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Canary Wharf: How In2Sports provides facilities for the whole community

Charitable trust runs Wood Wharf venue, which includes a sports hall, gym and The Training Room

In2Sports director Callum Wear
In2Sports director Callum Wear

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Harbord Square has got a secret.

If you’ve walked through Wood Wharf, past the buildings to the east of its green oblong of grass, you may have spotted In2Sports’ red and blue logo in the brightly lit unit on corner of Brannan Street. 

But that space, with its orange chairs and Mars vending machine is merely the tip of an iceberg. It’s all about what lies beneath.

Walk through its glass doors, descend a level and you’ll find an expansive relaxation area, complete with a pool table, ping pong, a bar, bikes, seating, sports memorabilia and tables made from old vaulting horses.

It’s a charming enough space on its own, but this too is just an appetiser.

What In2Sports is really sitting on is a full-size, purpose built sports hall, complete with changing facilities, fitness studio space and even a crossfit-inspired gym.

Some of the facilities will be used part-time by the neighbouring primary school, when it opens, with the remainder of the timetable available for clubs, businesses and individuals looking for functional, affordable space.

The main sports hall at In2Sports in Wood Wharf
The main sports hall at In2Sports in Wood Wharf

“In2Sports is an indoor sports arena that caters for a wide variety of needs, with the ability to deliver a wide array of opportunities for people to be able to participate in sports and leisure activities at every level,” said Callum Wear, In2Sports trustee.

“It’s a place for anyone and everyone to have fun, play sports and then there’s the social side of it as well, which is a very important feature.

“Rather than just coming in, playing your sport and then leaving, players can relax and mingle with like-minded people, share their victories and talk about their next game strategies.

“It might be cricket, football, netball, volleyball, dodgeball or any smaller-sided counterparts to outside games that can be played indoors.

“We will always be evolving to accommodate new trends and demands.

“Our ambition is to become the home for anybody, any club or association that has a need to deliver sports and leisure activity programmes in this area.

“We don’t have an alliance with or allegiance to anyone, and we will work with a wide variety of people.

“Success for us is about participation – people walking out of the door and saying they’ve had a fantastic time.

“Having a fun place with an electric atmosphere is what we want.

In2Sports’ crossfit-style gym area

“That’s the name of the game. If you’re not having fun playing sport, you’re not going to achieve to the best of your ability. 

“When you’re here, you might be playing table tennis, but you might be playing with your football team or talking about the game or your next opponent – we want there to be constant activity around you.

“It’s a place that keeps people entertained and involved socially – sharing experiences with people is key.”

In2Sports is structured as a charitable trust and following a £9.99 registration fee, the sports hall can be hired for between £120 and £160 per hour depending on timing.

Quarter and half-court hire are also available and there’s a 40% discount for local residents with disabilities, those on benefits, who are senior citizens or who are full-time students. 

In celebration of its opening, In2Sports is currently offering all courts at off-peak prices.

Flexibility is central to the organisation’s model, with The Training Room perfectly summing that up.

“It’s certainly not just a bar and it’s a bit more than a clubhouse,” said Callum. 

“It could be the space where you could come for a small community workshop, for presentations, talks, speeches, birthday celebrations or just a place where people can relax after a game and have a drink with friends. 

“We’re a licensed venue, but you can also have health drinks as well, such as smoothies. It’s warm and welcoming.”

Callum knows a thing or two about welcoming Wharfers. Originally from New Zealand, he moved to the UK and, while working as an analyst on a financial project management system, met and became friends with accountant Chris Bennett.

The two discussed various ideas but both loved the idea of collaborating on a business related to sports and after about a year and a half of discussions created Play On Sports, launching in 2004.

Stretching to an eventual 50,000sq ft of space on the Wood Wharf site, it all began with a guaranteed 18 month lease.

In the end, Play On stayed until 2014, relocating its operations to Whitechapel when they had to make way for building works as Canary Wharf Group began the regeneration of the area.

The Training Room can serve many functions at the venue

“It’s great to be back in Canary Wharf – everyone has welcomed us back and people have been so supportive,” said Callum.

“I think Canary Wharf Group sees the benefit to the community that we bring and hopefully we’ll be contributing to the vibrant hub the estate has become.

“Now it’s full steam ahead – we have opened and it’s time to develop relationships with businesses and organisations around here and to tell the community that we’re here and we’re available for them to enjoy.

“This isn’t just a facility for corporates, it’s a place for anyone to use and play. 

“We’re ideally located, less than a 10-minute walk from the Jubilee and Elizabeth Line stations and there are good bus services along Preston’s Road too.”

In addition to The Training Room and the sports hall, In2Sports is also offering monthly memberships or access on a pay-as-you-go basis to its gym.

“It’s a crossfit-style training room, which is a really inclusive form of exercise,” said Callum.

“Everyone can engage with it because you’re only competing against yourself. 

“Then we also have our studio space which would be ideal for Yoga, Pilates and so on. 

“We’re also working with various charities so they can use it to achieve their goals and they’ll be utilising that space to get people up and active.

“We have a can-do, all inclusive approach to delivering sports. This is not your square-boxed sports hall, so if someone wants to host a sports activity, we will try to deliver it.

“This is very much a community project, the In2Sports charitable trust is for the benefit of everyone – corporates, social clubs and children.

“We like to work with organisations who are using sports to break down barriers, to give people that self-esteem, that self-confidence and to keep people playing sports on a sustainable basis so that they can have fun and feel better.”

One of the changing rooms at In2Sports

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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: Why Feels Like June is all about the warmth of welcome

Restaurant and bar at recently opened Tribe hotel wants to draw residents and workers to Wood Wharf

Feels Like June is located in Wood Wharf
Feels Like June is located in Wood Wharf

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It wasn’t so very long ago that there wasn’t really much to visit Wood Wharf for. Those days of promissory hoardings are long gone.

MMy Wood Wharf is finding its feet, complete with a basement jazz club, Emilia’s Crafted Pasta is well established as a place for generous bowls and Hawksmoor continues to be a lunchtime hit, ably assisted by arguably one of the best bars on the Wharf – The Lowback – beneath.

But those are just for starters. Patty&Bun, a chain so hip all its melons are twisted, is serving decent drippy burgers on Park Drive and recently launched hotel Tribe has opened its doors as the first place for visitors to stay actually on the Canary Wharf estate. 

Its bar and restaurant, which also acts as a workspace, is the optimistically named Feels Like June – a moniker that is entirely appropriate for a heatwave but that might be more a reach in, say, January.

For restaurant manager, Juan Esquivel, the name is more about the warmth of welcome his team and the hotel aim to extend to visitors and guests.

“First of all, we are casual – you won’t find us in suits,” he said.

“We want people to feel like they are on holiday when they come here and we don’t want people staying with us at Tribe in their rooms, we want them here.

“The social hub is the lobby and there’s a salad bar and a grab-and-go coffee shop.

Feels Like June manager Juan Esquivel
Feels Like June manager Juan Esquivel

“But Feels Like June also works as a standalone restaurant. It’s inspired by California both in what we serve, but also by the state’s summer vibe.

“I think the designers have done a really good job – you won’t find a normal linear restaurant here.

“It’s more relaxed, like a lounge, so people can sit with a drink and a book or do some work on a laptop.

“We want this place to be for everybody – an approachable product with great service – a place where Wood Wharf’s residents can meet holidaymakers, Canary Wharf workers and the hotel’s guests.

“The name isn’t about the weather, it’s about the warmth we bring to our guests. The seasons may change, but here you will get that same summery feel – always welcoming.”

Originally from Argentina, Juan has worked in Mexico, Spain and London, most recently for six months at Gaucho.

“I’ve always worked for luxury brands and, for me, coming here was about asking why we can’t bring that level of service and product to a wider audience,” he said.

“Tribe is part of Ennismore (which recently merged with hospitality giant Accor), and we are really proud to be the first hotel on the Canary Wharf estate.

“As a brand it’s a new concept and this is the first in the UK – the flagship for all of the openings around the world.”

Open all day with options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, food and drink-wise, Feels Like June promises diners dishes that prioritise health and natural ingredients.

“Personally I love the sea bass, which comes with herb butter and lemon curd,” said Juan. “It’s very tasty and the steaks are good as well.

“All of our desserts are gluten-free and we do things like a banana split because that’s something fun to share – we have a lot of families at the weekend so it works for kids as well.

Food at Feels Like June
Food at Feels Like June

“We also have a caramelised pineapple dish with mango sorbet, which is very summery and has rum in it so there are lots of tropical flavours.

“At the bar we are looking to have lots of low alcohol versions of drinks – our versions of classics.

“For example, guests can have our Minimal Colada, a version of a Pina Colada that’s clarified and more summery with coconut rum, banana, pineapple, coconut water and salt.

“The idea is you can have a drink with lunch and be fine to do some work.”

Guests can expect to pay around £13 for a cocktail, while small plates cost between £8 and £17. Main dishes range from £14 to £25 and salads are about £12. 

“We’re open for breakfast and we will have a lot of guests from the hotel, but we also have an a la carte menu for our other customers,” said Juan.

“We’ve also just introduced a brunch menu, which we think is going to be very popular at the weekend.

“Feels Like June really brings a different kind of space to Canary Wharf where everyone can find something to enjoy.

“We already have regulars and I really like our staff to engage with our customers and to have conversations with them. 

“In turn I think the people who are living here are very happy that more things are opening. Here we want people to always feel that they are welcome.”

The bar at Feels Like June
The bar at Feels Like June

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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 Canary Wharf Group’s Junior Board works to shape estate’s future

Initiative provides a forum for idea generation, communication across the business and mentoring

Canary Wharf Group's Junior Board
Canary Wharf Group’s Junior Board

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Canary Wharf has been in a constant state of evolution since it was created.

The mix of companies on the estate has changed with financial services and media giants joined by technology firms and an increasing number of organisations working in healthcare and life sciences.

It’s become a place to live too, with homes made available for both private sale and to rent at Wood Wharf and more residential expected at North Quay, Canary Wharf Group’s next major phase of development adjacent to its east London heartland.

Alongside these changes, the company that oversees the estate is also embracing the future, increasingly looking to younger staff to ensure it’s heading in the right direction.

Given the timescales involved in development, it makes sense to consult the people those future phases of regeneration are aimed at and to make certain the existing estate is on point to attract people of all ages.

To that end, Canary Wharf Group appointed a Junior Board in January to generate ideas, serve as a sounding board for the company’s leaders and help shape the future of the business.

Originally 13 – now 11 due to a couple of departures – for nearly eight months, it’s been doing just that, so I sat down with recently elected chair Julie Dang and board member Dan Pereira to find out more. 

Canary Wharf Group Junior Board chair Julie Dang

who are you, what do you do?

Julie: I work in the corporate social responsibility department as a programme coordinator and I’ve been in the company for about five years. I work to engage with our stakeholders, with young people and schools, to help them with their career aspirations and future employment.

We’ve run job fairs, insight days, where we invite people into the business and get our staff volunteers involved, to tell the young people what their jobs are, how they got to where they are now and what they actually do.

Dan: I work in the IT department as an infrastructure supervisor, helping look after Wi-fi, satellite, phones and TV across the estate, for the tenants in the buildings, the restaurants and the retailers. 

I used to be an electrician here working day and night shifts – a different world to 8am-5pm.

That means I can help people understand that you can come from that background to a role like this. My background benefits me because I can collaborate with people on the ground.

why apply for the junior board?

Dan: When I was working shifts, I kept coming up with all these ideas, but had no-one to share them with.

I’d see things in the malls, listen to people’s conversations and wonder what I could do with them.

That’s why I applied – I thought it would be good to have someone on it from a maintenance background. 

I didn’t tell a soul because I was scared what people might think of somebody in my position applying for something like that. It’s turned out pretty well.

Julie: I was the opposite, I wasn’t going to apply at all because I thought I wasn’t good enough, but I talked to one of my mentors who thought I was.

So I applied because my role is all about raising others’ confidence and trying to improve the lives of stakeholders and employees.

what are the board’s ambitions?

Julie: After many discussions, we decided to focus on three main areas – pay and progression, how to improve internal culture and collaboration in the business and how to change external perceptions of Canary Wharf and Canary Wharf Group, which is very important to us. 

Within those areas there are different projects, such as the introduction of ‘coffee roulette’ where two people working for the business meet for half an hour and get to know each other. 

Dan: I’ve been on a couple already with people from the legal and construction departments and it’s amazing – a chance to understand what people do in different areas of the business.

Julie: Building relationships is so important for an organisation and this aligns with one of the company’s values, which is cooperation.

I met someone from the residential sales team and went on a tour of One Park Drive in Wood Wharf, which I hadn’t seen before. Half an hour wasn’t enough so we’ve put another date in the diary.

Canary Wharf Group Junior Board member Dan Pereira
Canary Wharf Group Junior Board member Dan Pereira

what’s the benefit to the business?

Julie: I think the biggest thing is the culture change. Not a lot of companies have a junior board but it means that decisions are not just top-down.

The management board come and ask us if they’re doing things in the right way. 

It’s being taken seriously. We’re each paired with a member of the board and reverse-mentor them on a regular basis.

Dan: We rotate after six sessions, which means we get someone different and that means new opportunities to learn.

At the moment I meet the CEO – Shobi Khan – once a month. He’s kept every appointment and we discuss things that need improving and I give him my opinion.

We go on walks, which means everyone knows who I am now, and he gets a different understanding from me. 

I try to be completely honest – if he says something I don’t agree with I’ll say so and there are things I mention to him that he won’t have heard about before.

For example, I took him down to my old mess room underground and he’s looking at relocating those facilities so managers and engineers can work more easily together.

That’s given me a sense of confidence that I can talk to anybody. Being able to spend an hour with the CEO and feel comfortable puts you in a good position.

Before joining the board I hardly spoke to anybody and kept myself to myself.

Julie: For me it’s been a chance to learn about other areas of the company, understand the issues they face and what could be done differently.

I’m paired with Alastair Mullens who is head of Canary Wharf’s build-to-rent business Vertus and he’s a  very inspiring person.

how do you want to change the perception of Canary Wharf?

Dan: We want to make sure people know it’s available for everybody, not just those in suits.

We want families and tourists to visit, for it to be seen as a great place to come, with so much to do. You don’t have to spend money here – you can come here with nothing and still have a great day out. 

There are parks and great views.My favourite thing is to watch the sunset at Canary Riverside. I take my camera and it’s great.

We want people to feel they’re welcome. I recently spoke to some school kids, and I asked them if they could see themselves working at Canary Wharf, and they said they would need a degree – but I was able to tell them that’s not true, it’s not the route I took.

Julie: We want to emphasise that there are lots of arts and events here that are free. We’ve got the largest public art collection in the UK.

One of my favourite places is Crossrail Place Roof Garden, which is really cool in the summer – you can relax and enjoy the scenery.

As members of the Junior Board we can contribute to how this place develops.

For me, there are two areas we should focus on – ensuring Canary Wharf is inclusive, that there are people working here and visiting from different backgrounds and I think we are already well on our way there.

I also want to see more competitive socialising in the retail element of the estate.

Dan: I think Canary Wharf Group needs to keep doing what it’s doing at the moment – adding more things to make the estate better.

We have lots of open green spaces and now there’s the option to go open water swimming in Middle Dock too.

Read more: Discover newly-opened M restaurant in Canary Wharf

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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 Ultimate Performance works to help its clients meet their goals

Wood Wharf-based personal training business offers relentless focus and commitment

Ultimate Performance's Mike Turnbull assists in a lift
Ultimate Performance’s Mike Turnbull assists in a lift – image Matt Grayson

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Ultimate Performance (UP) might look a bit like a traditional gym.

Descend into the brand’s Wood Wharf facility underneath the 10 George Street residential tower and you’ll find ranks of high-end Atlantis fitness machines in serious red, white and black livery, shiny lines of silver dumbbells awaiting the firm grip of sweating clients and a scarlet trackway ready for a pounding from those pushing sleds.  

But this business is a very different animal.

This is “where the excuses stop and the results begin” – according both to the writing on the wall of the facility and more subliminally from the TV screen beside the street-level entrance, which broadcasts an unrelenting carousel of before and after pictures of the bodily changes achieved by its clients.

Founded in 2009 by personal trainer Nick Mitchell, UP has grown from a one-man band in east London, to operating 21 gyms in four continents. 

It only offers in-gym or online personal training, meaning its clients only work out at its facilities on a one-to-one basis for hour-long sessions with their trainer present.

“Our motto is: ‘Producing results not promises’,” said Wood Wharf UP gym manager Mike Turnbull.

“We always aim to give clients a significant return on their investment.

“Nick’s founding idea was to change the personal training industry for the better and to make sure the clients were getting the best out of it.

“People who train with us get serious value for money.

“They sign up for results – whether they want to achieve a certain bodyweight or look – and we’re going to say that with the programmes that we have, designed over more than 10 years, we know we can deliver.”

The internet is awash with surveys suggesting people often fail to achieve the fitness goals they set themselves – one by Bodybuilding.com found only 27% had done so within a year with only 40% getting halfway there when left to their own devices.

UP’s approach is squarely aimed at addressing that challenge, although with a price tag of £5,650 for a 12-week, 36-session package, access requires a significant financial outlay.

The justification for that bill comes in the sheer intensity of approach from UP.

Ultimate Performance's Wood Wharf gym
Ultimate Performance’s Wood Wharf gym – image Matt Grayson

“Our programmes are very much backed up by science, so we know we can deliver,” said Mike.

“First of all at a consultation, we break down the layers to find the true reason a client has come to us.

“That’s different for every person – it might be to get a six-pack, to be able to perform 10 pull-ups or just to feel healthy again. 

“We want to understand their vision so we can project-manage to help them achieve their end goal.

“We’ll take a full set of measurements, photos and conduct an intense assessment on the gym floor so we get a real profile of their starting point.

“Then we’ll know what to do to build their training programme.

“It will also allow us to set nutritional guidelines – how many calories a person is going to need – breaking that down to fats, protein and carbohydrates, so we can find the calorie deficit necessary to help achieve their goal.

“From a scientific point of view, that’s the guarantee – the harder part is coming in with the right mindset and being able to follow the plan. 

“That’s where our trainers come in to try to find the right solutions to any problem, to guide people and help them stay accountable.

“We have a messaging system where clients can contact our trainers at any time as a support network to keep them going.”

This holistic approach offers clients a clear plan to achieve their goals, although UP is clear that the effort has to come from them.

The brand’s regional manager for London and Amsterdam, Matt Milles, said: “We’re serious about what we do to achieve results.

“For us, it’s about going the extra mile with everything we do. 

“That includes how we approach nutrition – we offer packages to help time-poor people – how we train clients in the gym itself, the level of support and service we give outside the gym and the amount of time and money we invest into making sure that every aspect of our operation works, whether that’s the personal training product itself or the technology behind it.

“Even if we’re doing something well, we don’t want to rest on our laurels, but ask ourselves how we could do it better.

“However that doesn’t mean our clients have to be athletes – we train clients from every single background you can imagine.

“We have complete beginners, people who want to get in shape ahead of a holiday or a wedding, or sports people who want to build muscle.

“People usually come to us because they want to achieve a physical goal, but they find there are also lots of mental health benefits to exercise.

“Our clients talk to us about how much more confident they feel and the benefits to their relationships with their family and work colleagues.

“They’re more energised – they’ve got more energy to spend with their kids and such things are priceless.”

Ultimate Performance's Matt Milles
Ultimate Performance’s Matt Milles – image Matt Grayson

Mike and Matt have been with UP for about seven years, having both worked as personal trainers before joining.

“Working in commercial gyms is tough,” said Mike.

“It’s finding your feet, building a client base – you’re out there on your own, wanting to be the best, but not sure how to get there. 

“At UP, you have a mentor and a team and there’s a lot of support.

“You’ll be looking after your clients, but we’re always working to understand how we can improve our programmes – you have to be a certain level of trainer before you walk through the door.

“Then you get to concentrate on that job because you don’t have to do the marketing or the sales – you just focus on the training and helping your clients get the most out of it.

“That’s the best bit of the job – seeing the person in front of you changing and working towards their goals is super-rewarding.

“As a manager, my role is to look after and train the trainers and to oversee the programmes.

“We have multiple team meetings every week to discuss where we can improve.

“That’s all to make sure we’re delivering a very high quality of service to everyone.”

Having recently opened, UP’s Wood Wharf gym is currently seeing about 100 clients per week, but has capacity for at least 400 as it looks to grow its customer base locally.

“As a trainer myself, joining UP was like going from playing Sunday football to the Premier League,” said Matt. 

“It was a massive difference in terms of the results we achieve but also the amount of effort we put in.

“Our clients are generally very successful at what they do, but that can mean their health and fitness has taken a back seat. 

“That might be because they have a career and a family and that’s understandable. 

“We’re here for when they realise they need to make a change and, instead of going into a commercial gym and spinning their wheels with no progress, this is a place they can come where they know they will get results.

“As long as they are prepared to do what they need to do, they can be confident we’ll cross all the Ts and dot all the Is to make that happen.

“You might see your trainer for three hours a week, but we’re in touch with our clients every day outside those sessions – that really makes the difference. 

“I really think that’s the big secret and the reason we achieve the results that we do – because we go the extra mile. That comes from experience.”

Ultimate Performance is open daily with early morning and evening sessions available most days.

Trainers work one-to-one at Ultimate Performance
Trainers work one-to-one at Ultimate Performance – image Matt Grayson

Read more: Discover open water swimming in Canary Wharf

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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: Why Emilia’s Crafted Pasta is all about combining shape and sauce

Wood Wharf opening for restaurant and bar features table bocce and plenty of dishes to explore

Emilia's makes pasta fresh every day
Emilia’s makes pasta fresh every day – image Matt Grayson

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You’ve seen Hawksmoor’s barge floating in the dock from Montgomery Square. You’re aware Amazon Fresh has a walk-in, walk-out convenience store opposite.

But now is the time to explore a little deeper into Wood Wharf. Water Street, Park Drive, Harbour Quay Gardens and George Street – these are the locations you need in the back of your head. 

Right now it’s the last of these that should be on your radar because, after much pandemic-related delay, Canary Wharf’s emerging residential district has its first bricks and mortar restaurant and bar.

The doors to Emilia’s Crafted Pasta have finally opened at 12 George Street offering Wharfers a place to eat and drink their fill and maybe play on what’s believed to be the first table bocce set in the UK. 

For Andrew Macleod, founder and CEO of the business, which has branches in St Katharine Docks and Aldgate, it’s a welcome sight.

“There were times when I didn’t know whether the day would come – the build took six months,” he said.

“We’ve tried to create a very laid-back, rustic feel, where customers feel a bit of a buzz, a bit of action, but a bit of calm too.

“This is not a big fancy restaurant with lots of finesse. We’ve used natural materials throughout, with various types of wood and a terracotta plaster from Cornwall, to recreate that look you see in Italy alongside tiles from the country itself.

“We also like to pay homage to the local area and what’s here – that’s the reason we have kept a lot of exposed concrete throughout the interior – it’s because that is what this area is about, the big new buildings.

“We’ve even left the builders’ pencil markings on the walls from George Street’s original construction.”

The Wood Wharf branch of Emilia’s – image Matt Grayson

The undisputed chief attraction, however, is Emilia’s dedication to the core dish on its menu – pasta made fresh every day on-site and paired with specific sauces.

It’s a process diners and drinkers at Emilia’s can watch taking place.

“When they come in, they find the premises split into two parts – one a fully open bar and the other a trattoria-style dining area with a fully open kitchen,” said Andrew.

“On one side you can watch cocktails being made and drinks being served and on the other you can see the activity in the kitchen.

“In terms of the pasta, the first thing to say is that all shapes are not made equal. I would never tell people what they can and can’t pair with what – that’s their choice. All I can say is what we do here. 

“In my opinion, and the opinion of many chefs, you can optimise taste based on the geometry of the pasta you use with a particular sauce.

“When we look at different pasta shapes and sauces, we’re trying to make it so that in every mouthful the customer gets a full set of flavours.

“If you’re ever served a bowl in a restaurant and the sauce and pasta have completely separated then you have a problem.

“It could be the pasta hasn’t been made fresh, that the pasta water hasn’t been used in the sauce or that the wrong shape has been used for the pairing.

“What’s vital is getting the sauce to stick – you shouldn’t see sauce at the bottom of the bowl, oil around the side and the pasta on top. 

“I’ve picked three of the dishes we serve to explain why we serve pasta the way we do.”

Pesto with casarecce
Pesto with casarecce – image Matt Grayson

ONE

  • homemade basil pesto, £12
  • pasta – casarecce

“We serve our pesto with casarecce – a strange, twisted shape,” said Andrew.

“It’s a very creamy thin sauce and with this shape of pasta you have lots of twists and turns so, when you mix it in the pan, you get the pesto on every millimetre of the pasta.

“If you had a much thicker sauce, it wouldn’t get into these ridges. There’s also a shape called trofie, which is similar.

“When you serve this sauce with either of these two shapes they pick the sauce up and you get the full set of flavours in your mouth.”

Bechamel bolognese with pappardelle
Bechamel bolognese with pappardelle – image Matt Grayson

TWO

  • bechamel bolognese, £12.70
  • pasta – pappardelle

“This pasta – pappardelle – is like tagliatelle but wider,” said Andrew. “The bolognese or ragu has a lot going on. We cook it for four hours – there’s tomato, vegetables and meat. It’s a very hearty sauce.

“What happens with a big ribbon like that is that everything sticks to it.

“If you take a strand up with all the chunks of veg and meat sticking to it, then you roll that and you eat it, so you have the whole ragu.

“If the pasta isn’t made fresh, the sauce won’t stick so well. Of course, some people like this sauce with spaghetti and I’m not saying there’s only one right way to eat it, but for us this is the combination that works.”

Radiatori with tomato sauce
Radiatori with tomato sauce – image Matt Grayson

THREE

  • tomato sauce with basil, £8.50
  • pasta – radiatori

“The final pasta I want to mention is the radiatori – so-called because it’s shaped like cast iron radiators,” said Andrew.

“I loved the novelty of it – a shape you’re not likely to have seen before – and that’s what we’re about at Emilia’s.

“We’re trying to create a pasta experience which is familiar, but a bit different. We serve our tomato sauce with the radiatori.

“It’s quite thin, but the shape of the pasta is able to capture it perfectly. Then you have small chunks of Mozzarella in the bowl and you need to get one of those with a piece of pasta to get the best from the dish.”

Read more: Discover The Well Bean Co in Royal Docks

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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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Canary Wharf: Open-plan homes launched at Wood Wharf’s 8 Harbord Square

Canary Wharf Group unveils warehouse-style properties packed with industrial features

The show home has been dressed to show the space’s potential

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Through the detective novels of country singer, writer, sometime politician and fictitious amateur sleuth Kinky Friedman, I first developed a desire to live in a loft.

The Texan’s austere space shared only with a cat and dressed with a vintage espresso machine, a plaster bust of Sherlock Holmes filled with cigars and two red telephones on a desk connected to the same line to give incoming calls a greater sense of importance, struck me as aspirational. 

I even found myself making a pilgrimage to Vandam Street on a visit to New York to see the supposed site of the character’s residence – a little like fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle travel to Baker Street to stroke the foot of Holmes’ statue.

Turn on the TV, watch something American and, you’ll often find the main character living in a raw industrial space with plenty of light streaming in to illuminate exposed brickwork, bare concrete and bold art – the sort of place the supposed income from their job as a cop or a private eye would never actually support.

Cross the pond and, even in London, the dream seems unattainable. Brick-built warehouse properties don’t exactly pop up on the market very often.

Which is why the design of Canary Wharf Group’s latest collection of 82 properties for Wood Wharf is both clever and just a little bit breathtaking.

The first thing that hits you when you walk into the show apartment at 8 Harbord Square is the sheer size of it. 

Buyers could choose to keep the whole apartment open-plan

More than 1,000sq ft of almost completely unbroken space stretches out from the door, dressed to show off the potential dual aspect styling of the Gramercy – the larger of the two types of loft on offer.

While the Prospect is smaller at just over 800sq ft and single aspect, it features the same bare brick and industrial radiator finish.

It also shares with its sibling the fact that the only fixed elements within are the bathroom and kitchen. 

Everything else is up for grabs. Buyers can take the spaces as bare shells and fill them full of high-end furniture, art and retro curios or choose to divide the space with walls in a more conventional layout.

“This is a brand new concept for Canary Wharf and, as far as I know, in new-build developments over the last 20 years I’ve been working in the industry,” said Canary Wharf Group director of residential sales Brian De’ath. 

“We’re creating a warehouse-style space and giving it over to truly open-plan living. The show apartment demonstrates that – there are no internal walls other than the ones dividing the bathroom off from the rest of the space.

“The way we’ve dressed it reflects one possible way of living in these apartments, but they lend themselves to a multitude of options.

“You could, for example, divide them up into three bedrooms or one bedroom with a study.

“We’ve created a suite of floorplans to help give people ideas as well as partnering with an interior designer who will also offer advice if that’s what buyers are looking for.

“With most new-build properties, those decisions have already been made by the developer – where a bedroom is located and what size it is. 

“With these, people can absolutely configure their own space or leave it completely open. 

“When the 82 apartments are finished, I hope I can walk into them and see 82 different ways of living in them.”

The bathroom and kitchen are the only two fixed features

Launched earlier this month, the apartments all feature Crittal-style windows, exposed brickwork, black ceiling fans, red pipework for the sprinkler system and black cast iron radiators.

Kitchens come in stainless steel with Siemens appliances, while bathrooms include freestanding baths, twin sinks and walk-in Crittal-style shower areas.

The feel is deliberately industrial with exposed electrical conduits and it’s all part of Canary Wharf Group’s plan to attract a certain kind of buyer.

“It’s not something anyone ever asks for,” said Brian. “But people have said they really like seeing how the building works.

“We wanted to create a diversity of product on the estate. We’ve completed our first apartments in 10 Park Drive and One Park Drive and they offer a fabulous way to live in Canary Wharf in a traditional style of home.

“We didn’t want to follow them up with another building in the same mould. We wanted to show another way to live here and to reach a demographic who perhaps hadn’t previously considered the estate as a place for them.

“What we have here is very different to everything else.  It’s a real representation of everything you’d get living in a warehouse that was built 150 years ago – the high 2.9m ceilings, for example – but with all the modern conveniences of a new-build and the amenities of the whole of Canary Wharf within a 15 minute walk.

“We think these properties will really appeal to people who are design-savvy, who want to curate their life through the things that they own and live with. We haven’t tried to create a building that people say is ‘quite nice’. Buyers will either fall in love with it or it won’t be for them. 

“We can see how popular true second-hand warehouse stock is in London – places such as West India Quay, Shad Thames, Clerkenwell and Shoreditch – such apartments in these places appear on the covers of interiors magazines.

“We think people who like those properties will also like these.”

Located in Wood Wharf, 8 Harbord Square will be adjacent to forthcoming shopping area The Lanes – an area intended to have the feel of Soho’s bustling streets and businesses. The 11-storey building will be finished in ornate red brickwork and tiles and sits next to Harbord Square park towards the eastern edge of Canary Wharf.

Prices start at £745,000 for a Prospect apartment.

Read More: Discover shared ownership homes at Landmark Pinnacle

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Canary Wharf: Emilia’s Crafted Pasta prepares to open flagship at Wood Wharf

The restaurant and bar is set for the ground floor at 12 George Street and features table bocce

Emilia's Crafted Pasta founder Andrew Macleod
Emilia’s Crafted Pasta founder Andrew Macleod – image Matt Grayson

Five years ago, Andrew Macleod opened the first branch of Emilia’s Crafted Pasta at St Katherine Docks in east London. Following its success he opened a second, larger establishment in Aldgate in 2019.

Born of a passion for good pasta and a desire to bring it to Londoners freshly made, served with a punchy array of sauces and at a reasonable price, the brand continue to grow.

Now Andrew and his team are preparing to launch Emilia’s flagship restaurant at Wood Wharf, with the doors expected to open in November.

That will place his dishes within easy walking distance of the whole Canary Wharf estate, not to mention much of the Isle Of Dogs, for the first time.

“Wood Wharf is an evolved concept,” said Andrew. “Part of what we do at Emilia’s is to keep everything simple and fresh. That’s what we stand by in terms of our food, our business and how we run stuff.

“Whenever we go into an area, we want to be part of it, not impostors. So, what we’ve done with Wood Wharf is to have half the restaurant as more of an all-day bar – for example, there will be a tabletop version of bocce, an Italian game similar to French boules.

“Wood Wharf is going to be a neighbourhood where people come to work, live and enjoy themselves, so what we wanted was the space to be tailored to that.

“For me, that means I want people to walk in, play a bit of bocce, have a drink, a coffee and a catch up, or for them to be hanging out, sitting on a beautiful terrace overlooking the water and the park, eating pasta and drinking cocktails.

“The idea is that you’re coming into a bustling trattoria in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy – a place the whole concept pays homage to, both its food and the techniques used to make it.

“For me, the vision is that we want to bring 100% natural, affordable, fresh pasta to as many people as possible, in a way that respects those traditions, and feels very casual and Italian

“The more we can spread that, the happier I’ll be. We’re not in a rush, we’re not here just to open other branches – we just want to make this one right.”

The Wood Wharf restaurant will feature table bocce
The Wood Wharf restaurant will feature table bocce

The new restaurant will be located on the ground floor at 12 George Street, overlooking Harbour Quay Gardens and the boardwalk along West India South Dock. Inside visitors can expect rustic wooden furniture, plenty of marble and hand-painted tiles.

New dishes are promised, alongside Emilia’s core menu, which offers bowls of pasta costing between £8 and £14 – the Canary Wharf bar is also expected to offer a range of cocktails based on locally sourced fruits and Italian spirits. 

At full capacity, the restaurant will be able to accommodate 100 diners with 70 inside and 30 outdoors.

Andrew said: “For me, launching a pasta restaurant never had anything to do with trends. When I was at university, I loved pasta, but I was really disappointed, because I’d moved out of home and was trying to find good places that did it and the only ones  were big chains.

“About 10 years ago most of it was just frozen and horrible and places were charging £15 a bowl. You could pay £20 and get something a bit more high-end but I felt that didn’t really represent pasta in the way it was traditionally consumed in Italy, informally.

“I thought if Emilia’s could make pasta that was significantly better than what people were having at home in the UK, then we would be in with a shot as a brand.

“At the heart of Emilia’s, from day one, has always been that all our food is 100% natural.

“We make it on-site, start to finish, and anything we source, comes from people who are suppliers of food that I would eat every day at home myself and be proud to do so.

“That’s how we’ve built it, and we’ve never stepped away from that. We started in St Katharine Docks in November 2016. We had some nights in the early days without a single customer, but slowly people discovered us and we built up a following.

A bowl of pasta at Emilia's
A bowl of pasta at Emilia’s – image Matt Grayson

“Then we got so busy we decided to expand. Aldgate came in 2019 and now we have this fabulous opportunity to open in Wood Wharf.

“We want to be at the forefront of showcasing that, as a young brand, without much funding, you can, with tight cost control, a good team and a good culture, build something very meaningful, and we’ve grown organically from day one. Each of our restaurants comes off the back of our previous operation.

“For us, the key thing is that, if you do something sustainably, it should be able to continue for a very long time without damaging the world or the people who are with you.

“Most of our managers have been with us for more than three years. When Covid hit, we didn’t sack anyone, we paid furlough and topped up people’s wages because that’s who we are.

“Emilia’s is like a family, it lives on. It’s got to be that people are coming to work happy, doing their shift and going home happy. That’s our company culture.

“It’s about being able to see that you’re leaving the world a better place for all the people who have been part of the journey – that’s what sustainability is all about.

“When a business is built, you create jobs, livelihoods. You develop people, help them grow and, hopefully, the soil somewhere is better because it gets properly kept as farmers are following sustainable agriculture and processes to make it better. That’s what it’s about, and that’s what we strive towards.

“I’m very excited to be opening this restaurant and that we’re continuing our mission in one of London’s most exciting developments in a beautiful setting surrounded by green spaces and water.”

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Canary Wharf: MMy Wood Wharf by Mercato Metropolitano set for the estate

Image of Mercato Metropolitano founder and CED Andrea Rasca

George Street facility will house traders selling pizza, gelato, beer and wine plus a jazz club

Mercato Metropolitano founder and CED Andrea Rasca – image James Perrin

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Andrea Rasca has two gifts. Spend even a little time with the founder and self-styled chief executive dreamer of Mercato Metropolitano and it’s not long before his talent for simplicity emerges. He can take a complex area like sustainability, for example, and cut through the crap, the greenwashing and the often tepid attempts by big corporations to polish their images.  

This feeds into his second gift – vision. Andrea can see potential, conceive of successful places that don’t yet exist. So it’s easy, sat in the sunshine on the meandering wooden benches stretching down to West India South Dock, for him to conjure a future where the waterside park becomes the most attractive destination for visitors to Canary Wharf.

The exquisitely finished boardwalk and the emerging residential community at the eastern end of the estate are two of the reasons his business has taken space in George Street to create MMy Wood Wharf, set to open later this summer.

To understand the potency of this opening, it’s important to look at where it’s coming from. In 2015, Andrea set up Mercato Metropolitano on the site of a former paper mill in Elephant And Castle. Today, the 45,000sq ft facility attracts millions of visitors every year and is host to more than 40 vendors, a micro brewery, a gin distillery, a jazz club and an extensive grocery. 

But it’s also an expression of Andrea’s goals and ideals. It’s a platform for small businesses to trade, but to do so they must fit in with MM’s sustainable economic model that strives to be socially responsible and an asset to the local community it operates in.

“I want to make food become the centre of our lives,” said Andrea. “We eat three times a day. It’s our first medicine. Food connects us to environmental issues, to farmers and to our health. There’s nothing more important. For the last 70 years, food has been treated like a normal commodity The big corporations have decided to sell us food regardless of the provenance or chemical content – they just want to make more money out of it.

“Five years ago I arrived at a point where I said: ‘I think I’ve got it, it’s enough for me. Why don’t we try to go back to how things were – this should be the normal state of things. There’s no genius here.

“With this model, we created a physical platform where we could allow small entrepreneurs and producers to operate without the hassle of rent, the business rates, things like that.

“We would give everything to them and help them grow their businesses so they could concentrate on the food. That meant they had to align with our vision, our manifesto for sustainability and food as a human right, which means adequate food  – accessible nutritious and compatible with the local culture.

“We vet every single one of each business’ suppliers and they have to change if they don’t conform to our model.”

Having created a successful pilot in Milan, Andrea turned his attention to London, a city he’d been visiting since the age of 15, having struck a deal with his father that the cost of his trips to stay with a cosmopolitan family in Harrow-On-The-Hill would be covered so long as he was learning English. 

It was an arrangement that allowed him not only to indulge his passion for opera, musicals and jazz, but also to uncover the good things in the capital’s food scene at the time.

“I have always been attracted to London for the kind of soft power or energy that it has,” said Andrea. “So I decided I wanted to test my idea in one of the best markets in the world – for me, that was Borough Market.

“But on a trip to look for locations there was some misunderstanding about what I was looking for. I was being shown places where there was footfall from a marketing perspective.

“So I said I couldn’t care less – I didn’t need historical data because what I see is what is not yet there. I wanted to feel the vibe of a location for people’s needs they didn’t yet know they had.

“So when they showed me the Elephant And Castle site – an abandoned printing factory full of drug addicts – it was beautiful. I fell in love. I had a feeling, crazy, but it was there. So I told my friends I was going to do it, against all of their advice.”

Having opened in 2016 on a shoestring with Andrea and his friends doing much of the conversion work themselves, the first year saw MM rack up £9million in sales, more than doubling that in its third year with more than 4million visitors coming through the doors.

“We call it a circus now – food is very important, but it’s 50% and the other half is the atmosphere of artists, community and accessibility,” said Andrea. “We realised that somewhere like this could reach more people in a city like London.” 

MMy Wood Wharf is set to open later this year – image James Perrin

Which brings us to MMy Wood Wharf – the latest project – as Andrea expands across the capital, having already launched at a second site near Elephant and in a converted church in Mayfair. November is expected to see a 30-vendor venue open on the Redbridge Town Hall car park site in Ilford with seating for 600 people. But before that, his Canary Wharf venture will open its doors.

“I had the idea in my head that whenever we open a big one, we need to have smaller ones too to provide a bit of an alternative to the delivery system for takeaway food, which is not a model with love,” said Andrea. 

“First they sell anything, like McDonalds, and I don’t want to be in that space, secondly, they have dark kitchens and you don’t know what they’re cooking in there and, thirdly, the delivery guys are underpaid.

“In the restaurant business we control everything – the safety regulations are amazing, so my idea was to combine a smaller version of our grocery, not a big variety but everything you need, with a smaller version of Mercato and deliver in a different way to the people who live a few hundred metres from the market.

“It’s called MMy, because it’s the customer’s space, their community. Every one will be different and I want people to tell me if they like it or they want to change it.” 

So what can Wharfers expect when MMy Wood Wharf opens its doors later this year?

“First of all, good food not compromised by conglomerates, or chemicals – everything will be healthy and natural,” said Andrea.

“We’re going to have 10 small corners inside, so you will have the chance to buy your own cheese and ham, freshly baked bread and olive oil.

“You will also have the chance to eat the most amazing gelato, freshly made every morning, great meat from our butchers, oysters, fresh fish, amazing craft beer and a wonderful corner of wines.

“We’re going to have amazing pizza, which is the same as we have in the other locations, with 48-hour raised dough, Neapolitan tomatoes and Mozzarella, which you need to have for a good pizza, and pasta made freshly in front of you – there will be such a big variety.

“On the lower ground floor we’ll have an amazing jazz club with music and food and drinks – wines from all around Europe and further afield.

“The most important thing, which I really want to stress, is that food, people and environment are at the centre of everything we do, not shareholders’ revenue.

“This is vital, because the only way forward is not when you talk about sustainability, but when your business is based on it.

“Sustainability is not just showing that 1% of your business is green, but when 100% of everything you do is – maybe not perfect yet – but aiming towards that. We are plastic-free and all our staff are paid the London living wage as a minimum. It’s easy to be green and then pay nothing to your employees.

“I believe – first of all – you have to create your own community. Then we need to talk to kids about it, that’s the future. 

“Everything we do is about creating the right balance for a better city.”

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Canary Wharf: GoBoat launches Wood Wharf branch of its boat hire business

An image showing a GoBoat in Canary Wharf

How GoBoat is set to hire out craft for a  tranquil cruise among the Wharf’s towers

Image shows two GoBoats sailing in Canary Wharf
GoBoats can take up to eight people with one acting as the designated captain

In addition to being the first day when hospitality venues can welcome guests back inside, May 17, 2021, is the date a new attraction is about to set sail in Canary Wharf.

A quartet of low-slung sleek grey GoBoats has already arrived in West India South Dock in preparation for the launch, which will see the company renting the craft from a base at Wood Wharf.

Inspired by an enjoyable time on the water during a stag-do in Denmark, co-owners Grant Sweeney and Julian Wootton gave up decade-long careers in management consultancy to start their own business from scratch.

Founded in 2017, GoBoat already has operations on the Regent’s Canal at Paddington and on the non-tidal Thames in Kingston. 

Grant said: “We’re an eco-friendly, self-drive boat hire business. Our boats are made from predominantly recycled materials and are powered by electric engines. We’re all about getting people onto the waterways of the UK and allowing them to have a fun time with their friends and family.

“Canary Wharf will be our third location and we’re super-excited about being here – we can’t wait to open and to get people onto these wonderful waters in Docklands.”

Initially the company will operate four boats, eventually rising to eight. GoBoats seat up to eight people and are available to explore the West India Docks and Blackwall Basin, with visitors booking either one, two or three hours for £89, £129 or £169 respectively.

“The experience is all about social interaction,” said Grant. “We view our boats as a platform to enjoy the city – it’s about giving our customers a different perspective on a part of London that they might already know but haven’t seen from the water.

“Each boat has a designated captain and they are responsible for steering. Customers go straight out on the water after a relatively short handover where they learn how to drive and steer.

“Typically our customers bring a picnic down. They are allowed to have a couple of alcoholic drinks, but no more than that and the captain remains sober.

“Essentially, it’s a fun, social experience and I think there’s a real demand for that now as we, hopefully, come out of the pandemic. Being outdoors, it’s quite a safe environment and it provides happy memories for our customers.

“I hope anyone who takes a journey with us feels relaxed. A number of studies have shown that being on the water is good for people’s mental health.

“We see it all the time – as soon as our customers get on the boat, there’s a different vibe – almost like a sigh of relief. 

“When boats pass each other, everyone waves. You wouldn’t do that on a footpath or in a car, but on the water it’s different.

“Everything about our business has been designed to complement that, so the slow pace of life on the boat is deliberate, because we want people to be calm and relax and talk to one another. They’re limited to 4mph by design for a reason.

“It’s also why the boats have been designed with the picnic table in the centre, so that guests sit around the table opposite one another, and it encourages conversation, rather than looking forward and not talking to each other or using their phones.”

Sustainability was a key consideration when Grant and Julian set up the business and they’re always looking for ways to make their operation more environmentally friendly.

Grant said: “About 80% of each boat is made from recycled plastic bottles and the wood that is used for the picnic tables in the centre of the boats is from sustainable sources.

“The engines are electric, so there’s no environmental pollution and no noise pollution as they cruise over the water.

“We are a very environmentally friendly business and, in terms of the customer experience, the lack of noise from the engine encourages conversation.

“We are very proud of our green credentials and we want to carry that forward and try to improve that at every opportunity. We are currently looking at ways to reduce the amount of plastic that our customers leave on the boats, for example.”

That’s no small task considering the success of the business so far, which in four years has taken the owners somewhat by surprise.

“We didn’t anticipate that it would get so big, so quickly and become so popular,” said Grant.

“We estimate that we had about 100,000 customers last year across both of our sites. We’re really proud of our team for achieving that.

“We’re not sure how many we’ll get in Canary Wharf initially, but we think it will be a sizeable number.”

An image showing a GoBoat moored in Canary Wharf
Each GoBoat has a picnic table that sailors can use for their refreshments – image by Illyas Ayub

Elena Istode will be running things on the ground as GoBoat location manager for Canary Wharf.

She said: “I started in 2019 with the company as a crew member and then came back for a second season as a supervisor.

“Sailing a GoBoat is very safe, although we will recommend everyone wears a life jacket just in case as the water is deep and quite cold. Everything around here is very well managed, so there’s very little danger.

“We can’t wait to welcome our first customers and the most important thing is that we’ll be selling ice cream from Hackney gelato.”

 Other refreshments will also be available at GoBoat’s kiosk and the firm is currently on the hunt for more locally-based food and beverage partners to extend its offering to customers.

Grant added: “We’re really excited to be in this environment. We had conversations back in 2018 with Canary Wharf Group and, at every step of the way, we’ve had really positive support from them – it’s been a joy really.

“We feel the water in Docklands needs more animation and it has always been our ambition to come here. We think it’s such a stunning part of London’s waterways and it just seems so obvious to us to do this.

“The landscape here is unparalleled – it gives you that urban experience, which you don’t get at our other two sites. Each one of them is quite a different experience.” 

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