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Canary Wharf: How Padium is bringing padel tennis to Bank Street

Indoor club will feature seven indoor courts, an outdoor court plus a pro shop and changing facilities

Padium is under construction at 10 Bank Street

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Just what are those vast metallic arches that have sprung up on the flat patch of ground between Morgan Stanley and Societe Generale?

Well, the three-peaked structure is set to shelter Houman Ashrafzadeh’s latest dream.

The serial entrepreneur, together with two friends, already has a presence at 35 Bank Street, having launched new wave salad bar Urban Greens in September 2021.

This summer he’s set to do something completely different with the launch of Padium, a little further west on the estate. 

“I grew up in Sweden and I’ve lived in London for nearly 16 years but, whenever I’d go back to visit, I’d see this new sport emerging,” he said.

“My brother and his friends played it and so I tried it and got completely hooked.”

That sport was padel tennis – popular across Europe and especially so in Houman’s old home town of Helsingborg with an unusually high number of courts for a place with a population a little over 100,000 people. 

“When I discovered it, I felt it was something very different – so much fun, but with a social aspect,” he said.

“You have four players on a smaller court, a lot of banter going on, and it’s intense, because you’re in a more confined space than on a tennis court.

“It’s relatively easy to pick up – after two or three sessions you get the basics and you can have a decent game even with someone who is better than you.

Entrepreneur Houman Ashrazadeh is behind plans for Padium

“I was fascinated, because it was so much fun, and I went back to London, super-excited to play a game with my friends – but there was nowhere to buy Padel rackets, except online.

“Eventually I managed to convince a few friends to play and tried to book a court, but there were hardly any.

“Back then, there was one in Regent’s Park and one in Hyde Park, but they were outdoors – when it rains, you can’t really play.

“The frustration grew because I wanted to play in London. I played every time I went back to Sweden, but that was not frequently.

“I just couldn’t get over how strange it was that it hadn’t caught on in the UK. Squash was big, so why not padel?”

Initially Houman’s idea was to try to replicate the sorts of facilities he’d used in Sweden – unmanned courts in warehouses accessed by a code.

However, a dinner with Spotify co-founder Martin Lorentzon – an investor in Houman’s successful Coffydoor venture – took things up a notch.

Canary Wharf Group CEO Shobi Khan takes on Houman in an exhibition match to mark the official unveiling of Padium

“One of the topics that came up was padel tennis,” said Houman.

“Martin loves it and plays five or six times a week – it’s a passion for him and he’s very good at it.

“ I told him I was looking to start a Padel club in London as then there were none.

“At that time, Stockholm had hundreds of courts, but I only knew of two outdoor courts in the whole of London and he couldn’t believe it.

“So I showed him the Excel spreadsheet I’d been working on  and he said he’d be interested in partnering up and investing.

“Having him on board gave me the ability to do something on a bigger scale than I’d been considering.

“My experience of Padel in the UK was that it was often very basic.

“It was embarrassing to bring friends from Sweden to these places, because the facilities were poor.

“Courts would not be maintained properly, with broken plaster on the walls and would often be too close to one another, so balls would be flying in from other games, or there would be no changing facilities or showers.”

An artist’s impression of how Padium will look

So Houman went back to the drawing board to create something he thought would be capable of “revolutionising” the game in the UK.

“I realised the club needed to be in a flagship location – a place that could attract a lot of people who had never played before,” he said.

“It should be an educator, to get a lot of people involved, including kids and schools so they too can enjoy this amazing game.

“I was told by some companies that I could just put up some courts and not spend much money because the demand was so high that they would be packed anyway.

“But I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to create an experience and an environment where you could build a community. 

“I want young people involved, corporate clients and really good players too – the full 360-degrees like I was used to in Sweden. 

“With Martin involved, I didn’t want to replicate any of the experiences I’d had in the UK, I wanted to raise the bar and have something much better to revolutionise the sport here.”

Padium will house seven indoor glass courts

The result is Houman’s plans for Padium.

The facility will be home to seven indoor panoramic glass courts under a 10-metre high ceiling including a centre court.

There will also be an outdoor court, a pro shop and a nutritional drinks bar. 

The store will stock clothing from tennis legend Björn Borg and a selection of rackets from Babolat. 

It will also have changing and shower facilities with a towel service and a club lounge on a mezzanine floor where players can hang out before and after games. 

“Right now I play at other clubs, but I have to devote half a day for one hour of padel, because I have to travel for an hour, play, return home to shower, then continue my day,” said Houman.

“That’s a lot of time to spend when the whole thing could just take 90 minutes.

“I want the emphasis to be on good service at Padium with my staff being really knowledgeable and friendly – to create an environment for everyone where it’s welcoming and everybody feels included.

“This goes back to my Swedish roots, where padel is open to everyone.

“We don’t have fancy clubs over there where you have to be a member and it takes you 20 years to get on the list. It’s possible to create a premium product and to have that inclusivity where all are welcome.”

The proposed lounge area on the structure’s mezzanine

Extensive work to strengthen the foundations under 10 Bank Street have been undertaken to support the concrete slab on which Padium will sit.

Located on the site of a mooted 32-storey office block, the club will bring fresh life to a patch of ground that had become a popular sun trap before the winds of Storm Eunice tore up its astroturf.

Open daily from 6am-11pm, courts will be bookable in advance for four players with slots of 60, 90 or 120 minutes available with no membership required to play.

“One of the seven indoor courts is a centre court, which will cost a bit more, but we’ll be incorporating court camera technology on that one, which reads the game and gives you statistics,” said Houman.

“One is a recording camera which records the game and the other is AI-based, to give you statistics about your game, which is really cool.

“This will help people who want to improve their game and so coaches can assess their performance.

“If it’s popular, then we’ll look at rolling it out to other courts too.

“For me, padel is the perfect combination of squash and tennis. It takes the best of both and combines them into one game. 

“It’s easy to learn, but hard to master. Because the courts are smaller, the actual amount of time you spend playing is greater than tennis – rallies can often go on for minutes rather than being over quickly.

Padium will include a pro shop and nutritional drinks bar

“Also, tennis can be a lonely sport. With padel you play with four people, so it’s super social.

“You have a ranking, sign up and play with players of a similar level you don’t know, so it’s a great way to meet people.

“One of our responsibilities will be to help nurture the grass roots of this amazing sport.

“We want schools and people from the local community to come and discover the game because they will be the players of the future.

“We need players to convince councils and other organisations that it’s worth approving these facilities – that the investment will be worth it – so we can grow the sport.

“Ultimately the aim is for it to become an Olympic sport.

“There’s a federation and there are professional players making a living from the game now, which is great.

“The Lawn Tennis Association is also involved now and we’re looking forward to working with them too.”

As for Houman, Urban Greens remains a strong focus and, come the opening of Padium there will certainly be some crossover between the two brands.

“Padel and salad go well together and Urban Greens will certainly be catering for events we put on,” he said.

“We’ll also be offering companies corporate sponsorships for the courts where businesses can have their name and logo on the booking app and on the courts themselves, with playing time for their staff and whole-club takeover events.” 

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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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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