Riverscape

Canary Wharf: How Fish Game serves up something different in Wood Wharf

Restaurateur Roberto Costa has engaged head chef Matt Colk to run his seasonal venue in Water Street

Fish Game head chef Matt Colk, formerly of The Gun

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There’s something a little bit radical about Fish Game that sets it apart from the carefully crafted interiors and presentation of its neighbours.

Dishoom has a delicately written founding myth about a rogue banker that informs its entire design.

Mallow has earthy colours with golden accents.

In contrast, Fish Game is the rock dropped into the serene waters of Wood Wharf.

Here there’s a giant artwork of a man apparently eating credit cards with his head wrapped in cling film, tree stumps supporting glass tables, colourful fishing floats and flailing squid hanging from the ceiling and a private dining room decorated with images of Mafia bosses.

The restaurant, which recently opened its doors is the latest creation of Roberto Costa – the man behind Macellaio RC, a chain of six establishments named in honour of the Italian word for butcher plus his initials.

These feature butchery as theatre and plenty of Italian produce and dishes as befits a son of Genoa.

Fish Game, however, is different again – a bamboozling, hedonistic sort of a place that nevertheless rests firmly on four pillars – bread, veg, fish and, naturally, game.

To ensure those pillars are well founded, Roberto has turned to head chef Matt Colk – who returns to E14 having previously spent eight years cooking at The Gun (a little further to the east and right on the Thames) before a brief flirtation with Soho and then Fish Game.

It’s some distance from his start in hospitality.

“I began cooking when I was 14 in a little chip shop in North Lincolnshire,” he said. “I went on to do graphic design at college but my part-time job in the kitchen was much more fun.

“When I was 18 I came to London and first of all worked at Christopher’s Restaurant And Martini bar in Covent Garden before moving on to Roast in Borough Market.

“Then I worked at the RAC Club in Pall Mall, winning Worshipful Company Of Cooks’ Young Chef Of the Year in 2013 before joining The Gun in 2015.”

Rabbit Croquettes with marjoram and lime zest mayonnaise at Fish Game

The approach at Fish Game, however, strikes a contrast with his previous roles.

Having impressed with two dishes he served Roberto during a cook-off, he got the job and then discovered things in his new restaurant would be quite different.

“Roberto wants everything rustic, a bit more rock ‘n’ roll – everything natural,” said Matt.

“He wants to change people’s idea of what food is – to try all the good bits that people normally get rid of.

“In the beginning it took time because I was making dishes the way I used to, but Roberto didn’t care for recipes or classics. Everything had to be different.

“That took a bit of time to get used to but I sought inspiration and had a few ideas.

“We’ve broken the menu down into four sections with bread, veg, seafood and meat. If you need advice the waiter or storyteller will come and advise you what to have.

“It can all come together or separately – that’s how people enjoy eating.

“They can share and there’s never any rush.

“Diners can have small plates or big plates, whatever they want, and then order more if they are still hungry.

“It’s simple food cooked well. Roberto loves the diversity of England’s produce and wants to showcase that.”

Early signs seem to indicate that’s something customers are eager to experience.

While only open a short time, bookings have been strong with Matt and his team of chefs working furiously to satisfy full services.

Roman Tigella bread withe rabbit and offal at Fish Game

The menu is certainly a singular creation with ingredients cooked primarily on the ash and charcoal of Fish Game’s bank of grills.

“We’re in the middle of four really good restaurants here, but I love that this isn’t a chain,” said Matt.

“The feedback has been really good so far and people are getting used to the food. 

“There are dishes on the menu that have taken two months to create, but the one everyone loves is something that took me five seconds to whip up.

“Roberto turned to me and said he wanted a squid dish on the menu – I asked when, and he said: ‘Now’. So I looked in the fridge, found a few ingredients and made the one that’s on there now.

“It’s charcoaled squid served with fermented chilli and fried cavolo nero – it just works. There’s a little bit of sugar and salt in there against that chilli sauce.”

Chilli is a big ingredient for Fish Game. In fact the restaurant is certainly the only place in Canary Wharf that boasts a tasting menu dedicated to the plant’s spicy fruit. 

This offers diners the opportunity to taste peppers from Italian farm Vivi Piccante ranging in heat from a prickly 100,000 to 2.3million units on the Scoville Scale.

For contrast, a supermarket Jalapeno is around 2,500 units.

While Matt isn’t afraid of some spice, his dishes are designed to delight rather than melt guests, often focusing on less frequently used ingredients.

“I’m proud of the ox heart, which is marinated for 12 hours in garlic and chilli plus olive oil, that we source from near Roberto’s home in Italy,” said Matt.

“Then it’s seared on the charcoal and served with a crunchy carrot salad, with red onion, salt, pepper and lemon juice.”

Sea bream at Fish Game

Other offerings include a gamey take on an Italian classic in hare arancini, a dish of smoked duck breast and duck leg, a venison tartare with bone marrow and rump of mutton with fresh mint and mustard.

Game dishes range from £6.50 to £52 for a beef ribeye off the bone with bone marrow.

On the aquatic side, there are oysters (£6 for two), langoustines with samphire, mussels with venison nduja and monkfish with rosemary, lime and sea salt.

Dishes range in price from £6 to £50 for a butterfly sea bream served with olive oil, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and basil.

“If I was ordering, I’d start with the Tigella bread from Rome (£9), which is served with rabbit and offal cooked over ash and finished with parsley, fresh garlic and lemon juice,” said Matt.

“Then, of course, I’d have the squid (£9). Sometimes the people are right.

“They even rave about the potatoes we serve but they’re just crispy new potatoes with chilli, garlic, chives and lime.”

In addition to the skill of the chef – after all Matt used to write a recipe column for Wharf Life when he was at The Gun and we don’t let just anyone do that – key to the success of a restaurant is the produce it has to work with.

Fish Game promises to regularly change its menu to fit in with what’s in season, whether that’s meat, fish or vegetables.

“It’s a little early for game season at the moment, but come August 12 we will have grouse on the menu and we also plan to feature partridge, pheasant and quail at the right time,” said Matt.

“We’ll be sourcing our game from the Windsor Park Estate, which is pretty local to us.

“In fact, if they turn the menu over, diners will be able to see where we get all of the fish, meat and game that we use within the UK, which is a nice touch.

“For Roberto it’s important that we serve things that stand out.

“That includes the fact we only offer two desserts – a tiramisu that’s made at the table and a lemon tart with seasonal fruit.

“We’ve also got an ice cream machine that we’re going to use to make a gelato with olive oil and sea salt. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s really good.

“I’ve been here two months, but as for the future I’d love to win a Michelin star and then perhaps see if we can expand to another site or two.”

Venue owner Roberto Costa with Matt

So there you have it, the Wharf’s latest arrival packed with unusual produce, dishes, decor and verve. 

Fish Game is, Matt tells me, currently looking for talented chefs – who wouldn’t want to chance their arm at a project that aims to stand out and get noticed?

Oh, and before I forget to mention it, as if potent art, a chilli menu and plenty of food isn’t enough, the Water Street restaurant also distinguishes itself by offering drinks served from its extensive Agave Bar.

Specialising in Tequila, Raicilla and Mezcal (with a single Sotol on the list too) this promises to add a potent note to any dinner.

And there certainly isn’t time to go into a cocktail list that’s classified by a system of chess pieces.

You’ll just have to head down to Wood Wharf, bag a table and work your way through them, by which time the whole enterprise might make some kind of sense.

Find out more about Fish Game via this link

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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 Hawksmoor’s team work tirelessly to refine its offering

Wood Wharf opening along with The Lowback bar is first hospitality venue in estate’s emerging area

Hawksmoor group executive chef Matt Brown
Hawksmoor group executive chef Matt Brown – image Matt Grayson

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Not many restaurant group flagship venues are actually floating.

But Hawksmoor’s Wood Wharf establishment, permanently moored off Water Street, sits on a specially-built pontoon above the cold, dark fathoms of what’s left of the eastern end of West India Middle Dock. 

It’s the first in a clutch of new venues – something of a beachhead that will see Wharfers drawn in ever greater numbers over Montgomery Bridge.

And they’ll be in for a panoply of riches if Emilia’s Crafted Pasta, The London Project and MMy Wood Wharf turn out to be of similar quality.

Hawksmoor may have leapfrogged them all, becoming the first hospitality venue to open its doors in the emerging community, but the speed of its arrival hasn’t been to its detriment.

Its 160-seat restaurant on the top deck is all deep leather banquette seating, gold, glass and warm lighting. It’s filled with different, comforting textures offset by polished wood – all the glamour of an Art Deco ocean liner.

Head downstairs and 120-seat bar The Lowback continues the theme, its bottle display recalling the slick glamour of an illuminated 1940s jukebox.

It’s not just about the sleek interior, though. Like cutting into an exquisite steak and seeing the glowing red of perfectly cooked meat, the quality goes all the way through.

The restaurant at Hawksmoor's Wood Wharf establishment
The restaurant at Hawksmoor’s Wood Wharf establishment

Cookery

Matt Brown is group executive chef for Hawksmoor and boasts a CV that includes some of London’s best restaurants, including extensive periods working with Marco Pierre White.

He said: “I always wanted to cook. I’m from Chesterfield and I moved to London when I was 16, got an apprenticeship at The Ritz and did that for about four years.  After that I was reading about this guy – Marco – in the newspaper, so I went to work for him for about 20 years. Then I was head chef at Le Tante Claire for Pierre Koffmann for two years.

“But I’ve always wanted to challenge myself. Some of my cheffy friends saw taking the job at Hawksmoor in 2015 as a step down – cooking in a steakhouse – but not at all.

“What we try to do at Hawksmoor is no different from what one, two, or three Michelin-starred restaurants are trying to do. The amount of effort we put into sourcing ingredients and cooking them in the correct way is unbelievable.

“The lengths we go to to get the ultimate chip, for example, are incredible and we do that in all our restaurants – that’s a different ballgame to doing it in one kitchen.

Steaks served at Hawksmoor
Steaks served at Hawksmoor

“Firstly we take great care   selecting the potatoes – if you start with rubbish you’re never going to get a good chip – and then we have a three-day process. We blanch them first in boiling salt water, then chop them up and they go on trays to let the steam out.

“Then they go in the fridge overnight. You have to get as much water out as possible. Then we fry them at 140ºC on the second day and put them back in the fridge.  Then we serve them on the third day, frying them in beef dripping at 180ºC.

“While 80-90% of the menu is set in stone, we’re always trying to do things better, to create more interesting side dishes.

“We work with about 500 farms in the UK – all small producers – where you can select all grass-fed cuts. The menu is cool starters and steakhouse classics, but we want to be about more than just steak, we want to be a great restaurant as well.

“That means having a drinks list, a wine list and food that are all amazing. For me, it ticks all the boxes. You can come here and have what I think is the best steak and chips anywhere. My favourite is probably the rib-eye. It’s flavoursome and has just the right amount of unctuousness – tender, but not too tender.”

Matt’s connection to Canary Wharf dates back two decades to when he met local resident Lisa, who he subsequently married, but the local dining scene was pretty limited then.

“It’s not like it used to be – when I came here a few weeks ago, it was for the first time in 18 or 19 years,” he said. “Initially we were a bit dubious when we first thought about Hawksmoor on a boat – it’s not really what we do.

“But then I saw the restaurant and it’s amazing – what a great venue for anyone to come to.”

The Lowback Bar at Hawksmoor Wood Wharf
The Lowback Bar at Hawksmoor Wood Wharf

Bartending

That spirit of inclusion (pun intended) continues downstairs in The Lowback. Conceived as a venue in its own right, manager Joe Worthington is in command and wants Wharfers to see it as a favoured hangout whether they’re living or working locally.

“Hawksmoor is The Lowback’s big brother so you’re going to get that guaranteed quality, really great food. But the focus down here is on drinks.

“The atmosphere and the service will be just like any Hawksmoor but the lights will be lower and the music a little louder.

“We want it to be a hub for the Wharf. Whether you live or work here we want it to be your local, whether it’s for a cocktail or a pint of Guinness.

“We’ve got a great Martini list and one good thing is that a lot of prep for our drinks is done early – they’re designed so they can be put together in 30 seconds.

“That means we’ll be aiming to deliver drinks to the table in under five minutes for parties of two or three – a little longer if there are more guests.

“In spring the terraces will be open – there’s a further 30 seats on tables out there, bathed in sunlight.

“I imagine that, when people look out of their residential towers or their office blocks, they’re going to see that terrace outside and fancy having a Martini by the water.

“Inside we’ve got this beautiful 10-metre bar with a plethora of drinks on offer.

Manager of The Lowback Joe Worthington
Manager of The Lowback Joe Worthington – image Matt Grayson

“If you want a whisky on the rocks, a pint, a cocktail, we’re at your beck and call. The best place to sit will be at the bar where you can watch your drink being made. You’ll get your own designated bartender and they’ll be happy to talk you through the menu.

“What’s at the forefront of our minds is ensuring we deliver drinks and food with great service.

“We hope that when people come down here we’ll create regulars. The theatre of making drinks will still be there but we want to serve people quickly.

“Nobody comes to a place to stand at the bar for seven minutes. The prices we charge are the industry standard, but what sets Hawksmoor apart isn’t how cheap or expensive we are, it’s the people we employ – the atmosphere and the culture those staff create.

“Before I joined the team, I’d been coming to Hawksmoor for about 10 years and the thing I loved about it was that the bars felt independent while still being encased in the restaurant.

“The Lowback is a stand-alone brand and it’s somewhere that enables us to say yes to people whether that’s accommodating large bookings or two people who just want a quiet drink.”

Read more: Gallio opens Mediterranean restaurant at Canary Wharf

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