A new restaurant in London is always an optimistic thing. The industry is teeming with talent and loves to embrace the positive. But opening a restaurant isn’t always easy, even without staffing issues linked to Brexit, a certain virus and the rising costs of…everything. So what’s it like jumping into London’s food pool in 2022?
Photo: Caitlin Isola
The one who prepares modern Malaysian cuisine
Chef Abby Lee’s first foray into the restaurant world didn’t have the best timing. It opened in Spitalfields selling salads to city workers just weeks before the first lockdown and was forced to close. Now she dusts herself off and tries again Mambov at market stalls in Peckham. “After hitting rock bottom, I went to Singapore and Malaysia with my tail between my legs and haven’t been back to see my family since the pandemic,” she explains. During her time at home, she cooked for aunts and grandmas, where she rediscovered the joy of cooking. “I’ve never cooked food from my home culture and I didn’t believe in what I was doing before. If your heart isn’t in it, then what’s the point? I’m glad I failed and had time to think.” This new perspective has pushed her to show people that Malaysian cuisine is more than laksa and roti. Lee wants to preserve traditional Malaysian and Nonya recipes, but also add a fun twist with black pepper to dishes like Hainanese chicken sando and her grandmother’s Sarawak chicken curry recipe.
opening date? now opened
The one thing to order? The M Wing is a pickled and fried chicken wing in an anchovy sambal. It’s seriously addictive stuff.
Stall 11, Market, 133a Rye Ln, SE15 4BQ
Photo: Jessica Wang
The one that has a real open fire
Fire in the hole, Soho! Firebird is a new flame sprinkled small plate restaurant and natural wine bar. Founded by restaurateurs Madina Kazhimova and Anna Dolgushina, who run a highly acclaimed pan-Asian restaurant in St. Petersburg called Wong Kar Wine. For this spot they do things a little differently, opting for a relaxed, no-nonsense approach to Mediterranean cuisine and a dynamic wine selection from small producers. “Why not try something new and fun?” says Kazhimova. ‘Isn’t that what restaurants are all about? We go out to laugh, eat and drink. Some say the hospitality industry is in crisis, but for us we see opportunities. Five years ago the market was so competitive and impossible for a small restaurant like us to compete. Now we’re ready to take advantage of that opportunity.” Diners will have front-row seats and a chance to sample charred seasonal items like rump steak with roasted onions and smoked bone marrow and roast duck breast with prune chutney and roasted plums.
opening date? Now opened.
The one thing to order? The epic sounding Firebird Alaska is a flaming baked dessert. Trust us, it will shine.
Polenstrasse 29, W1F 8QR
Photo: Dumpling Shack
The lost dumpling returns east
After years of attracting queues at Spitalfields Market, a Chinese street food stall dumpling shack is taking things to the next level with its first permanent sit-down restaurant in London Fields. Chef owners John and Yee Li return to where it all began when they started trading at School Yard Market in 2014. “Having my own premises where we call the shots is what I wanted to achieve and it’s a dream come true. Coming back to Hackney is like a homecoming and means everything to us,” says John. “I made a lot of expensive mistakes during the process, but I had to make mistakes to become a better business person.” The site had to be completely refitted with a new kitchen and ventilation system and now there are two restaurants spread over two floors. Downstairs, Dumpling Shack serves its famous pork shengjianbao dumplings, shrimp wannons, beef dan dan noodles, and scallion pancakes. Meanwhile, upstairs is a new Chook concept called Sichuan Fry Born out of the first lockdown, it’s an ode to Nashville-style hot fried chicken sandwiches.
opening date? Summer.
The one thing to order? The pork shengjianbao dumplings – crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside – are famous for a reason.
2 Westgate Street, London Fields, Hackney, E8 3RL
Photo: Almass Badat
The groundbreaking African
After a string of successful supper clubs and hopping from place to place, chef Akwasi Brenya-Mensa is ready to settle down. His first restaurant Tatale at the Africa Center in Southwark, aims to educate guests about the complexities of pan-African cuisine. “I’ve always loved being cooked at fashion shows and festivals with Yaji fried chicken burgers and Jollof rice bowls,” says Brenya-Mensa. ‘BBut you can’t do much with supper clubs. You are not your own space. You can create an atmosphere, but you cannot create an environment.’ With its permanent place, Brenya-Mensa hopes to raise the profile of African cuisine and make it more accessible to Londoners. “Logistically, I’m tired of lugging boxes, packing by 4am, using my car as a pantry, and putting things away,” he says. “I want to go to a space where I can just prep and cook.”
opening date? July
The one thing to order? Omo Tuo: a Ghanaian rice ball served with a soothing and filling peanut soup.
64 Great Suffolk Street, SE1 0BL
The one that revolves around hummus
When we think of Houmous, we think of beige plastic tubs found on supermarket refrigerator shelves. Chefs Eyal Jagermann and Tomer Hauptman (both learned from each other while working The Palomar) and they want to change the guests’ perception of Houmous. Your supper club anan is a homage to the rich culture of oriental cuisine. Not only is it everyone’s favorite chickpea dip on the menu: there’s also a variety of vegetarian dishes like Medjool confit beetroot with dukkah and deep-fried and spicy cauliflower, served Jaffa-style. After successful stints at All Press Roastery and Rochelle Canteen, Anan is ready for permanent employment. “Finding a restaurant is like a date. Once you find the right page, you just know,” they say. ‘There are always challenges when opening a restaurant. Eating out in restaurants is a luxury, but people are eating with a vengeance again and the demand for quality food has never been greater.”
opening date? Autumn.
The one thing to order? the houmous may sound simple, but it is the cornerstone of oriental cuisine. Anan means “cloud” in Arabic and Hebrew, which is why it’s light, soft and smooth.
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