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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

An image showing GoBoat co-owner Grant Sweeney
GoBoat co-owner Grant Sweeney – image by Illyas Ayub

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.

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

“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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