Hotel-based grocery and restaurant offers fresh ingredients and imported flavours at East Village
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British hotel lobbies are not known for their shopping options.
Sure, in higher-end places there might be a gold and glass case of tasteless and astonishingly expensive jewellery.
In Wales, at the mish-mashed pile that is the Celtic Manor Hotel in Newport, I once saw BMWs being flogged beside an unhappy looking installation of Penderyn whisky bottles.
But generally, all that is to be found in such establishments is a cheery concierge, a branded umbrella or two and sometimes a vending machine.
Not so at The Gantry in Stratford.
While Grappelli Food Hall is cut off from the hotel by a see-through foldaway wall, it’s very much part of the hotel building.
Half Italian grocery and deli and half cafe, bar and restaurant, it’s incongruous as part of a hotel, but somehow right for Stratford.
Sitting on the imaginary border between Westfield and East Village, this is a place that is very much for the locals as well as the visitors.
After all, who comes to a hotel and buys fresh vegetables and meat?
“It is incongruous, but the people running the hotel came to us and said they had a space,” said Alessandro Grappelli, the man behind the new opening.
“The venue is incredible and it was a no-brainer. I look at it as a shop that happens to have a hotel above it.
“It’s in an area that’s been super developed, a new city built with all the experience of building the old city.
“For us it was an opportunity.”
Opportunities are very much Alessandro’s forte.
Originally from Rome, he came to London to learn English for six months and that was 26 years ago.
“I found a job and, 25 years and six months later, I’m still here,” he said.
“My family is here and I’ve spent most of my life in the UK.
“London has given me so much. There is so much meritocracy here.
If you’re good at what you do, you have the chance to prove yourself – unfortunately in Italy it still doesn’t work this way, although I do miss the weather.
“I came to London with £150 in my pocket and I started out washing dishes.
“Then I was a salad chef, then pasta, starters and main courses.
“After I’d been in the UK for three years, some of my friends came over and decided to open a restaurant in Fulham. I joined them and it was a great success.
“However, after a few months, they didn’t really want to live in London and so they told me to take the restaurant and pay the rent.
“That’s how I got started – I was 22. I was lucky, of course, but I also made the most of my chances because they don’t come that often in life.”
Today, Alessandro runs upmarket Roman restaurant Grappelli in Cobham, Surrey, as well as Taverna Trastevere and Pizzicheria Grappelli in Clapham.
The latter was very much the blueprint for his latest venture in Stratford, offering mainly imported groceries from Italy but also making use of local produce.
“We use Dingley Dell Pork, from Suffolk, to make our sausages fresh,” said Alessandro.
“For us it’s about finding the right meat – the chicken and the pork – to make things fresh.
“The idea for the first grocery and deli came after Covid, when we were selling produce to locals close to our restaurant in London.
“We didn’t want any other influences, just Italian – people loved it because it’s a beautiful experience.
“We have the produce people can buy and a kitchen, so customers can see how to turn the ingredients into a meal.
“Our chefs are highly skilled, but they also follow our philosophy – we make simple things but using amazing ingredients and the results are incredible.
“For me, the concept is to get as close to eating with my family at home as I can. It’s about selecting the right produce and suppliers.
“For example, we have our own brand tomato sauce that, when you look at the ingredients list, is just tomatoes and basil. There are no additives.
“When you try it you feel just like your are in Italy and that’s my passion – the real flavour of simple things.”
Something that will certainly appeal to hotel guests and locals alike is the dining side of Grappelli which offers an extensive array of quick bites.
There’s a selection of pasta dishes starting at £9.50 with Gnocchi Ai Pomodoro, ranging up to a Lasagne Alla Bolognese for £11.50.
Foccacia sandwiches come packed with the likes of mortadella, Parma ham and bresaola and range in price from £8.90 to £9.50.
There’s also a range of antipasti including bruschetta, veal meatballs and buffalo mozzarella alongside the canny inclusion of variations on a theme of avocado on toast, for the less traditionally inclined.
“Even with these dishes, we make them with fantastic sourdough bread and an Italian twist,” said Alessandro.
“I think people don’t really know what to expect from us yet.
“When we first opened our doors, we had people who said that they couldn’t believe they had just had our carbonara in Stratford. Some came back again and again.
“That gives me so much satisfaction.
“We want people to try our food and then to go back to their offices, their friends and their families and say that they’d just had the best pasta.
“Across all of our restaurants we sell carbonara to thousands of customers and, according to them, it’s the best in the UK.
“That’s why the whole Grappelli team and I are really excited to work alongside The Gantry on this new venture.
“We really pride ourselves on the research that goes into selecting our products and we hope that this will be reflected in the customer experience.”
Grappelli Food Hall is located at The Gantry on Celebration Avenue and is open every day from 7.30am to 7pm.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org