The healthy eating genius behind Deliciously Ella, Ella Mills, tells The Resident about her new deli, The Kitchen Counter, in Herne Hill
Back at the tail end of my university days, I started following an inspirational blogger with a fresh take on healthy eating on social media. The Deliciously Ella philosophy was the antithesis of the cycle of caffeine and sugar on which I’d come to rely. Although Ella Mills’ (née Woodward) trademark tone and branding was already fully formed, few would have predicted that her rise and rise as an entrepreneur and as a spokeswoman for plant-based eating would be quite so stratospheric.
Her first book, published in 2015, became the fastest selling debut cookery book of all time. Since then, she has published two more bestsellers, Deliciously Ella Every Day and Deliciously Ella With Friends. The 26-year-old has opened two delicatessens in partnership with her husband, Matthew Mills, who she married on Mustique last year. And that’s not even to mention their energy ball range (you’ll probably have seen them in Waitrose) and her natural skincare offering in partnership with Neal’s Yard.
Happily for those in and around SE24, she has now opened a third site on Herne Hill’s Milkwood Road. The Kitchen Counter follows in the footsteps of The MaE Deli on Seymour Place and MaE on Weighhouse Street near Hyde Park with an ethos of natural, simple and honest food – but the concept is slightly different, as I discovered when I caught up with her at the launch of her summer herb garden pop-up in Exchange Square, near Liverpool Street.
‘The Kitchen Counter is a bit more kid-focussed, with a special menu for children that we’ve been developing and testing,’ she tells me excitedly. ‘It’s a little bit smaller, with 20 seats, but we’ve got high chairs and everything. It’s the opposite of Exchange Square, which is more geared towards office workers. They’re two very different new challenges – but it always works like that. Everything always happens at once!’
So, what initially drew her to Herne Hill? ‘We have two places in central London that are amazing and we love them, but we didn’t think it made sense to open up a third one.
‘It felt like everyone I met lived in or around Herne Hill or within a 15-minute radius, and it’s an area with a nice community vibe, without anything too similar there already. Being right next to so much green space was also really appealing to us.’
It’s all about bringing them to life with herbs and spices and dressing, but without masking them. A carrot that tastes strongly of carrot is much more appealing.
As well as being family-friendly, commuters can grab-and-go, and in the summer, picnickers can head off to the nearby Brockwell Park with takeaway goodies in tow. From 7.30am you can pick up a smoothie or a porridge bowl. The sweetcorn fritters with baked beans and smashed avocado are tempting, too. It’s the produce itself, Mills explains, that makes all the difference.
‘We place a really big emphasis on the ingredients we use, and their quality and freshness,’ she says. It’s all about bringing them to life with herbs and spices and dressing, but without masking them. A carrot that tastes strongly of carrot is much more appealing.’
Recipes she’s been serving up recently include courgette muffins, banana and walnut bread with berry compote, Tuscan bean stew and Thai curry. ‘It’s feel-good food that happens to be healthy,’ she insists. It’s about celebrating natural ingredients, so it’s important to make it visually appealing as well.
‘We’ve got sweet potatoes with coriander and tahini dressing, which is bright orange and green, and wild rice salad, olives, tomatoes… all of these yummy things that you look at and think “ooh, that looks incredible”, rather than, “oh, that’s really virtuous.”’
I like feeding people, and showing them that to eat better you don’t have to just sit at home massaging kale and meditating
It seems that despite being a savvy entrepreneur, Mills is still happiest when getting creative in the kitchen herself. ‘I find it very calming,’ she says.
‘I like feeding people, and showing them that to eat better you don’t have to just sit at home massaging kale and meditating. Which does make kale taste a lot better,’ she adds. ‘Totally serious. If you make a lemon and tahini dressing and break it down and massage it in, it tastes really good.’
They say you shouldn’t count your chickens before they’re hatched – but, despite a penchant for massaging kale, I’d hedge a bet that there’s still plenty more to come from the Deliciously Ella empire.
290 Milkwood Road, Herne Hill SE24 0EZ; deliciouslyella.com