In 2019, just three months before the outbreak of Covid, Philippe and J.J. were en route to view an apartment in Shoreditch.
Philippe: French and a jewellery designer, the temperanental, creative one.
JJ: English of a calmer disposition, an experienced PA well versed in dealing with difficult situations and challenging clients.
Unfortunately neither of these attributes served them well in this instance as they got lost, missed the viewing and ended up instead on Wapping High Street. Still arguing about whose fault it was that wrong turnings had been taken they popped into an old converted pub called The Turks Head, for a coffee while they tried to get hold of the estate agent.
The couple seated at the next table were in the middle of a fairly heated, intense and easily overheard conversation and it quickly became apparent that one of the people in question was the owner, and that the subject under discussion was his decision to sell the place and move on, and that’s where our story starts.
As it happened, over the previous few weeks we had been discussing the possibility of changing the direction of our lives. A change of career maybe. Or doing something together perhaps, and as the conversation at the next table progressed, arguments were forgotten and it became obvious that we were both thinking along the same lines. Could this be it? We leant over, apologised for earwigging and joined in the conversation and expressed interest. By the time we left a first tentative offer had been made. One week later and The Turks Head was ours.
The route we wanted to go was not in question; previously we’d lived in Paris and so fantasised about bringing the intimate atmosphere of those local restaurants and cafés that had made us so welcome, into this area of London.
The next few weeks, determined to be fully up and running in time for the Christmas festivities, we hardly slept, working from dawn to dusk, planning, building, decorating, furnishing, recruiting, sourcing suppliers; it was non-stop but we made it and it worked, really well. And then Covid raised its head and our dreams threatened to turn to dust .As a new business we had only one option: adapt or die.
The building already had a small paved garden which we planted up and the council kindly permitted us to expand our outside seating area into the adjoining public park. The space allotted wasn’t huge, but it was enough to make the exercise viable. We installed a horse-box coffee stall, carried on as best we could and made it through the lockdowns. Just.
So the start of the venture didn’t go as smoothly as we’d expected, but in some ways the pandemic brought unintended consequences in that the outside area, somewhat reminiscent of those in Paris or the South of France, became a real draw, more often than not favoured over eating inside.
There’s no doubt about it, Covid nearly finished us and it left a financial legacy, but business is building and, apart from the atmosphere, this has to be down to the quality of our food.
All our ingredients are sourced on a daily basis and everything served is market dependent. The menus are built round this and dishes are prepared to order. The downside is that when it’s gone, regretfully it’s gone, but we like to think our guests appreciate that quality is everything. It certainly is to us.