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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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