The Blues Kitchen Shoreditch is yet another success story for The Columbo Group, but is the first ‘part two’ for the company. Co-founder Steve Ball tells Mark Kebble why The Blues Kitchen Camden inspired a second launch and what the future may well hold
‘You have a good memory,’ Steve Ball says to me with a smile as we shake hands, responding to my reference to an interview I did with him eight years ago. It’s certainly nothing to do with my brain cells, but the fact that his company – The Columbo Group – are behind one of my favourite local pubs, Essex Road’s The Old Queen’s Head. It was the first venture for the business Steve co-founded with Riz Shaikh and – eight years later – the figures stack up to a new launch every 12 months.
The latest, however, is slightly different. The Blues Kitchen has already been a huge success in Camden, mixing exclusive music events and a BBQ-inspired menu, and is now open in Shoreditch. ‘Our business is quite heart-felt and there is not a strategy of building a chain of branded sites,’ Steve says on The Blues Kitchen part two. ‘The Camden site got to a point where I was really proud of it, and I thought it was a great concept and offered a really great night out. We felt we nailed what we wanted to offer and, if another site came up that was right, we would do a second one.’
And what a site it is. Formerly the Bar Music Hall, it is an expansive industrial space, comprising multiple areas all designed for drinking, dining and dancing, with each of the three Ds receiving equal billing in Steve’s eyes. ‘Absolutely,’ he nods. ‘We take our food incredibly seriously, investing a lot of money in our kitchens and chefs, and have spent a lot of time to get the menus right. Equally, we are ridiculously passionate about blues music and the live music experience. It’s authentic and very real.’
The Columbo Group have brought in award-winner John Hargate to help create a menu that features Texan BBQ at its finest. Added quirks include fried alligator (really), jerk chicken burger, seared tuna salad and pan-fried catfish. Once you’ve digested the food, expect a musical experience like no other in London, with each night offering a variety of genres, and live performances from some of the biggest names in blues (such as the Rolling Stones go-to guitar man, Gary Clark Jr, and the blues legend, Seasick Steve).
It also marks a return to Shoreditch for The Columbo Group, having already livened up the scene with XOYO and The Nest in nearby Stoke Newington (and The Blues Kitchen coincides with opening the Cat & Mutton pub too). ‘We weren’t always looking in Shoreditch,’ Steve insists. ‘The area had a massive resurgence ten years ago, but then it ground to a halt around the time of the credit crunch. The banks weren’t lending, there were no new bars opening and I think Shoreditch became a little mainstream. There was nothing new and fresh happening, and the creative communities that perhaps made Shoreditch what it was moved on to other areas. However, Shoreditch is having a second wind as it were.’
It’s yet another venture north of the river, but Steve is rather diplomatic when discussing the divide. ‘North of the river has always been a little more interesting historically and a little more interesting in terms of going out in London, but that’s changing,’ he says. ‘What’s going on in Peckham at the moment with the BusseyBuilding, and the pop-ups in Brixton, is super exciting for London. The reason why Columbo sites are north of the river is essentially because I am a North London guy and I know the areas.’ So an opening due south of the river? ‘Maybe,’ he laughs.
You can be rest assured that, whether north or south, there’s plenty more to come from The Columbo Group. ‘I am incredibly proud,’ Steve says on how far they’ve come in eight years. ‘Our thing is to find beautiful buildings and create great nights out. The Old Queen’s Head is close to my heart not because it was number one, but because it’s a great pub and there has been a pub on that site for 300 years. I love that. What’s next? I imagine as and when the time is right another venue – or maybe even a festival.’ The latter in particular sounds intriguing, but whatever happens, I am pretty sure I won’t forget this interview.
134-136 Curtain Road EC2A 3AR; 020 7729 7216; theblueskitchen.com