a charity we have that is concerned with a reforestation programme in the Amazon.

“That means you can dine knowing it’s not having a negative impact on the environment.

“We also offer a lot more besides. About 50% of our diners eat steak and that means half order other dishes – the rest of our menu has been described as Michelin level food with flair. 

Wagyu scotch egg at M

“We’re very casual and accessible, but the quality is up there with the best restaurants in the UK.”

That M’s third site is in Canary Wharf is no coincidence. Martin, left Marske-By-The-Sea near Middlesborough for London aged 18, working in hospitality through his studies before deciding to take restaurants “very seriously” at the age of 24.

His first managerial role was at Gaucho’s Canary Wharf branch, a business he eventually rose to become MD at and that he is once again running alongside M.

“We had a sheltered upbringing with one row of houses between us and the North Sea and a five-minute drive to the North York Moors – Heartbeat country,” he said. 

“When I came to London it was a wonderful shock to the senses, very busy and very diverse.

“You could be anyone you wanted to be. Canary Wharf has changed immeasurably since I first came here – it’s a very different landscape.

“When I launched M in 2014, I was looking at the Wharf and the City, but the Threadneedle Street site had previously been a restaurant so a lot less capital was needed to open.

“This new venue should be the making of M. 

“I love Canary Wharf, the cleanliness and the safety but also the journey it’s been on over the past 15 years to become more than a sterile environment, with real culture and art and the way the waterways are being used in different ways now. 

“We’re hoping to do a competition where businesses and residents can race water bikes along Middle Dock with some great prizes for the winners.

“We want to open with a bang and offer the highly competitive people of Canary Wharf a way to have some fun, get some exercise and enjoy the world’s best beef.”

M’s signature Bakewell Tart

Read more: Go for a dip in the dock in Canary Wharf

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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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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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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Canary Wharf: How Humble Grape is raising its food to the level of its wine offering

The Canary Wharf wine bar and bottle shop in Mackenzie Walk has a fresh focus on its dishes

Humble Grape executive chef Dane Barnard
Humble Grape executive chef Dane Barnard

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There’s a subtle shift taking place at Humble Grape.

The bottle shop and wine bar, which has its Canary Wharf branch at Mackenzie Walk overlooking Newfoundland and Middle Dock, will always be focused on supplying bottles and glasses you just can’t get anywhere else.

But the venue is also increasingly focused on the variety and flavours of the food it serves to its customers.

The man whose blue eyes are tasked with overseeing that operation across the company’s five locations is executive chef Dane Barnard.

“I started off as the head chef at the Battersea branch and, back then, there was no executive chef or a real food identity across the business,” he said.

“Each branch was doing its own thing. To an extent we still do, because you should be able to taste each head chef’s personality on the plate but as we’re becoming more and more about food – it’s about coming up with that identity.

“Now we know what we are and where we’re going – to really drive that side of Humble Grape.

“We’re not food-led, but it’s about half our business now, which is where we want to be.

“Humble Grape is a place you can come with friends or colleagues to enjoy wine along with something to eat.

Humble Grape is located in Mackenzie Walk in Canary Wharf
Humble Grape is located in Mackenzie Walk in Canary Wharf

“Our founder and CEO, James Dawson has done such an amazing job finding all these niche wine suppliers that you can’t find anywhere else in the UK.

“My vision is to bring the food in line with that – to use as much free-range, organic and sustainable produce as we can and to really try to mirror what we’re doing with the wine.

“That starts with our suppliers – it takes a long time to find the right ones and to build that relationship.

“For example, we use Donald Russell, which is a big one but they source produce from individual farms. We go to them with a detailed spec and they come back if they can help us.

“We certainly don’t know everything, so if they give us an ingredient then we can always try to do something with it.

“Even though I’m executive chef, I’m learning from my head chefs every single day – we have people from Spain and France and we’re constantly teaching each other. There’s a lot of passion and knowledge.

“We meet up for menu development and swap ideas – that’s what we’re looking for here and we’re always looking for talented chefs.”

Octopus carpaccio at Humble Grape (£14.50)
Octopus carpaccio at Humble Grape (£14.50)

That process has led to a menu of small plates at the Canary Wharf branch, including baked Camembert with sourdough bread, octopus carpaccio with compressed cucumber, stem broccoli with a lemon dressing and crab on a flatbread with chilli.

“My style of cooking is more about flavour than delicate presentation,” said Dane.

“A lot of my training was with a chef from America and we used the whole animal – that’s something we are teaching our teams at Humble Grape.

“For example, if we get a whole pig we take it apart, cure the legs use the cheeks and render the fat down to use when cooking.

“Every part of it has something to offer, you can even use the skin. You can see it on the menu where we’re using lamb neck for a small plate, served with freekeh.

“That’s more of a common cut but it has loads of flavour and you’re starting to see the upper echelons of the restaurant world jumping on that bandwagon.”

Stem broccoli with lemon dressing at Humble Grape (£8)
Stem broccoli with lemon dressing at Humble Grape (£8)

Dane, who joined Humble Grape in 2018 following stints at The Lockhart and Shotgun BBQ, is also keen to showcase vegetables.

“Spring is amazing,” he said. “If you can’t cook in this season, you can’t cook – there’s such a range of flavours and we try to use English seasonal ingredients.

“Vegan food had already come along big time before the pandemic hit – back then it was about 10% of diners and now we’re looking at perhaps 30%.

“We don’t go down the route of using products that look like meat – we’d rather use vegetables that look and taste like vegetables and try to enhance those flavours.”

With around 400 wines available at Humble Grape, the majority exclusively available through the business, the emphasis is on accessibility rather than prescriptive pairing.

“We regularly taste the wines,” said Dane.

“It’s a hard job, but somebody has to do it and it really helps when we’re developing new dishes.

“Our staff will be on hand to help with suggestions, of course, but we don’t tell people what wine to have with a particular dish – this is a place where people choose.”

Lamb neck with freekeh at Humble Grape (£13.50)
Lamb neck with freekeh at Humble Grape (£13.50)

The venue, which offers bar snacks, sharing boards, sweets and a range of meats and cheeses, also serves more substantial dishes such as herb-crusted chalk stream trout with Jersey royals, steaks and a spring pea and asparagus pasta.

“The Sunday roasts are probably the best place to start here,” said Dane.

“We serve lamb, chicken, pork, beef and nut roast – all sustainable and organic – as something traditional but more in a sharing style with Yorkshire pudding, grilled cauliflower cheese, roast root veg and gravy for £18.

“We used to do a bottomless brunch, but everybody does that, so now we do a bottomless lunch on Saturdays.

“I didn’t become a chef to cook eggs for people, so we thought it would be better to showcase our small plates

“You get three plus unlimited Prosecco, red wine, white wine or beer for 90 minutes for £35 between noon and 4pm.

“Our intention is, when the summer comes, that we will expand the food offering a bit more.

“We’ve got a massive grill in the kitchen, so when it’s sunny and people are on the terrace, we’ll be looking to maximise the use of that and really make it a place to come and sit outside.”

Herb-crusted chalk stream trout with Jersey royals (£20)
Herb-crusted chalk stream trout with Jersey royals (£20)

To go with the food, Humble Grape boasts plenty of regular wine offers including Retail Monday (our favourite), where bottles can be drunk at takeaway prices, Tasting Tuesday – a mini flight of four wines for £15 per person, and Icon Thursday And Friday, where more expensive bottles are sold by the glass.

Booking is not required to participate in any of these events – just drop in and place an order.

  • The Canary Wharf branch of Humble Grape is also launching an Express Lunch menu from Wednesday–Friday with a main course for £14, two courses for £19 or three for £22.
Humble Grape sells around 400 wines

Read more: Market Hall Canary Wharf opens its doors

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