Stratford: How Grappelli Food Hall offers a wide range of Italian produce at The Gantry

Hotel-based grocery and restaurant offers fresh ingredients and imported flavours at East Village

Grappelli Food Hall features an extensive range of imported produce

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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? 

Grappelli Food Hall owner Alessandro Grappelli

“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.

Grappelli offers a range of produce including meat and veg

“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.”

Fresh vegetables at Grappelli Food Hall

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.

Read more: How Kinaara on Greenwich Peninsula offers authentic Indian flavours

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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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Stratford: How The Gantry hotel’s head chef combines his roots with travel

Why Salvatore Coco is willing to go the extra 332 miles to get the right flavours for its restaurant

Head chef at The Gantry, Salvatore Coco
Head chef at The Gantry, Salvatore Coco

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All head chefs want to make great food. But Salvatore Coco is literally willing to go the extra 332 miles.

That’s how far it is from his job as executive head chef at The Gantry hotel in Stratford to Wageningen University in the Netherlands. 

“I recently discovered a professor there who had grown vanilla – one of the first times that’s successfully been done in Europe,” said Salvatore. 

“There are a lot of problems with the vanilla trade – it’s a money business. So when I heard about this I fell in love because it is such a unique product.

“That’s why I’ll be travelling to Holland to bring back a bit of the vanilla to use at The Gantry.

“It isn’t on sale because it’s just for research, but I persuaded the professor to give me some. It’s like gold for me.”

The Italian native will be using his foreign treasure to create an ice cream and a dark chocolate brownie dish that will feature on the new spring menu at Union Social, the hotel’s first-floor restaurant.

But he has also been looking much closer to home for his inspiration.

“Just in front of the hotel is a small set of seven beehives in East Village run by the locals,” said the 36-year-old.

“They produce a very small quantity of honey, only about 30 jars a year and I was able to meet them and get half.

“It’s a beautiful product created just a few steps away and tastes amazing.

“I have used it to create a Greek-inspired dessert, which uses filo pastry, ricotta cheese, cinnamon, orange, all the ingredients that were available during the time of Homer, which pair perfectly with this local honey.”

Union Social at The Gantry
Union Social at The Gantry

Like many Italians, Salvatore grew up in the kitchen watching the family matriarch cook.

“As a kid I would always spend time close to my grandma and was fascinated seeing her make focaccia and pasta,” he said.

“The first dish she let me cook was prawn spaghetti for my grandfather. It was so bad, tough and salty.”

By the age of 13, however, he was working in a professional kitchen at a local restaurant in his native Sicily, doing everything from pot washing to working the grill.

Next came a tourist resort where the 18-year-old Salvatore was in at the deep end.

“It had room service and three restaurants, but I was so passionate about my job that after a couple of months they left me running the kitchen by myself,” he said.

“Looking back, I don’t know how I did it, but I survived and it didn’t put me off.”

Stints at hotelier school and as a chef de partie in a Sheraton hotel followed, before he landed in London and was seduced by the capital’s eclectic culture.

“The plan was to stay a couple of years, but I never left and I became a British citizen in 2019 and don’t think I will ever go back,” he said.

“You get such a variety of food here. Places like France, Italy, Spain are focused on their own food – but here there are all sorts of cuisines. For a chef, it is like a candy shop.”

The Gantry's food reflects Salvatore's travels
The Gantry’s food reflects Salvatore’s travels

His big break came when he bagged the role of head chef at the Pestana Hotel in Chelsea.

“But when the pandemic hit, it closed and Salvatore was out of a job. He returned to his roots, taking a job at Park Lane Kitchen, a small deli and rotisserie near where he used to live in Battersea.

“It was really strange but kind of nice, like going back to when I started out 20 years ago,” said Salvatore.

“The owner didn’t know I was a head chef. I just started working and after a week he was really impressed so I told him.

“It was a funny moment. It wasn’t stressful at all working there and I loved it.”

But when The Gantry came calling, he could not resist the chance to unleash his creative side.

“The general manager told me he didn’t want to have the normal international food other hotels have, like the club sandwich and Caesar salad,” said Salvatore.

“He wanted the menu to be personal to me and be created with fresh ingredients on a daily basis. 

“That’s hard to find in the hotel business and, while it was a big challenge, the menu is based on my travels, which is something I’m really passionate about so it was easy, in a way.”

A dessert at Union Social

Diners at Union Social can expect dishes such as a dessert made with crystallised violet petals Salvatore found while visiting Toulouse, a Jack-In-The-Green salad based on a mythological figure he discovered in Scotland and a slow-roasted shoulder of lamb from Kent. 

“I’m not competitive with other chefs at all,” said Salvatore.

“I just do my own thing. Of course, the food has to be tasty but it is about sustainability and the exclusivity of the food. 

“It has to have a story behind it because I’m very interested in culture and history. I call it food with a soul.

“I don’t want to just make food with a Michelin Star which looks pretty and tastes nice but has no character. 

“I’m not a fan of fancy decorations, just simple food that has value behind it. That’s really important and the main reason behind my cooking.”

Like a surgeon, Salvatore said he is “always on call” and has moved 10 minutes away from the hotel in Stratford in case of any kitchen emergencies.

“My private life is zero at the moment,” he said.

“But if you don’t have a passion for this job you can’t do it because it is so many hours.

“You cannot just be selfish and narrow-minded because otherwise, you don’t go very far. But you need to explore your own creativity and, in a way, be single-minded.

“I remember taking a boat in Thailand and the wife of the captain was cooking some noodles on board. 

“I was amazed at how easy it was for her to combine ingredients and make something that tasted amazing. 

“Sometimes you go to restaurants with a full brigade of chefs and the food doesn’t taste that good. 

“I’ll always remember that because it really made me think a lot about how food is passion.” 

Read more: The Pearson Room reopens with a new team and fresh flavours

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