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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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Stratford: Theatre Royal Stratford East set to revive Conor McPherson’s Shining City

The play will be directed by Nadia Fall and stars Rory Keenan and Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle

Nadia Fall during rehearsals for Shining City
Nadia Fall during rehearsals for Shining City – image Marc Brenner

I keep joking about this, but going to the theatre really is the cheapest form of group therapy you will ever have,” said Nadia Fall. Theatre Royal Stratford East’s artistic director sounds as though she’s in a buoyant mood as I catch her on the phone while she’s striding towards a rehearsal room.

Within, the four-strong cast of the venue’s forthcoming production – Shining City – presumably await. It’s a week before the first night and, as director, Nadia is deeply immersed in the process of production.

Written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson and starring Curtis-Lee Ashqar, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Fox and Rory Keenan, the show will run from September 17 to October 23, 2021.

Nadia said: “It’s set in Dublin in the early 2000s and it’s about a recently bereaved middle-aged guy who’s not one to talk about feelings, not someone to go to a therapist, but he’s absolutely desperate.

“He walks into this therapy session and starts to tell his story, but there’s something more to his tale – he’s having visions of his wife. So it’s an ode to Dublin, but it’s also a story about how men hold their pain and how they don’t talk about it.

“Even now we talk a lot about mental health in men and how it’s not the thing to do to express pain. The play investigates that a bit as well.”

Brendan Coyle is known for playing Mr Bates in Downton Abbey
Brendan Coyle is known for playing Mr Bates in Downton Abbey – image Marc Brenner

Coyle, best known for his role as valet Mr Bates in Downton Abbey, takes on the lead role of John. He’s also no stranger to McPherson’s work, having won an Olivier Award for his supporting role in the playwright’s hit The Weir.

“Conor’s work is very celebrated in theatre,” said Nadia. “As a fan watching the original outing of this play back in 2004, I really remember it as one of those plays that gets under your skin, it’s really ripe for revival.

“I thought there might be a whole load of people in east London who might not have seen the original production, so for them it would be a new work.

“It’s a very well crafted play that really fits in our venue – a haunting story in our old Victorian theatre.

“I wrote a love letter to Conor to say how much the play meant to me, and we were very lucky to get the rights to do it, because it’s one of those plays that half the theatres in the land would want to revive. Everybody who saw it remembers it.

“It’s a great ensemble piece and we have a genuinely Irish cast, so I feel it’s really lived-in and authentic.

“While it’s a play about grief and loss, it’s got some gallows humour in it and some really uplifting moments.

“Audiences certainly won’t leave on a downer. I really hope people will want to talk about it in the bar afterwards. 

“Conor is a master craftsman. Shining City deals with a macabre subject matter but leaves people on a thrilling high.

“I feel that people, for very different reasons, have had a really tough year with the pandemic. While the last thing I want to do is to suggest people shouldn’t talk about it, sometimes they just don’t want to, they want to be uplifted and be distracted. 

“Theatres have an extraordinary way of processing life, which you can’t get by watching the television at home. We do need to get behind our gorgeous venues, or we will lose them – it’s as plain as that.”

Rory Keenan gets to grips with his role
Rory Keenan gets to grips with his role – image Marc Brenner

Nadia, who was just embarking on her second season at Stratford East when the pandemic hit, having previously spent three years at the National Theatre as an associate director, said she was quietly hopeful audiences would return to watch live performances. 

“I think people need it and there’s an appetite,” she said. 

“Being in the rehearsal room,  even when things are hard because it’s a difficult play, is just so joyful – you remember why you do the work, and there’s no substitute for that.

“As well as Shining City, this year finally, finally, because it had to be cancelled last year, we’ll have our panto, Red Riding Hood, from November 27.

“Yes, it doesn’t seem like high art, but for so many people it’s their first taste of a theatre, and it’s such an equaliser, bringing all generations, all creeds and colours together. 

“It was such a moment, having to cancel that, because it brings all our staff and families together and it’s such a buzz.

“There’s a noise in the building from morning till night when it’s panto season, with young people, and families in the evening – I’m really looking forward to it this Christmas.

“Then, after Christmas, we have the great Lyndsey Turner directing Dennis Kelly’s bitter comedy After the End, which was supposed to be this summer but was delayed due to Covid restrictions.

“It’s an incredibly dark and exciting work that’s both post-apocalyptic and chilling, set in a city that’s just been hit with a nuclear weapon.”

The opening night of Shining City, will be an occasion with a different sort of intensity, as the community of audience and staff once more gather together in a single location for a performance, just as humans have been doing for thousands of years.

“First nights never get any easier,” said Nadia. “In fact, I think I might get more nervous over time. I’m the worst person to sit next to and I’m very superstitious.

“I try to sit next to my brother – he’s the only person I usually invite, poor man.

“He doesn’t work in theatre, he’s nothing to do with it, and I’m digging my sharp nails into his thighs. I watch the productions I’ve directed like I’m watching a cup final – I feel I’m up there with them. 

“This time will be a bit different though. Even with staff in the building, we’ve tried to be as cautious as possible. 

“Opening up again will be very emotional. We haven’t all seen each other for a long time, whether that’s staff or regular audience members.”

Tickets for Shining City start at £10. Some performances will be socially distanced. Check with the box office when booking. 

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Fish Island: How Rewritten rewrote the rules on sustainable bridesmaids’ dresses

Katie Arnott and Fran Cookson started their brand, which now offers a bridal collection too

Rewritten founders Fran and Katie
Rewritten founders Fran, left, and Katie – image Matt Grayson

The story of Rewritten has, at its heart, a friendship. Katie Arnott had been working at then emerging jewellery brand Astley Clarke for about four years when she was assigned as a buddy to incoming head of communications Fran Cookson.

Despite being in different teams, the pair worked closely, becoming good friends over the next four years when one night, over several glasses of wine, inspiration struck.

“We were both getting married and we couldn’t find nice, cool, contemporary bridesmaids’ dresses for adults,” said Fran.

“We’d asked our friends where they’d been shopping for them and were told there were only traditional, old-fashioned shops – we saw this gap in the market and decided to launch a bridesmaid’s dress brand.

“We always knew we wanted to do our own thing and between us we thought we had the right skill set. Katie understood retail and operations and I had a background in fashion design as well as marketing.

“We put a business plan together and approached Virgin for a business startup loan in 2016 and that’s how we founded Rewritten.”

startup

“We’ve nearly finished paying back that loan,” said Katie. “Applying for it was really good for us because we had no idea what we were doing at all. 

“We’d never started a business so we didn’t have a clue how to write a plan for one. Doing that really forced us to sit down and look at so many different aspects of the company. 

“We put this huge document together, applied and got accepted straight away. Virgin has been very supportive over the years. We have often gone back and done talks there because they have lots of entrepreneurs and startups going though their programme.”

Rewritten Bridesmaid
Brookyln Dress in Olive Green, £140

styles

“We started with four colours and four styles, and now we have around 14 colours and 10-12 styles,” said Fran who designs Rewritten’s products.

“We’ve grown quite a lot as a brand and we have a wholesale channel as well, so we have stockists around the UK and internationally.

“We sell mainly through our showroom appointments and we’re fully booked until August as well as selling a lot online.

“We’re quite a disruptive brand, in that we were really the first ones to do a wide range of colours and sizes and styles available digitally, which wasn’t really a thing before in this market. 

“The bridal industry is very old fashioned although it is changing. Traditionally bridesmaids’ dresses would be very generic and really expensive – £300 per dress – that’s a huge amount of money if you have eight to buy. 

“Many were prom-style – it was almost a joke category and that’s what we wanted to change.

“The question we ask is: ‘Why can’t you wear a really cool dress or a jumpsuit as a bridesmaid – something that you could potentially wear again?’. We call it sustainable bridesmaid-wear – the idea is that this no longer a ‘single use’ industry.

“Women’s fashion is one of the biggest environmental offenders and bridesmaids’ dresses are a big part of that – they’re relegated to the back of the wardrobe and we wanted to change that, making pieces you want to buy and wear, whether that’s different styles in the same colour or the same dress in a wide range of sizes. 

“When we started, this approach didn’t even exist and people really enjoyed that autonomy rather than being told they had to wear a horrible dress.”

Rewritten Bridesmaids
Rewritten can provide different dresses in identical colours

showroom

Having originally opened its doors in Tottenham, the brand has relocated to Fish Island in Hackney Wick, with premises that cater for its shipping operations and, crucially, customers who want to try dresses on.

“We make the whole thing really special with private fitting appointments and we open at the weekends too,” said Fran.

“People can come in as a group, have a glass of Prosecco and it’s a really lovely experience.

“It’s our clients with their mates having a trying on session – and our frosted glass makes it very private. Hackney Wick is such a cool area, with all the bars and restaurants around here – we have a blog on our website that tells visitors where the best places to go for brunch or a drink are and people really make a day of it.”

sustainability

Katie said: “We’re trying to change the preconception that weddings are about single-use fashion. Our brand is about rewriting the rules.

“We had to apply for our space at The Trampery in Fish Island – they were looking for sustainable fashion brands and we are one of the six founder members here. 

“We’re not saying we’re perfect but we’re really striving to make a lot of changes, using recycled fabrics and making a lot of the collection in London as well as only making dresses when people order them which is a sustainable way of manufacturing.”

Rewritten Bridal
Rewritten’s bridal collection includes Simone Dress, £575

spreading

Rewritten recently launched its first bridal collection, made entirely from organic and recycled fabrics in response to demand from fans of the pieces in its core collection.

“We’re quite a London-centric brand at present so we’d like to become a lot bigger in the UK,” said Fran. “We’ve been looking at Manchester and we also have a lot of Irish brides, so Dublin could be an option too.

“In terms of sustainability we want to have the whole collection made in recycled fabrics by the beginning of 2023 and that’s partly about changing people’s mindsets about what that means, educating our customers. Our bridal collection really shows that – it’s affordable and the dresses could really be worn again.”

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