Nick Jones is a clever man and someone who has his finger on the zeitgeist pulse.

He is one of those entrepreneurs that you cite when the debate about education comes up having left school at 17 with poor academic qualifications and an unsupported issue with dyslexia. He moved from school into the catering world simply because he had a love of food…and the rest, as they say, is history.

Babington House

Private Members Club Soho House was closely followed by Babington, a country house hotel and suddenly Mr Jones was on the radar. At the time, indulging in weekends away at a boutique hotel was simply a concept in the lovely Nick’s mind and yet some 14 years later it is positively mainstream. He developed an old country house with contemporary fixtures, flat screen TV’s and cosy dressing gowns in every room plus a lovely restaurant  and spa on site. So the Cowshed brand was born.

Now the Soho House Group has an international repertoire of houses, hotels, restaurants, cinemas, magazines, drinks and so much more. But what I find most interesting is how every time there is a new project it is on the money in terms of trend.

Pizza the Mozza way

The latest developments to hit the mark are the Pizza East restaurants. Created in the Tea Building, Shoreditch, they are wonderful spaces that took a pizza recipe from the iconic Pizzeria Mozza in LA and signature meatballs from The Meatball Shop in NYC putting the two together into a trendy setting with wood fired ovens, great ingredient sourcing, uber trendy staff with thick rimmed glasses and there you are….a recipe for success.

I have been going to Pizza East, Shoreditch for some time now, combining it with the lesser known rooftop garden at the Boundary hotel in the Summer and more recently going to Boxpark. When they opened their second site in Notting Hill it was wonderful to see how they had developed the concept from a huge open warehouse space into a local neighbourhood eaterie with a clever use of colour to differentiate the two.

So when Pizza East Kentish Town opened round the corner from me, I was fascinated to see how it would be further developed. What was clever about this iteration was the use of the site itself, which combines three concepts onto one site keeping rents down and footfall up…genius. First there is Pizza East taking centre stage, but below that is The Chicken Shop: a below stairs simple roast chicken restaurant and at the back, in a glorified car park shed lies the last piece of this jigsaw: Dirty Burger. Each place has a look, feel and venue that matches its identity perfectly. And each specialises in doing one thing well whether it is a burger, simple roast chicken or great pizza.

It strikes me that Mr. Jones has finally figured out how we as Brits embrace the whole street food culture. There has been much debate over the years how this can be done as the US led the way in clever mobile units of scrummy food but it never really kicked off here. More recently, and with the launch of British Street Food Awards, there has been some growth in that whole style of eating. This year, winners come from even further afield and underpin the quality and diversity of food that can come from passionate people who really do want to bring something unique to the market. But what happens then? How do you make a living selling one thing out of a mobile, however well you make it?

The options vary. In London, the Eat Street team do a great job of pulling together talented cooks and their street food. They have a consistent and prominent site in Kings Cross and together have more power to market themselves for events, catering and much more. Also going from strength to strength are the Pitt Cue guys who have become pin ups for the evolution of street food with their central London restaurant going from strength to strength. They are now breeding their own Middlewhite and Mangalitza pigs in Hampshire…who have their own twitter feed, should you be interested! So street food chef becomes restaurateur and evolves into food producer.

With his three concept site, Mr. Jones has found a way of offering customer choice without incurring crazy infrastructure costs. Mobile units are replaced with permanent sites but each one shares a third of the risk. The only challenge for me is the product itself. Whilst it came highly recommended, I found the chicken lacklustre. Maybe it was the early time we arrived (in an attempt to miss the queue) but our 6.30 meal was lukewarm, soggy skinned and a little bit dry. Even the sauces, which will surely become a foray into retail, were watery and lacking depth. Still, this didn’t seem to stop people coming and I found it particularly endearing to see so many male friends sharing a plate of chicken with simple sides. Me and my very own Mr. Jones found some comfort in the apple pie served directly to our plates from one enamelware pie dish but sadly it was not enough to compensate for the disappointing chicken.

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