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Robert Montgomery

Robert Montgomery


Interview & Portraits Kirk Truman


“…I wondered if you went halfway between Jenny Holzer and Philip Larkin what would you get?”

Rob and I ran into each other a couple of months back. Then, we talked a little about Journal, a little about his publishing venture New River Press and quite a lot about his art. I wondered why he hadn’t graced our Fitzrovia cover yet, and suggested it was about time we got around to it.

So, Robert Montgomery: poet, writer and artist. He’s a Scotsman who insists he’s a Londoner, a “melancholic Situationist” whose work brings together a personal poetic voice and public interventionist strategies. From billboards, and solar-powered light pieces to woodcuts and ‘fire poems’, Rob’s work is fiercely diverse; though to me, he’ll always be the artist who burns his own words to the ground.

Tell me about your background and influences…

I grew up in Scotland and I lived there until I was 23. I did a BA in painting at Edinburgh College of Art, then I got a scholarship to do an Master of Fine Arts, so I stayed in Edinburgh for that. After my MFA I got a place on this amazing post-graduate programme in America, the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. It’s a fantastic residency programme for young artists funded by the museum, similar to the Whitney Program in New York. I had incredible artists come to my studio there to critique my work; James Turrell, Roni Horn, Jack Pierson – these real heroes of American art. The best thing was that you had a studio in the museum surrounded by an incredible collection of masterpieces – Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, rare works by Gerald Murphy – so it was also an education in American art history. The artist Joseph Havel and the curator Alison de Lima Greene became my mentors there.

 

How did you start out as an artist?

Well I decided when I was about 15 that I wanted to be an artist, but I had been quite an academic kid so persuading my father to allow me to study art at university was a bit of a challenge. I had to make a deal with him: he would only let me go to Edinburgh to do art if I got the grades to do law. So, I had to take economics at school and do five Scottish Highers/A Levels, and I had to get two As and 3 Bs, or something like that. Those were the entrance requirements for the Law degree; for the art course I would have only needed something like 3 Bs. I got the grades for the law course, so he had to let me go and go do the art course! That was our gentlemen’s agreement. From art school onwards, I was set on the path. I had a great experience at Edinburgh College of Art that gave me lots of tools to draw on, a particular way of thinking about the world.

How did you come to spend time in Fitzrovia and eventually end up living here?

Well, I met my wife – the Fitzrovia poet Greta Bellamacina. She already lived here, and when we had our son Lorca I had to stop living in the craziness of my art studio – so we moved in together to our small flat right under the BT Tower. The flat is pretty tiny, too small for us really, but it’s very old and has good vibes so we’re very happy in it. Niall McDevitt, the Irish poet and poetry historian, discovered Arthur Rimbaud’s first address was next door to us; the first time he came to London, before he came back with Verlaine on their wild love affair/escape from Paris, he lived on Maple Street when it was called London Street. Partly because the streets of Fitzrovia are so steeped in it, I’ve been making work recently revisiting early London Modernism. I just did a work called Estuary Poem for Wyndham Lewis for the gallery at One Canada Square, where I revisited Lewis’s 1914 BLAST manifesto. It was a giant wooden sculpture that said ENEMIES OF THE ICEBERGS AND THE STARS. We burned it on Shellness Beach at the very end of the Thames Estuary then rebuilt the burnt fragments in Canary Wharf.

 

How did you come to bring poetry into your work and installations?

Well, I started working with text in my paintings at Edinburgh College of Art and then I became really obsessed with the text art of Jenny Holzer. I loved how she disseminated her words on little posters in the city; that was such a beautiful idea – messages to strangers. So I began to make work similar to Jenny’s, and then I wondered how close I could take the voice to poetry. I’d always been privately obsessed with a few poets: TS Eliott, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and John Ashbery. I wondered if you went halfway between Jenny Holzer and Philip Larkin, what would you get?

 

Tell me a little about New River Press and its backstory. How does it differentiate from your work as an artist?

Well, me and Greta were inspired by the story of Leonard and Virginia Woolf starting the Hogarth Press in their dining room. The Hogarth press published Mrs Dalloway and also the first British edition of Eliot’s The Wasteland, so I had the idea that writer-led presses could do important things. We’ve set up New River almost like an indie record label. If the Hogarth Press was one inspiration, Sub Pop and Factory Records were the others. The poets get 50 per cent of the income from their books, which is a much more generous percentage than big publishers can give. I’m very lucky in that I can make a living from my art. I can sell paintings and do public commissions, but for my poet friends I noticed that’s a lot harder. So, my work as an artist is able to support the press, and I hope we’re doing something important. Really, we wanted to make a press for contemporary page poetry. There’s been so much progress for spoken word in London in the last few years that we wanted to do something for page poetry, or poetry in the Modernist/Beat tradition. We’ve had a very dynamic first two years. We’ve published 11 books so far. We did a night at Pentameter’s Theatre in Hampstead just before Christmas that I think brought back the spirit of 60s poetry happenings and the International Poetry Incarnation, with around 30 poets reading and some musicians whipping the whole thing up in to a kind of mad Bohemian theatre.

Serge *et le phoque

Serge *et le phoque


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Si Melber


“Great food begins with the suppliers…”

When the Mandrake Hotel opened on Newman Street last September, it was the place that everybody was talking about. Entering through the long, dark corridor entrance, you are greeted by eccentric stylistic flourishes, surrealist design and hedonistic luxury; there’s even a stunning courtyard with its own hanging gardens and a greenhouse full of exotic plants. Founded by Rami Fustok, the Mandrake is a new breed of hotel in Fitzrovia, every bit as magical as its name would suggest, and at its heart is a new breed of restaurant: SERGE *et le phoque. Compared to the eclectic make-believe of its surroundings, the restaurant is a surprisingly understated and relaxed space, although it also boasts a stunning red lacquered private dining room that is a feast for the eyes.

SERGE is the new London outpost of French duo Frédéric Peneau and Charles Pelletier. Having opened their Michelin-starred restaurant of the same name in Hong Kong, this is their first overseas venture. Centre stage as I arrive at the restaurant is co-founder and interior designer Charles. Dressed to a tee, he’s full of charm and radiates intellect and enthusiasm from behind his rectangular glasses. It’s his strong entrepreneurial spirit which has guided SERGE from Hong Kong to London.

Also on hand to greet me is head chef/restauranteur Frédéric Peneau. Fred started his career at the Cafe Burq in Monmartre, later opening Le Chateaubriand, which was considered an industry benchmark in Paris and helped lead an evolution of the city’s restaurants. “Le Chateaubriand was a small bistro in Paris. Nothing posh really; it was a neighbourhood bistro but people would come from all over the world to dine there,” says Fred. He then headed East to Hong Kong to launch SERGE; within its first year of opening the Wan Chai market district restaurant had gained a Michelin star. No wonder Rami Fustok wanted to get Fred involved with his long-planned Fitzrovia hotel. “Rami had heard about me, and we agreed to meet. He asked me about myself and my work. I said to him that I don’t really like to talk about myself – instead I offered to cook for him a dinner,” Fred recalls. “So, I did. He loved what I cooked, and he told me about the project and becoming involved with the Mandrake Hotel. He told me straight: I want you!”

Fred explains to me that the food at SERGE begins with the suppliers (58 to be exact). “It’s all about getting the best we can get from the best people at the best time. I could just buy all of my vegetables from the same supplier, but what would be the point in that? I go to specific suppliers for specific ingredients. It’s about finding the best, not just settling for what is easily available.”

“It’s very focused. It’s not just about freshness, it’s about where, when and how,” he says. “You cook with your mouth – everybody should cook like that and only like that, you know? As a restaurant, we cook everything à la minute to ensure the freshness of the dish. Everything happens there and then. There are few restaurants in Britain that do this, and we are proud to count ourselves as one. For us, the menu is ongoing. It’s never finished; for us, it’s just the beginning of a story. My kitchen and my menu are reactive, to London and to our diners.”

Ingredients and menu are vital, then, but equally important, says Charles, is the dining experience itself. He believes that, in effect, the way you’re feeling will have an impact on how your food tastes. In the restaurant business a meal is easily turned tastes equal to that of your dining experience, which I’m delighted to say, at SERGE *et le phoque was on par. “The taste of the food reacts to the experience. Think about it like this: why should we have to put on evening dress to listen to classical music? Our dining experience is high-end, but it doesn’t mean it should be exclusive. We want SERGE to be enjoyed by diners from all walks of life,” he explains. “Dining is not just about eating, but also coming to a restaurant – it’s about the whole experience. And the taste of the food changes with the experience… I guess you could say we’re still working on that. Any good restaurant always should be!” he laughs.

At SERGE, every element of the meal – from the sourcing of ingredients and well-planned, modestly priced menu to the work of sommelier and the expertise of the waiters – helps ensure a social and culinary experience that is as unstuffy, relaxed and satisfying as possible. Fred and Charles hope that what they’ve achieved in their ever-evolving quest is a restaurant as reflective of contemporary London as the first SERGE is of Hong Kong: fantastic ingredients, a menu as diverse as our capital and a modern style of cooking in which no particular tradition dominates. It’s a winning combination… and one which your mouth will definitely understand.

Visit Serge *et le phoque at The Mandrake Hotel at 20-21 Newman Street or online to read more or enquire about bookings.

Ten Health & Fitness

Ten Health & Fitness


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Si Melber


“Ten has become the Dynamic Pilates and Physiotherapy destination of choice for discerning Londoners…”

What is Ten Health & Fitness I wonder? Fitzrovia has evolved and adapted to the times through the decades. Once the home of London’s rag trade, today Great Titchfield Street has given birth to a wave of thriving businesses ranging from dining, some of the best cafes in Central London and a growing centre of health and fitness. Ten Health and Fitness is on a mission to celebrate endorphins in London. With 8 sites throughout our city, they arrived in Fitzrovia around mid last year on Great Titchfield Street, in the heart of the neighbourhood.

As you enter Ten on Great Titchfield Street, this perfectly designed and light-filled space quickly captivates you. Neighbouring one of the best salons in Central London, The Kings Canary, the space is light and welcoming. At ground level is the reception and retail space, with a private training room on a skylit mezzanine. Changing rooms and a Reformer Pilates studio are on the floor below. At Ten, all classes are intimate – with never more than 10 people in a session – with workouts designed around your specific needs and goals. The Ten experience is very different from the typical London gym offer. Instead, its all about you: when you want to train and how you want to train. Ten is open 7 days a week, with no dedicated membership or joining fees.

All too often we find we’ve been slumped over a desk since, well, forever. The harmful postural effects of our sedentary working lives are well documented. So if that’s you, it’s probably time to stand up and visit Ten Health and Fitness when you find the time. Ten offers Dynamic Reformer Pilates classes, Private Pilates, Physiotherapy and Massage Therapy. They are able to reverse damaging postural patterns while building strength, conditioning your core, and sculpting your glutes. Their new Fitzrovia studio is super sleek and well positioned along one of the most dynamic streets the neighbourhood has to offer.

For Ten it’s all about helping their clients enjoy the time they spend exercising. Ten wants their clients to love that post-workout buzz, and love how quickly they’re able to see and feel the benefits. As we all know perhaps all too well, if the experience of exercising isn’t positive, welcoming and enjoyable, there’s little point at all. Everything at Ten is designed to help clients feel  this way, and help them achieve their body goals. A big part of this lies with the carefully selected trainers at Ten, chosen for their attitude and approach as well as their expertise. Whether teaching small-group classes, or bespoke one-to-one sessions for clients looking to enjoy the privacy and individual attention required to work toward their own personal goals, Ten’s trainers are amongst some of the most expert and highly trained in their field that you’ll find just about anywhere.

Another area of focus for Ten is their in-house Physiotherapy and Sports Massage. Therapists are an integral part of all Studio teams, with Physiotherapists recognised by all the major private health insurance companies. This integrated combination of therapy and exercise feeds into Ten’s latest venture, TenClinical, which provides specialist clinical exercise prescription to clients with life altering clinical diagnoses (primarily oncology, cardiac, diabetes, and women’s health issues). With strong relationships with London’s leading hospitals, consultants and surgeons, many of their clients are referred directly to them. Sessions are led by qualified and clinically experienced physical trainers, with fully integrated physiotherapy support. To explain the difference between a personal training session, and a TenClinical appointment, the latter are focused on improving quality of life post-diagnosis, during and after treatment, and goals are dictated by the client’s needs rather than their wants. It’s that simple.

“…it turned out to be genuinely and positively life-changing for me… and so the idea for Ten was born. Call it fate if you will.”

With a background in Marketing, the impetus for Ten came from a car accident for founder Joanne Mathews back in 2006. “It didn’t feel very happy at the time, but it turned out to be genuinely and positively life-changing for me” she says, “I was in in a rehab gym where I was recovering from back and pelvic injuries, and so the idea for Ten was born. Call it fate if you will.”

Joanne started the business as TenPilates, with the first studio opening in Notting Hill in 2007. Over the years it evolved into Ten health and Fitness as she added more products and services, and more Studios.  10 years on, Ten Health & Fitness has more than 160 team members spread over 8 London locations. “Ten has become the Dynamic Pilates and Physiotherapy destination of choice for discerning Londoners…” she says, “As a former county-level swimmer and squash player, sport and exercise has always played an important role in my life. With first-hand experience of the challenges and frustrations of trying to remain fit and healthy while managing injury, I know the importance of a holistic approach to health and exercise.” As Ten expanded and grew, Joanne’s commitment to an expert, energising and empowering end-to-end fitness solution, combined with a love of business and people, has enabled Ten to become the boutique fitness destination we know today, across London and here in Fitzrovia.

Visit Ten Health & Fitness in store at 83 Great Titchfield Street or online to enquire about bookings & treatments.

The Ward

The Ward


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Gideon Mendel


“Allowing a photographer onto a hospital ward of this nature was an extreme act of trust…”

During the small hours of a dark January morning, I begin to turn the pages of Gideon Mendel’s photographic record The Ward. It’s a harrowing experience, at once profoundly beautiful and powerfully shocking. The book tells the story of four patients at the former Middlesex Hospital, each suffering from AIDS. The photographs it contains follow John, Ian, Steven and Andre over a number of weeks in 1993 on the hospital’s Broderip and Charles Bell wards. South African born Gideon Mendel is a hugely talented photojournalist, and it is through his eyes that we see moments of pain, suffering and love between patients, staff and loved ones prior to the introduction of antiretroviral medications.

The Ward has been published by Trolley Books, an independent in the field that focuses primarily on reportage, contemporary art and photography. Based in Fitzrovia’s Riding House Street, Trolley Books was founded by publisher Gigi Giannuzzi in 2001 and is led today by his brilliant successor, Hannah Watson.

Hannah met Gideon Mendel during the summer 2017 at the Arles photo festival in the south of France. She approached him with the idea of revisiting those 1993 images and exhibiting them at The Fitzrovia Chapel, going on to produce a limited run book based on the series of unforgettable photos. “It all progressed quite quickly,” says Gideon, “although I must insist that the book very much owes its inception to Hannah.”

Born in Johannesburg, Mendel has won considerable renown as a contemporary photographer. His style is intimate, with his long-term commitment to the projects he undertakes earning him international recognition and numerous awards – most recently, the Pollock Prize for Creativity. At the beginning of the 1990s, he was with an agency called Network Photographers. Network was beginning work on a project entitled ‘Through Positive Eyes’, which told the story of HIV/AIDS, providing a photographic record of people living with the disease in major cities around the world. “At this point, there was a huge stigma around HIV. I had a personal experience with the disease after returning from a trip from Somalia. I was taken ill and went through the experience of having an HIV test,” he says. “I contemplated what it might mean to have the disease and how it might impact my own life. Back then, you had to wait three days for a result. Even though I wasn’t gay, I was well aware of the risk factors of the disease. I found out that I wasn’t HIV-positive, though my eyes had been left opened by my experience.”

While in hospital, Gideon met a number of doctors who were working in HIV and tropical diseases, which gave him further insight into the illness. “We managed to obtain permission to photograph the Middlesex Hospital. At the time, the media was sort of besieging the ward. There were some papers trying to obtain defamatory images of individuals who were suffering with the disease, thus there was this real sense that the camera was the enemy at the time,” he recalls. “So understandably, allowing a photographer onto a hospital ward of this nature was an extreme act of trust. I was at first terrified, and then struck by the loving nature of the environment created by doctors and nurses.”

Issues around consent were obviously vital to the process. Gideon was only able to photograph patients who gave their permission willingly and knowingly. Much of his time was spent socialising on the ward and talking with patients, building relationships and learning from their experiences – perhaps one of the reasons why his images were so strong and meaningful.

The photographs in The Ward were taken over a six-week period on 53 rolls of film. It was a limited timeframe, but his experience at the Middlesex Hospital changed Gideon’s outlook on his work, his career and his life forever. “For me, it was the beginning of a 20-year journey. It alerted me to the sheer importance of the issue and led me to cover and photograph it in other countries too,” he says. “And, of course, it was where I met my wife, who I’ve subsequently had children with.”

Gideon’s images first surfaced as part of the ‘Positive Lives’ project, and it was not until years later, when Hannah approached him about exhibiting them and later publishing The Ward, that these powerful photographs were once again widely seen. The only remaining part of the original Middlesex Hospital, the Fitzrovia Chapel in Pearson Square was the most appropriate environment to exhibit Gideon’s work and mark the release of the book in November last year. On display until early December, the exhibition gained considerable attention from both the media and the general public. In attendance were many doctors and nurses from the Broderip and Charles Bell wards, as well as relatives and close friends of the four patients – John, Ian, Steven and Andre – all of whom died within a year of Gideon’s images being taken.

To read more about Gideon, his work and The Ward visit gideonmendel.com

Merlin Labron-Johnson

Merlin Labron-Johnson


Interview & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


From helping out in the school canteen to earning a Michelin star at the age of 24 just nine months after opening his first restaurant, Merlin Labron has come a long way in a short time. It’s a journey that has taken him from Devon to Fitzrovia via a culinary education in the regional cuisines of Switzerland, France and Belgium. Journal talked to him about the joy of vegetables, reducing food waste and his passion for pickling…

You grew up in South Devon and started out on your culinary journey helping out in the school kitchen – can you tell me about that?

I came to an agreement with the school cook whereby I would wash the dishes and be paid in lunch. She was a terrific cook. I started helping her prepare the lunches and eventually graduated to cooking them by myself while she tended to her other duties – she was also the school receptionist. I’d have a budget and I’d head into town to buy the goods – organic and vegetarian. It was a strong start.

Has she ever come to eat at Portland or your second restaurant, Clipstone?

She did! It was a very special moment for me but sadly I couldn’t be there on the night. She wrote me a very sweet letter afterwards, though, with some feedback on all the things she ate…

Did your fascination with cooking start at an early age? 

I wouldn’t say I was always fascinated by cooking but I certainly loved to eat. I would cook for myself a lot at home and it didn’t take me long to figure out that the better I cooked, the better I’d eat!

Are there any particular ‘food memories’ from your Devon childhood that you hold dear?

My father has two dishes in his repertoire: pheasant casserole and apple crumble. We ate a lot of both. He’d haggle for pheasants in the farmers’ market and he’d use apples from our tree to make the crumble. It was very rustic; he wouldn’t bother peeling the apples and the crumble was made with oats and soft brown sugar. We’d always eat it with double cream and he’d make big trays so we’d have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It hasn’t put me off – I still do love a good crumble.

How did you end up working in Switzerland and Belgium? 

I went to Switzerland to do a ski season when I was 18. I only planned on staying there for four months but I fell in love with the region and stayed for two and a half years. After that, I moved to the Haut Savoie region of France. I worked in fine dining restaurants, cooking very classical French cuisine. It was extremely serious and disciplined but I loved it. I learnt things that I could never have learnt working in the UK and I’m very grateful for that. After France, I found myself working at restaurant In de Wulf in Belgium which was incredible. It was there that I found my love for pickling, fermenting, curing, foraging and vegetable cookery. We cooked a tasting menu of about 22 courses using only local ingredients and wild foods.

Did you travel around Europe a lot when you were based there? Any other favourite ‘local’ cuisines?

Yes, when I lived in Switzerland I’d often cross the border into Italy, and when I lived in Belgium I was just a 20-minute drive from Lille in France. From Lille you could get quickly to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and London. Of all of these cities, Brussels was probably my favourite to visit. I’d go on a Monday when the restaurant was closed and come back on the Tuesday night. I’d hang out in the Bourse district and I’d always eat at a restaurant called Viva M’Boma which I believe translates to “long live my Grandmother” in local dialect. They specialise in offal and Bruxelloise cuisine and I’d eat things like veal kidneys in mustard sauce with dripping fries and brown sugar tart for dessert. It was totally joyful and there was a lovely blues bar around the corner where all the washed-up musicians would come down to jam with each other and get drunk on good beer. Things would get a bit loose after that!

You earned a Michelin star very quickly. Has it been constricting or liberating?

It hasn’t really been either. The star was bestowed upon us, which, needless to say, we were rather pleased about. Since then, we’ve just carried on doing what we do, but always striving to get better at it.

You have a keen interest in making your own vinegars. Can you explain the process?

I love acidity in food, because it allows me to produce dishes that are rich and indulgent whilst being clean and not too heavy. At any one time we’ll be using 10 or so different vinegars in our tiny menu. There’s two ways we make vinegar at the restaurant: one is by infusing basic white wine vinegar with flavours – fruit, herbs, aromatics – and the other is by mixing fruit scraps with a little sugar and water and allowing it to turn naturally into vinegar. Both methods are really a way of reducing our food waste. Fennel and other vegetable tops, old herbs and soft fruit get infused into vinegars, and fruit peelings, scraps and cores get turned into natural vinegars. It’s really easy to do at home, and naturally made vinegar is really good for you.

Tell us about your work Skye Gyngell as well as with Food for Soul. Are there any other similar projects you are looking to start yourself, or be involved with in the coming year? 

I did an event with Skye where we looked at many aspects of food waste within restaurants and their supply chain, and then cooked a delicious feast using things that are often discarded and overlooked. The profits went to a charity called the Felix project, who go around collecting surplus food from business and then distribute it to shelters that feed the homeless. One of those shelters is called the Refettorio Felix and is founded by Massimo Bottura and Food for Soul. I cook there once a month, and we do a three-course meal using produce that has been rejected by the supermarkets – which is, of course, perfectly edible. It’s terrifying what people are throwing away these days!

Fitzrovia has always had a vibrant restaurant culture. Do you have any favourites in from roaming the neighbourhood? 

I have to say, I don’t do a lot of roaming in Fitzrovia – but if I did, I’d roam into Honey and Co and eat all of their cakes.

You are known for your beautiful plating – do you have a clear idea of how the dish will look when you create the recipe or do you experiment with the ‘design’ once you’ve perfected it?

Yes, I often have an idea of how a dish will look when I create it – it’s part of the fun. There are lots of chefs who will tell you that it’s not important that food looks good, it’s all about the flavour. They are right! But I like making food look good too. Why not?

Finally, if you hadn’t become a chef, are there any other artistic avenues you think you might have wanted to explore?

No, If I wasn’t a chef I’d be a Farmer. Back home in Devon, where I belong!

Visit Portland at 113 Great Portland Street or online to read more or enquire about bookings.

Brontë Aurell

Brontë Aurell


Interview & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“There are no problems that can’t be solved over a session of kneading dough or cooking something…”

Before Kaffeine, before Riding House Café, when Great Titchfield street was still the quiet home of Fitzrovia’s last rag traders, a warm and cuddly Nordic invader brought cinnamon buns, strange groceries with crazy names and a Scandinaian welcome to the neighbourhood. It’s been 10 years since Brontë Aurel and her husband Jonas opened Scandinavian Kitchen in 2006. We spoke to Brontë about Fitzrovia, baking and her successful publishing ventures.

Scandi Kitchen was really a bit of a pioneer coming into this quiet area of Fitzrovia back in 2006. What drew you to Great Titchfield Street?

 

We chose the spot on Great Titchfield Street because, to be honest, it seemed entirely ludicrous that you could have a space so close to the centre but with no footfall. In 2006, we knew it was only a matter of time – we knew about the BBC plans, so we had a hunch. We also really liked the area – and quickly got to meet some lovely neighbours.

Your cooking and your incredible cakes are one of the major reasons for Scandi’s success. Where did it all start? 

My earliest memory is from my grandmother’s kitchen. It was warm and cosy. She was probably baking buns of some kind. I felt nothing but love. I always remember her wearing her blue apron, her hair always perfectly curled and styled, always smiling.

I think I grew up on food and love and warm kitchens. Even now, with my own family and a young kid, I believe there are no problems that can’t be solved over a session of kneading dough or cooking something. I’m a cook, not a chef. I just love food and I love feeding people. Nothing fancy – just stuff that fills bellies and make people happy.

Hygge seems to be the new Scandi buzzword. I see it everywhere! Can you set the record straight on its meaning? 

Hygge means to appreciate the moment you are in – while you are in it. No other spaces – no phones, no Facebook, nothing. Just you feeling content – and realising that there’s nowhere else you want or need to be. No time. Just being.

You can feel hygge on your own or with friends or family. Usually, there’s some sort of sharing of food involved – wine, snacks, cheese… anything that means you share the moment even more.

I think some people in the UK misunderstood hygge – as if it was going to be an automatic thing if you spent £40 on a candle or hygge knickers, hygge blankets, hygge jumpers… nonsense, the lot of it. Hygge is something you feel, not something you buy.

I feel hygge wherever I feel good. Hygge isn’t forced, it just happens. It’s like saying “What place do you go to for feeling happy?” Everyone has a different answer – it’s a personal thing. There are plenty of hyggelige places, though – places where you might find it if you go and you just chill out and spend time with people you like. (could add a few lines about her own favourite places here)

And what about Fika, another Scandi word that’s on everyone’s lips?

Fika is a Swedish word that means to meet up for a cup of coffee and something to eat. It is both a noun and a verb – you can have a fika and you can fika with someone. It can be super casual, it can be at home, with colleagues, at a café. You can even have a fika date – very casual, and no new dress needed. We tend to fika both once in the morning and again in the afternoon. The thing to remember about fika is that you have to stop what you are doing in order to do it. And you can’t do it alone – it’s a social thing. Stop, have a break, speak to some people – and then go back to what you were doing. I think we could all benefit from more fika in our lives.

 

Speaking of something to eat, Scandis do love their salted liquorice… but it’s an acquired taste!

It’s our marmite! You love it or you hate it. You can grow to love it, but you need to eat a lot of it to make that happen – so most decide it is not worth the hassle and pain. Scandinavians have a love of salty things – it’s said to come from back when we had to salt and smoke things to keep the food safe to eat during the dark months. Perhaps this is the reason we have such a love for salmiakki, as we call the salty liquorice. We sell lots and lots of it – to Scandies and Brits alike. There is quite a cult following for salty liquorice. The strongest one is called Djungelvraal – most non-liquorice lovers really hate that one! It means Jungle Scream.

Add to that the bewildering number of sweets with names that sound, well, quite naughty in English… like SPUNK and PLOPP, both of which are sold in your shop…

Ha ha! Those sweets we mainly stock because of the names. They’re some of our best sellers. Back home, they don’t raise an eye brow because, well, it means nothing to us! You can add Skum to the list – it means marshmallow. We have Christmas Skum, Banana Skum, lots of other kinds of Skum, too. And chewing gum called Sor Bit! Which is also entirely a serious brand.

Another local favourite you’ve brought over from home is the Crayfish Party (kräftskiva)

Crayfish Season is August and September. We meet up, sit outside and eat crayfish and sing songs as we drink aquavit. The song is called ‘Helan Gaar’, and it’s a Swedish drinking song. We actually sing it at Christmas, Easter and Midsummer too.

We drink aquavit – a strong grain based alcohol flavoured with caraway and fennel and aniseed. Mainly we drink it with pickled herring, but also with crayfish and general smorgasbord fun. It’s a tricky drink if you overdo it – it tends to get people sozzled from the waist down! Always take advice from Scandies on how to drink it or you might end up playing footsie with Bjorn from Halmstad under the table.

You’ve been in Fitzrovia for a decade now. What do like about it, and what are some of your favourite shops and restaurants in the area?

Ten years – I can’t believe it! We have such nice neighbours – we love the guys at Mac & Wild, and our team often go to Homeslice after a busy day at work. We love the people over at the Green Man for after-work drinks. We love King’s Canary for great hair, and KallKwik for always helping us out. I think we appreciate all our neighbours – the other food places and bars, full of people who just work as hard as we do every day. Being in retail is tough, whether you make sandwiches or pull pints or sell clothes. We have seen people and places come and go, but what makes this area, our little spot, so amazing is the people who live here and those who make it happen, day in and day out. We couldn’t wish for a better neighbourhood.

From Scandi kitchen to publishing – you’ve become an author with four beautiful books under your belt…

It’s almost five now. Phew! It has been a busy two years. The first two were cookbooks about Scandikitchen. The third was about Hygge. My most recent book just came out – it is called North. We started writing a blog when we opened and have sent out a silly weekly newsletter every week for 10 years… over 500 newsletters! Over time, these took shape as funny little cultural explanations and snippets. So, eventually, it became a book. It was so much fun to write. It’s basically a tongue-in-cheek look at Scandinavian culture. And in March, we have the final cookbook in the trilogy – ScandiKitchen Summer.

 

And finally, speaking of cooking… what is your favourite recipe? 

I think it has to be cinnamon buns. After all, who doesn’t love warm buns?

Ricky Richards

Ricky Richards


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Oliver Mills


“Its always been about questioning creativity, and unearthing its mystery. The true essence of how somebody got somewhere is what my show is all about…”

I first met Ricky Richards earlier this year, during the summer. He’d taken the time to get in touch having read through our latest issues, with the intention of featuring me on his regular podcast. I agreed, and we met at Factory Studios on Fitzrovia’s Margaret Street. Having looked a little into his background, and the nature of his podcast, I’d expected to meet a hard-headed, thirty-something entrepreneur; instead, the Ricky Richards I sat down with was a completely different person from that of my imagination: an amiable young man still in his twenties. We spoke for about an hour in a recording studio, where Ricky quizzed me about various aspects of my career, the origins, concept and creation of the Journal and my future ambitions. He dug deep and went personal. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind in trying to uncover the secrets of my creative output and entrepreneurship. There’s a rare spark about Ricky: he’s the type who’ll go all the way.

Ricky is originally from North Devon, and from an early age gravitated towards creativity and sport. “I’ve never really fit the creative stereotype. I look more like a BNP member than a creative, so it’s a nice surprise when people discover I’ve got a visual eye and a love of learning.” His primary interest shifted from sport to graphic design following a bleed on the brain as a youngster. Starting out as a designer, before becoming an Art Director, Ricky put in time with a number of ad agencies, including Wieden + Kennedy, AKQA and Ogilvy, working on everything from global print campaigns and brand designs to directing TV and music videos. “After the brain bleed, I guess it gave me a different appreciation of life, and I vowed to never waste a day again. As a result of the incident, I stopped playing as much sport and focused on my design,” he says. “When I first moved to London my design was taking off, thanks to a little Behance hackery, and I became one of the regulars on the freelance circuit in the city. I was working my way through a number of agencies, always with other projects on the side.”

Living in London, Ricky was drawn to podcasts, which he’d listen to on a regular basis during his daily commute. “I found them to be an incredible way to learn while I was travelling. I became so obsessed with them that it felt like every sentence which came out of my mouth was made up of something I’d heard,” he says. “In the end, my colleagues kept telling me to start my own, as all I did was talk about other people’s!” He felt that there was no real excuse not to give it a try. After all, there were no obvious downsides – it was a viable idea which gave him the perfect opportunity to meet like-minded people whose careers intrigued him.

Ricky has frequently come across branding commissions, and it was one of these that led to him meeting filmmaker (and now friend) Rhys Chapman. Chapman was working on his film Wonderkid, about homophobia in football, a high-profile project with Sir Ian McKellen set to record the film’s voiceover at Factory Studios. It was Rhys who introduced Ricky to the studio, where he soon began recording his regular podcasts. Ricky’s eponymously titled show, Ricky Richards Represents, is recorded on a weekly basis here in Fitzrovia. His conversational approach towards interviews has been put to excellent use in speaking with many of London’s leading creators and innovators. The podcast has featured the likes of Will Hudson, founder of It’s Nice That, David Pugh Jones, ex-Strategy Director for Buzzfeed and Microsoft, and Andrew Diprose, Creative Director of Wired UK and PPA designer of the year. “The very first guest was Rhys – it felt appropriate. We tested it out. It was all very low-tech stuff at this stage – just me with a USB microphone. We delved into personal questions, and tried to figure out the motivations behind his work,” Ricky says. “We only have so many days on this planet, so I like to uncover people’s motivations and philosophies, and, in the process, unearth the mysteries of creative excellence and entrepreneurship. The hope is that others can take that learning and steer their life in the direction they want rather than just being another cog in the wheel. I’ve always been fascinated by people and their path into what they do. It’s one of the main reasons I wanted to do the podcast. At first, I started with what I thought were my most interesting friends, and then leveraged that to approach people who have carved out their own path or have interesting outlooks on life.”

Moving beyond his circle of friends and acquaintances, Ricky has continued to approach individuals whose work appeals to him and has now built up an extensive catalogue of interviews – which is how our own conversation began. The podcast goes out to an audience of professionals interested in personal development and strategic thinking. Like Ricky, his listeners seek out advice and unique insights that they wouldn’t perhaps get in their day-to-day lives. His work as a designer and his still relatively new podcast have helped demonstrate that, at the age of 27, Ricky has a bold future ahead of him as an entrepreneur. Ricky Richards is one of those people who possesses exactly the right balance of entrepreneurship, talent and enthusiasm to get things happening – to turn an interest into a successful business. I am confident that, given time, his commitment and passion will lead to great things.

David Moore

David Moore


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“…as a kid, I was stubborn. I liked mashed potatoes and omelettes with raspberry jam!”

David Moore is a man unafraid of a floral pattern and a huge fan of the Human League – two facts I discovered almost simultaneously as he greeted me, decked out in a fedora and colourful shirt, at his Fitzrovia restaurant Pied à Terre. I found him thumbing through a selection of vinyl albums, one of which was the relatively obscure early Human League offering Travelogue. It’s always nice to find you share a common interest.

Pied à Terre opened in 1991, enjoying a meteoric rise that saw it earn two Michelin Stars within five years. Its illustrious roll call of chefs includes Andy McFadden, Richard Neate, Tom Aitkens, Shane Osborn and Marcus Eaves, all helping establish the restaurant’s impressive gourmet dining credentials – credentials that have attracted a number of big names over the years, from the Monty Python gang to Annie Lennox and John Hurt… though sadly not Phil Oakey thus far. “John Hurt was very entertaining character. He came in for dinner once and ordered a really expensive bottle of red wine, which he’d never done before. I was quite surprised. It was £265, and he got two or three of them! The bill came and he paid it, no problem. The next time he came back, I asked him about it. ‘I didn’t have my reading glasses,’ he said. ‘I thought it was £26.50!’ So, I said, ‘Dinner’s on me tonight’ and he was thrilled.”

Sitting down to eat, I soon find out what attracts such a crowd. Current head chef Asimakis Chaniotis’s creations are a revelation, with dishes like smoked quail with organic spelt risotto and girolles, whole native lobster with sweetcorn, seaweed and rouille, and red wine poached pear with almonds and Roquefort ice cream; each dish, plated as if high art, is as every bit as delicious as it looks. “The bizarre thing is that as a kid, I was stubborn,” David tells me. “I liked mashed potatoes and omelettes with raspberry jam!” These days, though, there’s definitely a sense of playfulness about both David and Pied a Terre’s offerings. It’s a quality that served him well when, at the age of 20, he went for his first big job interview with Alain Desenclos, restaurant director at Raymond Blanc’s Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. “I used to watch a TV programme called Take Six Cooks, and I remember Raymond Blanc talking about restaurants and food being like an opera… then they panned across to Alain Desenclos, and I thought ‘God he looks scary!”’

Undeterred, David came up with a novel strategy for the interview. “I had to drive 243 miles from Blackpool to Great Milton. So, I thought ‘This seems like too good an opportunity not to have lunch!’ I put my smartest Freeman Hardy and Willis shoes on and my Burton’s grey suit with very thin grey tie,” he adds, laughing. Once he’d finished eating, David called the waiter over and said, “Could you tell Monsieur Desenclos that his 3pm appointment is here and would he like to join me at my table?”

“Everyone came out to have a good look at this guy who’d invited Alain to join him!” He landed a job as a waiter, but his progress to head waiter was hindered by his lack of French. “I was the only English waiter! I remember in the first couple of weeks I thought the French waiters were all big Smiths fans… because how do you say ‘I’m pissed off’ in French? ‘J’en ai marre’ – Johnny Marr!”  The early 90s were a boom time for Fitzrovia, with big advertising agencies moving into the neighbourhood, but Charlotte Street in those days hadn’t yet scaled the gastronomic heights it’s now known for. “Pied à Terre was a kind of urban storm-trooper that started to turn the tide. In 1993, we earned our first Michelin star, followed by a second in 96. Now there are seven Michelin starred restaurants within half a mile of Charlotte Street!”

David met his wife Val just around the corner, making this spot on the Fitzrovia/Soho border even more of a special place for him. “We met at the Mexican Beach Bar, right where Soho Street turns into Rathbone Place… Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ was on the turntable and I saw this redheaded beauty with a fine figure… it truly was love at first sight… though she did object to my shoes, which got dumped in a bin that evening!”

Another enthusiast for Pied à Terre was local hero and publishing legend Felix Dennis, who even helped publish a book on the area in Characters of Fitzrovia. “Felix was a great supporter of ours when we first opened. He was local, with an office on Goodge Street, and I’d bump into him all the time. I was on the way to the bank one gloomy autumn afternoon in 1992, stressed out about our finances, when I ran into Felix. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him we had a cash-flow issue and that we urgently needed £10,000. Felix instantly told me to bypass the bank manager, head to his office and ask for a cheque for £10k – and that he’d be in with his Dennis Publishing team to spend it on Friday! He basically saved us from a huge financial crisis.”

In 1998, David decided to buy a property close to the restaurant. “I’d been engaged a year, we were getting married and had got a small deposit together.” He narrowed his search to a 20-minute circle around Pied à Terre. “We explored Soho, Marylebone, Camden, but we just loved Bloomsbury.” David and Val finally chose an “amazing space” on Gray’s Inn Road, close to many of the places they now hold dear in the area, from the small farm at Coram’s Fields to the British Museum and Sir John Soane’s Museum.

Back in Fitzrovia, David’s newest venture is a collaboration with Matthieu Germond, who has transformed the old Dabbous site on Whitfield Street to create Noizé, a quintessential, local French bistro with an emphasis on the food and wine of the Loire Valley. Its no-nonsense aesthetic and menu of elegant simplicity (squid, smoked bacon and apple; suckling pig belly with carrot and tarragon) brings a welcome touch of convivial French charm to the area. As we say goodbye, David has a parting suggestion: “We should get Phil Oakey to join us next time!”

Citizens

Citizens


Words & Photography Etienne Gilfillan


Pampered pooches and exotic cats on leashes… Fitzrovia’s pets are seemingly no strangers to the area’s gentrification. These furry citizens have taken a liking to the high life, freeloading snacks from strangers and local businesses, and using local trees as their observation posts, always on the lookout for Fitzrovia’s pet paparazzi and the chance to become local celebrities!

Frank, Foley Street

Frank, a seven-month old Springerpoo, is  a doggy dynamo.According to owner Laurence, Frank’s “energy is boundless –  there is simply no stopping him from running, running, running.  I think he takes after me. I should never have trained with him before I did the half marathon  –  he is just a high energy dog!” And though he does enjoy a  gentle stroll through Fitzrovia, the moment he gets a whiff of Regent’s Park, he’s off! “It’s that classic Spaniel nose,” explains Laurence. “It’s  a tug of war until he gets there!”

Frank is totally besotted with tennis balls , brooms and especially shoes. “If you have a pair of shoes, watch out! Frank will destroy them and proof of this can be confirmed by my adorable PA Susie who lost two pairs to him, so that’s another bill I have had to pay!” Laurence adds wryly. “But by 7pm, it’s crash-out time on the sofa, cuddles galore and finallya good sleep on his back with his paws skyward.” No doubt dreaming of the next exciting encounter with a broom or his favourite dinner treat, a special tuna recipe specially prepared by Laurence.

Monica Galetti

Monica Galetti


Words Laurence Glynne

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“In the kitchen, she gender is irrelevant: once you slip into your chef’s jacket, everyone is equal

It’s a bright, sunny day and I’m sitting in Monica Galetti’s innovative new restaurant, surrounded by contemporary Samoan artworks full of mesmerising patterns and gorgeous colours. A typically vivid and meticulously detailed tapestry tells the story of Monica’s own life, depicting her husband David and daughter Anais in a way that exudes warmth and celebrates family ties. Somehow it seems to perfectly sum up Monica’s personality. Let’s be clear – this extraordinarily gifted woman is not the stone-faced judge familiar from that well-known reality cooking series MasterChef. In talking to Monica, you soon realise that she possesses humility, a bubbly sense of humour and a deep passion for her family and her staff.

Today, we’re talking about Mere, her latest venture, which recently opened in the heart of Fitzrovia on Charlotte Street. Her sous chef can’t come in and one of the steamers in the kitchen is being repaired, but Monica remains calm and unruffled. We’re laughing over a story from her childhood about when she would try out her emerging culinary skills only to end up burning all the potatoes and pancakes; even the most talented restaurateur has to start somewhere! Monica’s love of cooking certainly started in her humble home setting, where the family would gather together in the kitchen and bond over the preparation and eating of food. It was a typical Samoan way of life, with children encouraged to cook from a young age. Such early experience with the combination of flavours and spices was essential in developing her palate. The seeds of her future career had been planted.

Other aspects of her Samoan childhood played an equally vital part in developing Monica’s character. When her parents split up it was her mother, Meredith, and her aunts who raised Monica and her sister Grace. Meredith was a young mum and the breadwinner who supported the whole family, including an aunt who was wheelchair-bound as a result of polio. The tomboyish Monica was schooled in Samoa up to the age of 18, when she left to join her mum in Wellington, New Zealand, where Meredith had settled with her second husband. At school, she had loved geography, and one fond memory is of a trip to the snow-capped Mount Tongariro in New Zealand. The tapestry of Monica’s life was evolving, pointing her towards an extraordinary journey which would lead her, many years later, to Fitzrovia.

After school, she enrolled in a Hospitality Management Course in Wellington. Here, she realised she could start making her dreams come true. A committed student, she’d often work until midnight, socialising with friends taking a back seat until she’d finished: partying or hanging out would only begin in the early hours. She obviously had a lot of stamina. The mentor who helped her fulfil her dreams, and continues to influence her even today, was a lecturer called Mr Small. In contrast to his name, he was a larger than life character, playfully camp and with an infectious sense of fun; given Monica’s own wicked sense of humour, it’s no surprise the two of them gelled. She specifically remembers one day when he asked the pupils to write down what they wished to achieve in the future. This time, he was being serious, and the task had a significant impact on Monica, forcing her to focus on her plans. These involved a desire to travel and see as much of the world as she possibly could, all the while building on her growing experience in hospitality.

Travelling to various countries and learning from the wide array of cultures she encountered only fed her love of food and curiosity about the world’s many different cuisines. Returning to New Zealand, her first job in the kitchen was as a chef in Lower Hutt. It was an “inauguration”, another step on her journey, in which she not only developed her basic skills but learned to prepare food and cook and at a “rapid, rapid rate”. She excelled in culinary competitions, which brought out her perfectionism and competitive spirit. If she was told by someone that she could not do something, she would seek to prove them wrong – in other words, she says, “putting it in their face”. Such competitiveness, she points out, has nothing to do with being a woman in what is still largely a male-dominated profession. In the kitchen, she says, gender is irrelevant: once you slip into your chef’s jacket, everyone is equal.

Monica’s performance exceeded all expectations and her reputation spread; so much so that she was offered a position as a chef at Michele Roux’s London restaurant, La Gavroche. Roux’s respect for her obvious talent and strong personality, meant that she was soon offered the position of sous chef at the Michelin-starred establishment. Success in any restaurant is not only down to the quality of the food; another essential ingredient is the camaraderie created by a good team. The staff at La Gavroche tended to hang out together as a group of friends, and this is how Monica’s relationship with David, now her husband and partner, began. David trained in France and was working at La Tour d’Argent in Paris when he sent his CV to Michele Roux; soon, he had arrived in London and was working as a sommelier at La Gavroche. After a few months, Monica left to go travelling for a year.

As soon as she returned, David asked: “What are you doing tonight?” “Sleeping,” she replied. “Great – just what he wanted to hear!” she laughs. “He suggested meeting up after work at midnight! I told him, no way mate!” They ended up meeting in Covent Garden at 6pm. With such a busy life and the constant disruptions caused by work and travel, Monica had given up looking for a relationship. Then, when she least expected it, along came Mr Right! Now, the pair are happily married and a formidable team in the restaurant. Their daughter Anais, 11, has already shown a love of music and fashion; perhaps cookery will follow.

Monica’s dream has always been to create something special and to share her love of the restaurant business with an equally passionate staff. She would love to be the perfect hostess – and would doubtless shine at it – but front of house is not for her. That’s why she remains in the kitchen. Looking after her customers, though, is of the utmost importance: she wants to take away their worries for a while, make them feel good and share her home from home with them. This is where the idea of family still inspires her; the childhood memories of bonding in the kitchen are now a reality once more, as she and David produce beautifully crafted food designed to put a smile on people’s faces; the only thing that’s missing is the burnt pancakes.