“… when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
— Samuel Johnson
Almost every Londoner knows these famous words but many are not aware of the context. Like myself, Johnson hated to be alone and was always out enjoying what London had to offer. This was Johnson’s attempt to convince his friend Boswell that living in London, rather than merely visiting, would not diminish his love for the city.
Johnson was right, I am not tired of London and never have been… however I am tired of life.
This is a message to thank to you for being part of my last adventure in London. Alas, it is time to say goodbye. The reasons ‘why’ will be upsetting for some and very hard to accept for others, so this is addressed separately here. It is up to you whether you wish to read it, but if you wish to judge, I suggest you actually read it rather than take a summary from someone else. All I will say here is that all the evidence I can present, regardless of strength, will not override your inbuilt long-term held beliefs. In my experience the similarities are almost identical to showing evidence of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to a Creationist. No matter how much overwhelming evidence you show it will be dismissed by those who let their logic and critical thinking be clouded by their existing view of the world.
For the last few years I have watched London’s food and drink scene evolve and mature in response to the subprime recession. London is no longer the ridicule of foreign tourists but has become a destination for those seeking a wealth of culinary diversity. In a few short years I have met some of the most amazing characters and the most dedicated and hard working inviduals.
I really wanted to write an personal letter to everyone I’ve encountered on my journey. However that task is completely impractical so I’ve put together some notes for some individuals and groups of people I’ve met in various aspects of my life. If I don’t mention you personally, please don’t take offence.
In summary, I wish you all the best, it has been a pleasure to be a part of the vibrant community which is London and to have interacted with everyone who helps make London great.
There seems to be a fascination on ‘final meals’ with many people online… mine was a at Hawksmoor Spitalfields (400g Ribeye with a Donnington Cesear Salad, triple poked chips with lime pickle mayo side with a Coulston bassett stilton with pears and walnuts). With a Shakey Pete’s Ginger Brew, Rosso Braaida Monferrato Rossso 2009, Meantime Pale Ale, with a Diszinko Tokai
I recall when the phrase ‘street food’ conjured up images of illegal late-night food carts roaming the West End offering what I called ‘listeria dogs’ and ‘botulism burgers’. However the ‘new wave’ of modern style markets such as KERB and ‘food rave’ style events from Street Feast have re-invented what people expect from the term street-food.
The amazing diversity of the traders I have met has been the biggest surprise. I have met traders who are ex-traders, lawyers, marketing and advertising executives and even a former racing car driver. They all share a passion for what they do and in many cases they have taken huge risks to make a drastic career change. I take my metaphorical hat off to you all – The amount of effort and sheer work required to run a successful business are immense and is often underestimated. If you’re one of these people, don’t be discouraged by the nay-sayers who question why you have quit a traditional ‘respectable career’ to ‘sell food’. (Yes, I have overheard comments like this on multiple occasions).
My only sadness is that I won’t get to see the evolution continue. Especially the evolution of favourites like ‘Bleecker Burger’ and ‘Bao’ as permanent bricks-and-morter sites plus the new Euston Station development with Richard Johnson to feature outlets from The Ribman, Daisy Green, Big Apple Hot Dogs. I wish you all the best… I know that several other big name streetfood vendors are looking for sites and or investment so to all my followers who love their food, keep an eye out for developments.
Special mention to Petra Barran of KERB for updating the lunchtime food markets up to date; Dominic Cools-Lartigue and Jonathan Downey for nurturing Street Feast from a small Shoreditch car park gathering to a huge food-rave on Friday and Saturday nights; and Toby Allen of Brockley Market one of the few who have managed to successfully meld a traditional produce market with hot-food traders.
There are too many individual traders to mention, but I have to mention The Rib Man. He was one of the first new-wave of traders I met years ago and an inspiration to find the back-stories of the people I’ve met along the day. It’s been great to see The Rib Man brand grow alongside the hot sauce business. Thank you for the final rib roll on Sunday, I sincerely hope that one day you’ll be slinging ribs and sauces on match days at Upton Park.
London restaurants were once divided into cheap lackluster chains or wallet busting ‘expense account harvesting’ venues. These polar opposites haven’t vanished, but they have been supplemented to create a more rounded offering for London eaters. Powerhouses like the Jason Atherton Group continue to open high end venues at breakneck speed, whereas other operators like the Polpo empire from Russell Norman have brought small plates to Londoners alongside the Salt Yard Group and others. Not to mention Des McDonald’s Q-Grill group and Goodman’s Group with their mold-breaking Burger & Lobster concept which seems to have spawned a series of lobster roll venues in 2014.
What’s next for the restaurant scene? If I knew I would be very wealthy, but the ramen noodle train is still very much on trend and ‘proper’ American style smoked BBQ is still slowly making its way into the arena.
Whatever is next in store for London I’m sure it will be interesting for everyone. I expect to that several of the London restaurant investors will be looking carefully at the more popular street food vendors
To all you restaurant owners and chefs, I wish you all the best in your lives and endeavours and restaurant expansions.
Food Journalism & Public Figures
I am not a journalist or a particularly eloquent writer. However I have enjoyed dabbling in a little text, even if it takes me longer than others to craft some readable prose.
It has been a pleasure to meet the well known and the upcoming names of food writing, everyone from the enthusiastic blogger to the established broadsheet newspaper reviewers. Congrats to Lizzie Mabbott with her new book Chinatown Kitchen, Sabrina Ghayour for the phenomenal success of Persiana and Gizzi Erskine for his continued success of Skinny Weeks & Weekend Feasts.
To the heavyweight journalists out there such as Jay Rayner, Giles Coren, Marina O’Laughlin, I’ve enjoyed the (sometimes acerbic) wit and analysis of London’s restaurant landscape. Although I may not always agree with the analysis it is always entertaining.
Finally a big mention to Vic Stewart of the London Evening Standard, one of the first journalists I met so many years ago at StreetFeast’s first market at Sclater Street Car Park. It as been great exploring the street food scene and watching it grow. As you know, food brings Londoners together, regardless of background everyone has to eat… and most want to eat well. Keep up the great work.
London has one of the best cocktail scenes in the world, we are truly spoilt by both quality and quantity. I’ve been privileged to see the careers of bartenders such as Ryan Chetiyawardana flourish into businesses like White Lyan and Dandelyan. The expansion of groups such as London Cocktail Club, and the strong London showing in the annual World’s Best Bars show how lucky were are as Londoners to have some of the best talent in the world.
There are way too many to mention, but thank you to everyone who has made my Old Fashioneds and Negronis over the years. I raise a virtual glass to you all.
Many of you have asked why I have not been pushing my services as a specialist food or event photographer. I hope this explains why.
I’m guessing that many would’ve speculated that it was down to a lack of direction or simply pure laziness. The real reason is that I already knew that I would not be on this earth long enough to build a career and would prefer that others who have families to feed or intended to live longer than I would be paid for the work and gain the experience.
Put simply, my love for photography grew from a hobby and a technical challenge and a desire to capture London in action. Since my main priority was to gather experiences I didn’t want to lock myself down for specific projects and lose the flexibility I had to shoot what I want and when I wanted.
Special mention to Petra Barron of KERB who was one of the most vociferous in encouraging me to take the business seriously… please forgive me as I (obviously) couldn’t tell you the real reasons why it didn’t happen.
For those of you who have asked me recently for photography services here is a list of people to contact who I know can take a good photo!
For photography needs there are a number of people to contact.
- David Griffen http://davidgriffen.co.uk
- Paul Winch Furness (also videography) http://www.paulwf.co.uk
- The Gaztronome http://www.thegaztronome.com
- Mulia http://mondomulia.com
- Cat Byers http://www.catbyers.com
- Kate Beard (speciality in coffee) http://asouthernbellein.com
- Addie Chinn (speciality in bars/cocktails) http://www.addiechinn.com
Special thanks to Nicholas Godden, Philip Bloom, Michael Wayne Plant, David Griffen and the other professional photographers who have given me their advice and guidance in the last year. It has been an awesome ride and I hope your work continues to inspire others.
Thanks for all the love of my daily market roundups and information I’ve been sending. For anyone looking for good reliable sources here are my top picks.
New Restaurant Openings: Hot-Dinners
Hot dinners are probably the best ‘go to guide’ for new restaurants, pop ups and anything else food related in London. The brother and sister team work extremely hard to keep everything updated on top of their own careers. If you want to find out what is opening and when this is the definitive guide.
Events and Popups: London Popups
London popups is a one-man operation who lists almost every pop-up and temporary event. If you want to know what’s happening I suggest you subscribe to his weekly newsletter. Probably the most reliable and comprehensive listing site for London.
That’s all folks, in the words of Dr Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Wilkes McDermid 03-Feb-2015