Chef Stevie Parle combines great British food with a fun culinary experience at Craft London, Greenwich Peninsula’s new destination restaurant. Nikki Spencer finds out more…
Stevie Parle opened the acclaimed Dock Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove six years ago, added Rotorino in Hackney last year and now he has crossed the river, putting Greenwich Peninsula on the culinary map with his new café, restaurant and bar, Craft London.
‘I do like to make things difficult for myself,’ laughs 30-year-old Stevie as he explains that he sometimes needs to visit all three restaurants in one day.
Not only is Stevie an award-winning chef (he was named Young Chef of the Year by Observer Food Monthly in 2010) and restaurant owner, but he’s also a food writer, author and TV presenter. For four years he wrote weekly for the Saturday Telegraph Weekend section and also contributes regularly to British food magazines. He has written three cookery books (My Kitchen: Real Food from Near and Far, The Dock Kitchen Cookery Book and The Spice Trip, which was a tie-in with his Channel 4 TV series) and there’s a fourth in the pipeline.
Craft London, began as a café/roastery in October last year. The restaurant and bar opened in late April.
‘It’s an amazing building and a wonderful space,’ he says. ‘I particularly love the light here and we have a fabulous view of the river and the O2 from the third floor bar. There are great new places in Peckham and Bermondsey and London Bridge and now we are putting Greenwich Peninsula on the map too.’
The project is a collaboration with designer Tom Dixon, and the contemporary, three-storey curved glass building (by Marks Barfield Architects) is part of a new residential and cultural hub.
‘It feels like they are creating a proper community here with lots of green space, rather than just another development,’ says Stevie.
Craft London is very different from his previous openings in that they don’t just cook food here, they cure, roast and ferment it, and will even be growing some too. There’s a smokehouse where they smoke their own cod roe, cured meat, salmon, salt, butter and grains, a coffee roaster where they roast their own Craft London coffee, plus a kitchen garden and beehives. But installing all of these hasn’t been without its difficulties.
‘Trying to figure out where you put the flue outlet for a coffee roaster when you are in a round building made of glass was a challenge!’ says Stevie. It made things somewhat tricky for the interior design too, not that you can tell – the place looks fabulous. The aforementioned collaboration with Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio means there are some seriously cool design features to catch your eye wherever it may fall.
The first-floor restaurant has an open kitchen, from which lingering smoky scents escape the wood-burning oven. The seating is zoned, with a mix of sumptuous velvet banquettes in Royal blue towards the centre, more casual-style Tom Dixon Peg Chairs in azure sweeping around the outer curve, and a smattering of tables with very handsome Tom Dixon Scoop Chairs in Bute Tweed. One wonders how customers could possibly choose where to sit…
‘Wherever we tell them to,’ laughs Stevie, almost confidently. These are the words of a chef who knows his food is impressive enough to draw people in from near and far, but there’s none of that chefs’ arrogance, just a kind of shy, humble confidence.
There are great new places in Peckham and Bermondsey, and now we are putting Greenwich Peninsula on the map too
While Dock Kitchen is more international and Rotorina is southern Italian, Stevie has found the inspiration for Craft London much closer to home: ‘Strangely enough, having travelled and cooked in Europe and all around the world, what is really inspiring me now is British producers and the quality of what is available here,’ he says.
‘Craft London is a British restaurant, but there’s no pie. It’s not British in that respect, it’s a new kind of British restaurant focusing on ingredients. I’ve been to Yorkshire and Cornwall and Scotland and all over and we are working really closely with suppliers. I have always done this but not to this extent. We are buying almost exclusively British produce, bar the spices and citrus fruits.’
The menu features snacks such as pigeon pie with pickled walnuts, starters like eel, treacle and malt vinegar and mains such as Galloway sirloin with marrowbone bread sauce and wood-grilled scallops with anchovy fritter. Fans of bold, interesting, home-grown flavours won’t be disappointed.
Having three restaurants to his name at just 30 years old is quite an achievement, but Stevie says that he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for his first job aged 16 at the River Café.
‘It was a hell of a place to learn to cook. If I had started in a traditional macho kitchen I probably wouldn’t have carried on but they were really nurturing. It was still hard work but no one was throwing things at you. I am embarrassed that still goes on in the industry,’ he adds. ‘Being a chef is not up there as being something people want to do but we are trying to change that by offering great benefits,’ he says, mentioning that his chefs from Rotorino have recently been to Naples and staff from Dock Kitchen have been in Marrakech.
But Stevie has commitments that keep him a little closer to home these days: ‘I went to Naples for 30 hours and had hoped to also do 12 hours in Marrakech but we have just got a puppy and I couldn’t leave my wife with two small boys and a non-housetrained puppy!’.
Stevie says his two boys are frequent visitors to his restaurants, where they ‘wreak havoc’, but he tries to take weekends off, which he spends cooking with his kids.
He envisages Craft London as a ‘destination restaurant’ attracting customers from Canary Wharf and beyond, as well as locally, of course. He also hopes that people will follow his example and travel by public transport – as he does when he’s dashing between his three restaurants: ‘There are lots of car parks here but it’s much better to get the boat, or be like Jay Z and get the tube.’
So what can we expect from Craft London?
‘Eating here is an experience that is special but also fun,’ he says. ‘People will be involved in creating something: it could be opening something, mixing something. It won’t be a passive experience,’ he adds, although he refuses to divulge more so as not to spoil the surprise. You’ll just have to go and see for yourself…
Craft London, Peninsula Square, Greenwich Peninsula SE10 0SQ; 020 8465 5910; craft-london.co.uk