"In short, it’s an ode to a new type of British restaurant"
Craft London, Stevie Parle’s anticipated new Greenwich Peninsula restaurant, hums with activity: there’s the roasting of coffee, smoking of fish, bee keeping, meat curing, fermentation of vegetables, baking of bread, tending of the kitchen garden—all this, as well as a café, cocktail bar and shop. In short, it’s an ode to a new type of British restaurant, something that is thoroughly modern, while maintaining a sound respect for well, craft.
The story of Craft London begins in much the same way as his celebrated Dock Kitchen, which was established after friend and designer Tom Dixon offered him a dining space above his West London showroom. “He convinced me to come and have a look at what was going on down on the Peninsula. He was interested by the idea of creating a new town for London, and the more I thought about the potential, the more I began to get excited about it,” says Parle.
This pioneering attitude, so to speak, seems to come naturally to Parle. At sixteen, he studied with Irish chef and food writer Darina Allen at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork, before becoming the youngest chef to ever have been employed by River Café—he spent six months scrubbing fridges and scaling fish before he was even allowed near the ovens. Moro followed, then Petersham Nurseries. It’s not really a surprise then, considering this lineage, that Parle eschews overworked food.
Long before he appeared on television, cooking up a spice storm for Channel 4, Parle has been travelling the world, drawing inspiration from street markets, and how different cultures approach home cooking, ideas that he then brings back to his own kitchens.
This bowerbird approach to building his culinary knowledge—he has learnt firsthand how to get the best flavour from black pepper in Cambodia, say, or tips for cooking with cloves in Zanzibar—has given Parle an edge; he has a gift for nailing that sweet spot where food is both unpretentious but stimulating. “I have been lucky to have travelled a lot, which influences everything I cook, and most things I do,” says Parle. “In Italy and Japan I learned simplicity, in India intensity, South East Asia balance, South America cooking with fire, and so on. Travel is the most important thing in my cooking.”
These lessons will all contribute to his new venture, of course, though Craft London is thoroughly local—much of what will be served here is grown just a few steps from the restaurant back door, in the kitchen garden, which Parle has established with gardener Alys Fowler.
“Alys and I have put together a load of unusual, old-fashioned herbs, such as hyssop and myrtle. We’re also growing things such as broad beans that really do need to be super fresh,” says Parle. The menus come by way of a la carte, a set lunch, or a six-course affair, all made with produce sourced nearly exclusively from within Britain. “It’s a daunting task but going well. I’ve loved putting the menus together—none of it has been done at either of my other restaurants,” he says.
Parle’s farmers and suppliers rank as some of the best in the country. “This means, particularly when it comes to meat, they’re the best in the world. We didn’t decide to work only with British producers for reasons of nationalism, sustainability or cost: it was more for control. And relationships. I want to be on first-name terms with the growers so that I can develop the products with them. I want to be involved in decisions of what to plant, and what to feed livestock. There’s no chance to do this if you’re buying from the market or from importers.”
This considered, elevated approach to cheffing means you wouldn’t be alone in already having trouble getting a table at Craft London. Not that you’d know it from him—Parle’s cooking ethos is as grounded as the vegetables growing in his kitchen garden: “I learned about culture at River Café, about respect for people and produce and about being bold—bold enough to do something really strong and simple but that you believe in.”
Your favourite place to eat out in East London?
Som Saa in Climpson’s Arch. It’s an amazing long-term residency of fantastic, simple authentic Thai food cooked by chef Andy Oliver and his crew.
Best shop in East London?
For food—Leila’s Shop in Arnold Circus.
Blue. Always blue—from Oliver Spencer or Margaret Howell.
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