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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?

Charlotte Street News

Charlotte Street News


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“…they need almost everything they can get their hands on from the print world. Magazines are their bibles…”

I wasn’t a publisher when I first set foot in Charlotte Street News as a teenager, just an unpublished writer without a readership – a nobody, really. At that time, almost a decade ago, I didn’t know whether I wanted to start a magazine; but what I did know is that I was already fascinated by the smell of ink, paper and creativity that came off the titles on the rack. I scanned from bottom to top, and if I recall correctly, I noticed an early issue of publisher Tyler Brule’s Monocle sitting there. It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was almost certainly lust. The different kinds of paper stock, the endless pages of content, the elegant layouts; I examined page after page in awe. And a seed was planted.

Print magazines are not a dying breed, as we’re often told; if anything, they’re on the rise. However, the newsstand is in decline. In Central London, there still are a number of speciality newsagents, but throughout much of the UK, newsstands are being priced out by big high street competitors. Here, within a matter of yards of each other between Soho, Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia, you can still find some of the most successful niche newsstands in the whole country, selling the finest publications and print products in the world. You can walk into Soho-based newsagents such as Wardour News and Good News, or Fitzrovia’s Charlotte Street News, and pick something up you’re unlikely to find anywhere else, from leading names such as Cereal and Kinfolk, to lesser known niche independent publications such as Intern Magazine and Drift. These newsstands feel like timeless outposts of creativity and individualism on a competitive high street where independents are always trying to survive in the face of fierce mainstream competition.

Originally from India, newsagent Perry Thaker started out on Charlotte Street in the late 1980s. Having just sold his newsagents in suburban New Malden, Perry was looking out for a fresh opportunity in central London when he stumbled upon the leasehold for what was to become the home of his new business on Charlotte Street. “Back then, Fitzrovia was a very different place from how we know it today. I moved in January 1988, and Fitzrovia was far from the media village some would describe it as now,” he tells me. “It was a mess when I moved in, and I worked hard to get it into shape. We got off to a great start, and within a couple of months I began supplying names such as Channel 4 and Saatchi & Saatchi. Fitzrovia was becoming more and more of a hub, and I was picking up a number of supply chains to businesses in the area. Channel 4 become one of my biggest customers, and because of them ITV became a regular customer too. This is how it is for me – it grows organically.” Deliveries, supply chains and subscriptions have grown to be Perry’s biggest source of custom over the years, with Fitzrovia’s growing range of businesses requiring a large range of publications to be supplied on a regular basis. “These companies, they need almost everything they can get their hands on from the print world. Magazines are their bibles, and it’s our responsibility to get them to them,” he says.

In January 2018, Charlotte Street News will be 30 years old. Perry admits he finds it hard to believe that three decades have gone by, although he says he has seen major changes both in the publishing industry and Fitzrovia over that time. “It’s become one of the greatest neighbourhoods in Central London. I know it’s much more established now, but to me it still feels like a well-kept secret hidden between Soho and Camden. You have to search it out,” he says. “Print has had a tough time, which has meant that editors and entrepreneurs have had to go back to the drawing board to think hard about how they can make their products work, succeed, and ultimately survive. I’ve seen a lot of magazines disappear because of the Internet. Especially amongst the younger generation today, people don’t have to seek out information and stories from the rack anymore – they can find it their pocket or on their screens at home. Although the rise of digital has made it a tough market for print, seen in another light it may have helped to underline its importance. We survive on the back of a tangible and niche product, and digital will never be able to replace that special identity.”

Independent publishers trying to take a paid-for publication to market feel the squeeze. Distributors here in London, such as WhiteCirc and Ra & Olly, supply newsagents like Charlotte Street News with the latest publications on a sale or return basis; translated into non-business speak, this means that Perry will receive the latest publications from new publishers (around 10 or so copies) and will only pay the distributor once the copies are sold. For a new publisher, just like any prospective business owner, this means taking your product to market is highly risky. New publications require a large amount of investment and time to get right, with no guarantee of success. Take my word for it: it’s a lot of legwork! So, when you pick up one of those biannual or quarterly independent titles on the rack – titles that have been in circulation for a number of years – you can be sure that somebody worked themselves into the ground to make it happen. Today, Perry doesn’t stock tabloid newspapers, he specialises in rare, speciality and niche magazines or high-circulation publications such as The Week and Monocle. Charlotte Street News is undoubtedly Fitzrovia’s leading newsagent. You won’t find cigarettes and alcohol here, or the ramblings of the Daily Mail – only well-styled perfection in print form. This is a gallery of publishers’ dreams.

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.

Centre Point

Centre Point


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Ross Becker


“…a celebration of everything that makes London a world-class city.”

Here, in the few square miles which make up the West End, there is little that rises above 10 storeys. The Post Office Tower and Senate House are among the most familiar beacons in this part of London, though there is perhaps one architectural fixture that’s even more instantly recognisable. Sitting on the borders of Fitzrovia and Soho, Centre Point has been for half a century quite literally at the centre of London life. Praised, damned and often disused throughout its existence, the story of Centre Point is the story of a brutalist icon and a national treasure.

Designed by architect George Marsh of R Seifert and Partners, on a site once occupied by a gallows, the building was constructed between 1963 and 1966 at the crossroads of Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street, New Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road. Sitting atop distinctive angular ‘dinosaur legs’, at 117m (385ft) high it was one of the first skyscrapers in London, comprising a 34-storey tower and a smaller, nine-floor building to the east linked by a first-floor footbridge. With the popularity of Brutalist architecture on the rise in 1960s London, Marsh had a vision of a concrete honeycomb-inspired exterior. This sort of repetition of modular elements, distinctly articulated and grouped together into a unified whole was a key characteristic of the brutalist movement. Centre Point’s precast honeycomb segments were produced on the Isle of Portland in Dorset out of fine concrete utilising crushed Portland Stone and then later driven to London by lorry. The building was the first of its kind in the city, capturing the spirit and inventiveness of 1960s London. The result is a now iconic building that remains raw and unpretentious, contrasting dramatically with the highly refined and ornamented buildings constructed in the Beaux-Arts style that surround it. Though it hasn’t always been seen as an asset to the area, Centre Point received Grade II listed status from English Heritage in 1995.

Centre Point was built as speculative office space by property tycoon Harry Hyams, and despite its position at the heart of the West End and its then impressive height, the building remained empty for almost a decade after its completion and was dubbed ‘London’s Empty Skyscraper’. This was the result of Hyams’s plan that the whole building be occupied by a single occupant. He waited (and waited) for someone to meet his asking price of £1,250,000. At this point, skyscrapers were almost unheard of in the city, and the prominence of such a huge, empty, and unrepentantly modern building inspired many opponents in London. Hyams kept a distinctly low-profile, and when often flying into London over his creation felt that something was missing – a name. At Hyams’s insistence, several years after its completion, Centre Point was branded with its famed neon logo, with the lettering on the logo directly derived from the Optima font. In 2004 artist Cerith Wyn Evans utilised the logo for an outdoor art piece called ‘Meanwhile… across town’, with the replacement LED logo having been unveiled to Londoners this summer. Cerith will be returning to Centre Point with a neon light installation, his work ‘Forms in Space… by Light (in Time)’ is the 2017 Tate Britain Commission.

After remaining largely empty for many years – and even being occupied by housing campaigners for a weekend in 1974 – Centre Point eventually became a functioning office building. From July 1980 to March 2014, it was the headquarters of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), making them, at nearly 34 years, the building’s longest-standing tenants. More recently, it has provided space for US talent agency William Morris and gaming company EA Games. In 2011, Centre Point was purchased and then resold to property investment and development company Almacantar, who have a policy of transforming new acquisitions into prime products with sustained value. Centre Point stands as perhaps their most ambitious project since the company’s launch in 2010.

By this point, Centre Point’s status was uncertain: iconic – if not universally loved – and listed it may have been, but it remained as underused and underexploited as ever. Almacantar’s goal to bring to life a building that, despite being on a prime site right in the centre of one of the world’s greatest cities, had never fulfilled its huge potential. Perhaps now, with the redevelopment of the site for commercial usage at the base and residential in the main tower, we’ll finally see this essential part of London’s skyline celebrated and brought back to deserved prominence. It has undergone an intensive restoration, with every inch of its structure carefully restored and over 50 years’ worth of wear and tear removed in order to secure its future.

This means that for the first time in its history the tower’s famed beehive windows are to become living space. Almacantar began collaborating with Conran & Partners and Rick Mather Architects to restore and repurpose the landmark structure, carefully taking into account the character, neighbouring area and unique position of Centre Point on our city’s skyline. With stunning views of London to the east and west, Centre Point presents an opportunity for an unmatched home environment in Central London. When you enter the building, the first thing to get your attention is the sense of quiet. In the setting of the Conran & Partners designed interiors, this is a welcome break from the bustling chaos of the West End below. Under your nose is Soho, Fitzrovia and Tottenham Court Road station. To the west you can make out Kensington Palace, and to the east St Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard and the Thames. Such an escape from the sprawling city spread out below is a rarity anywhere in London, and to find it in the heart of the West End is practically unheard of. At the base of the building, residents will benefit from numerous amenities, including a club, 24-hour concierge, a spa and pool overlooking the newly renovated station below, screening and meeting rooms and a gym. Above ground, a series of 1, 2, 3 & 5 bedroom apartments make up the main body of the building. Spread over the 33rd and 34th floors is the duplex apartment; a rare opportunity to peer out over the city through Centre Point’s glowing eponymous logo. “The apartments at Centre Point are a celebration of everything that makes London a world-class city,” says Tracy Hughes, Residential Sales Director. “It is unmatched in terms of design, location and specification, and will benefit from an uplift from Crossrail. When we open Centre Point this year it will be a rare and distinguished residential address in London’s exceptional West End.”

 

Back at ground level, the area around St Giles High Street has long been a dull and slightly grimy spot and sometimes a magnet for anti-social behaviour. Repurposing the tower for residential use has also meant redesigning the base of the building, creating a 15,000-square-foot public space for the 21st century city. Looking back at the unexecuted building designs from the early 1960s, it’s possible to see how the new ground-level layout revisits and fulfils Seifert’s original vision for a true ‘centre point’ in London’s West End. This new public space at the base of the tower is to be lined with a series of restaurants and contemporary cafés, with names such as Rhubarb already set to join when the site opens later this year. The first-floor footbridge is also undergoing a transformation to make way for a restaurant overlooking New Oxford Street. The new Centre Point has not only restored this icon for future generations but created a space for the general public that will finally do justice to Seifert’s original vision. And with the upcoming Elizabeth Line providing links to Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf, Centre Point will finally live up to its name: a national treasure at the very heart of London.

THRSXTY

THRSXTY


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Etienne Gilfillan


“Every brand has a story to be told, and we love telling stories…”

I’m sitting with Oli Wheeler on Little Portland Street. We’re talking about public relations, his agency THRSXTY, and his secret life as a drummer and self-confessed adrenaline junkie. There are almost too many PR agencies to count in this neighbourhood, but this street is especially populous, filled with some of London’s biggest names in communications. We’re discussing Oli’s latest role as CEO of THRSXTY, the growing Fitzrovia-based agency whose clients are as dynamic as the company’s rapidly expanding young team.

A few doors down Little Portland Street are five or six other agencies gathered under the umbrella of the Exposure Group, helmed by joint CEOs Raoul Shah and Tim Bourne, who purchased THRSXTY back in 2008. THRSXTY had originally started out as a film PR agency, whereas today they are specialists in PR, digital marketing and event production across diverse sectors, from fashion to spirit brands. Until 2015 the agency just about broke even, but Raoul and Tim had great belief in its potential. “They thought THRSXTY could take a new and interesting direction. It was doing pretty well, and ticked over nicely, but it was always destined for more than that,” says Oli.

He started out working for Freud Communications in 1993, going on to become a board director for 14 years between 1997 and 2011. He left Freud to join viagogo, the live event ticketing company, as Global Head of Communications, launching it into 62 countries. In early 2015, he began having conversations with Raoul and Tim about THRSXTY. “I had started to think about what I’d like to do next when Raoul and Tim mentioned THRSXTY to me. They felt it needed new energy, vision and leadership to take it to the next level,” he says. “I took a good look at it and it was clearly an agency that had huge potential, and so I joined in January 2016. I had big ambitions for the agency, but it required a complete turnaround as it wasn’t where it needed to be. I actually don’t think it could have continued in its previous form. It was doing fine – and there are lots of agencies that are “doing fine” – but I don’t do “fine”. I only want to work with exceptional clients and exceptional people.”

Since joining THRSXTY Oli has taken it in a whole new direction, reshaping and redefining the image, clientele and culture of the business. In his first year with the company, its turnover grow by an impressive 71%: clearly, the agency is thriving under his influence. “Come to think of it, this is only my third proper job,” laughs Oli. His first task was to work out what kind of agency THRSXTY was going to transition into. “THRSXTY was just waiting to be taken on a growth mission. It was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. It had a handful of great clients, and a few that were not so great. We resigned those.” He set some serious growth targets, expanded the services that showed most potential (such as digital and event production) and, crucially, set about finding the right people to come on board for the ride.

 

“THRSXTY is still a PR company at its heart,” says Oli, “although digital and influencer marketing have both grown exponentially for us. Our production team has doubled in size as has our VIP talent team. After an explosive first year we are continuing to grow our client list and we have just employed our 20th team member. Next on the horizon is New York, which we plan to open in 2018.”

Oli is as charismatic as he is enthusiastic and driven, and this has been key in bringing on board a hefty array of intriguing and innovative brands and clients during his tenure. “THRSXTY clients have a challenger mindset – they’re ambitious, courageous and creative,” he explains. “They’re anything but ordinary, and all our clients share our energy.” Walking into the agency, you can immediately sense everyone’s pride in working with Evian, Lacoste, Original Penguin, and (a particular favourite of mine) Herschel Supply. There is an entire team dedicated to drinks brands, ranging from premium tequila brand Patrón, Piper Heidsieck champagne and Suntory Japanese whiskies to Drambuie, Sailor Jerry and Wild Turkey.

“Some of our clients have grown in size along with the agency, and others are brand new to us. The main sectors are drinks, lifestyle brands and high street fashion. We’ve become quite a specialist in the drinks category, which makes our Friday afternoon agency catch-up quite lively at times.

“We’re privileged to have a long list of cultural icons in the portfolio, but we also take pride in building new brand identities. Every brand has a story to be told, and we love telling stories. Our role is to communicate those stories to the right people via the most effective channels. PR is a bit like shouting “oi!” very loudly and then pointing at something, and we are very lucky to work on some innovative and pioneering brand campaigns. It’s a real privilege to work with such talented people.”

Oli has worked within minutes of the THRSXTY office for his entire career and he has seen Fitzrovia change over the years into the neighbourhood that it has become today. The agency’s location is not only popular with the team but, in Oli’s view, is key to its success. “I try and take a quick walk around the neighbourhood every day. After 25 years I am still seeing vibrancy and inventiveness at every turn. This morning, I noted that one sandwich shop had a queue down the street, yet others were virtually empty, so I couldn’t help ask someone why they were prepared to wait. He told me he just liked what they sell and he liked spending time in there. These are inspirational insights when you are running your own business. THRSXTY is a fun place to work and we encourage our clients to spend time with us here. Fitzrovia has a real edge to it – with a healthy dose of mischief thrown in too!”

“I believe it’s important that our people are multidimensional and that they all have interesting lives outside of the agency”. Oli is a perfect example of this multi-faceted approach to life: when he’s not working, he plays drums in a band called Westbourne Circus, made up of musicians such as Simon Le Bon as well as others who play for the likes of Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones. He also rides off-road motorcycles in various adventures around the world, which he describes as “my personal choice for a midlife crisis”.

He co-owns THRSXTY with Exposure, and what started out as a friendship with Raoul and Tim has developed into a rewarding business relationship. He believes that he has found the right balance between his business and his interests and makes sure there’s plenty of time to spend with his wife, the actress and presenter Tina Hobley, and their children. It’s looking as though THRSXTY, still evolving and growing, could be his greatest adventure yet.

Fresh Lifestyle

Fresh Lifestyle


Words  Kirk Truman

Photography  Etienne Gilfillan


“This really began to give us a flavour of something much bigger… we’d only really started to scratch the surface with what we could do.”

 

In a prime location at the corner of Cleveland Street and Mortimer Street sits One Fitzroy. It’s home to US manufacturer and marketer of prestige beauty products, Estée Lauder, and at ground level you’ll find one of their highly-regarded collaborators. Few salon partners have warranted the respect of a leading hair care brand such as Aveda; Fresh Lifestyle, an independent boutique salon is one such partner, bringing the very best in premium hairdressing to the heart of Fitzrovia.

 

Fresh Lifestyle founders Wendy Lauricourt and Michael McLeod opened their first salon more than 14 years ago in Blackheath, South London. “It’s fair to say that the first location was very much the product of Wendy’s vision,” says Michael. “She’d always wanted to create her own marque, and when you have that drive things have a way of coming to fruition. We acquired the sub-lease on a tiny, run-down shop unit overlooking the heath, and with the help of family and friends we managed to create a distinctive space in which to launch our business. It opened in 2003, at that time Wendy was the only full-time hairdresser.”

 

Fast-forward two years and, with a team that had grown to 15, the fledgling project was now operating at near capacity. “We both felt we’d just started to scratch the surface with what we could do, and decided to take things to the next level,” says Michael. Wendy had previously lived and worked in Islington, and knew instinctively that the area’s demographics made it a perfect fit for Fresh Lifestyle’s brand. So, in 2006, Wendy and Michael took on their second location, this time in Upper Street, a stone’s throw from Islington Green. “The increased footprint enabled us to develop the concept from hair salon to lifestyle salon, with a dedicated retail zone at the front of the premises and a spa area to the lower level,” says Wendy. The success of this revised concept inspired them to acquire larger premises for their original Blackheath operation, and in 2009 the partners opened their second Lifestyle Salon in this well-heeled village setting.

 

The partnership with Aveda has been a constant from the inception of the original salon to the present day. “We originally partnered with Aveda because of the synergy between our two brands – a synergy that has fuelled the growth of our business,” says Michael. “It’s probably fair to say that we’re now one of Aveda’s most respected UK partners, to the extent that Estée Lauder invited Fresh Lifestyle to represent the Aveda brand within their UK and Ireland Head Office premises; for us, it’s a huge compliment.”

 

Fitzrovia’s unique mix of retail, business and residential premises, together with the neighbourhood’s bohemian heritage, meant the invitation from Estée Lauder was too good to pass up, and Fresh Lifestyle Fitzrovia opened its doors here in April 2016. The brand-new, double-height space, with floor to ceiling glazing on two sides, is bright and spacious. It looks particularly good from the vantage point offered by the comfy bespoke leather armchairs and with views onto Mortimer Street, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in one of the leafier portions of downtown Manhattan.

 

This bespoke salon space exudes calm and tranquillity, in keeping with the partners’ vision for the perfect guest experience. The faultless technical service on offer – be it cut, colour, or style – goes without saying, but Michael and Wendy feel that it’s equally important to create ‘me time’ for Fresh Lifestyle’s guests. From the stress-relieving rituals that accompany each service, to the hypnotic comfort of the full-body massage chairs in the secluded shampoo zone, everything is geared towards ensuring that visitors leave feeling great. And to ensure that you leave looking great too, each service is carried out by a specialist cut or colour professional dedicated to ensuring that you’re comfortable with and confident about the service you’ll enjoy. At this unique Fitzrovia crossroads spot, Fresh Lifestyle’s brand continues to thrive, showcasing the very best in all things hair for both men and women.

Jon Van der Mije

Jon Van der Mije


Words & Portraits Kirk Truman


“There’s always been an element of competition about food which I’ve enjoyed… it’s the challenge that I strive for.”

We’re walking around the busy kitchen at Percy & Founders. It’s midweek, and the place is still buzzing even at the very end of the lunch hour. While chefs cook, chop and stir at every turn, at the reins is the newest addition to this central Fitzrovia restaurant, Head Chef Jon Van der Mije.

 

Born and raised in Nice in the south of France, Jon’s relationship with food started early. “I was quite young, just 15, when food began to interest me. My grandfather was a chef, and he would show me a few things from time to time.”

 

Though his grandfather lived in Spain, Jon visited him on a regular basis, and the two would spend much of their time cooking together, trying new dishes and practising the traditional arts of braising and cooking with wine. “He always captivated me with his cooking, and after a while food took a hold of me,” Jon remembers.

 

“My first job in a kitchen was in Cannes and it became a love of mine straight away. There’s always been an element of competition about food which I’ve enjoyed… it’s the challenge that I strive for. The role of a chef isn’t necessarily the easiest. It’s very time consuming, but it’s a good life for me. Any chef should take the same pride in what they do that, say, a doctor would take in his work.” When it comes to the menu at Percy & Founders, Jon’s favourite dish is vegetarian: stuffed courgette flower, ricotta, pine nuts, tomatoes & black olives, the roasted lamb loin & shoulder with charred aubergine and sheep’s yoghurt is another dish he is particularly fond of.

 

Jon has lived in London for eight years, having worked for a while in Australia, and joined Open House as Sous Chef three years ago. “I originally started out at Percy & Founders, then moved to The Lighterman when it opened last year. The Lighterman and Percy & Founders have each naturally evolved into a local restaurant, bar and hangout in the areas in which they’re based.” After a year at The Lighterman, Jon was rewarded for his hard work and huge talent in the kitchen with an invitation to return to Percy & Founders – this time as Head Chef.

 

“The food is not too dissimilar; everything we use in the kitchen is fresh and well sourced, mostly from just outside London.” Having opened in the summer of 2016, The Lighterman was an instant success. A pub and dining room over on King’s Cross Granary Square estate, it offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, with three terraces giving fine views across the square and the Regent’s Canal.

 

Located less than five minutes from Oxford Street, just off the junction of Berners and Mortimer Street, Percy & Founders is in an equally appealing location with a beautiful outdoor terrace away from the busy streets of Central London. Its dining room is situated adjacent to the recently restored Fitzrovia Chapel with stunning views of the surrounding square. The restaurant is a carefully crafted addition to Fitzroy Place, and, like the square itself – the first to be built in London in over 100 years – has quickly established itself as a favourite spot among local residents and workers.

 

Percy & Founders offers all-day food and drinks, from morning coffee and breakfast to lunch and dinner. Food is fresh and seasonal, with much of the menu sourced locally or from the very best of British suppliers: meat makes its way down from the Lake District, and fish comes from the Maldon-based speciality smokehouse Lambton & Jackson. I’d like to single out their traditional Sunday roast for special praise – it really hits the mark!

 

Now a prominent fixture in the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, Percy & Founders continues to evolve its menus and extend its private hire opportunities. And Jon, a true free spirit, loves working in the restaurant’s open kitchen environment. Watching him at work, quick on his feet as he cooks, it’s obvious that he is respected by colleagues and remains a team player amongst his busy cadre of predominately female chefs. Jon’s return to his old stomping ground as Percy & Founders’ new Head Chef finds him perfectly at home – right at the centre of one of Fitzrovia’s leading restaurants.