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I have worked in some of London’s best-loved restaurants in my time – Coya, The Ritz and La Petite Maison to name but a few. Earlier this year, before any of us could have dreamed what was coming, I made plans to open my own restaurant. Simply called Lila, it was going to be a pretty neighbourhood restaurant, serving up Mediterranean cooking with lots of wood-fired cooking thrown into the mix. The lockdown saw an end to that plan, sadly – for the time being, anyway. But in many ways, the lockdown has been a blessing in disguise. I quickly started thinking about ways I could still cook and bring in an income without having a working restaurant. I started cooking for friends and family, creating large batches of family food such as meatballs, hot smoked salmon, lasagnes, summer salads and prepared meat and fish for the BBQ. It quickly took off and has become a real business for me. So I’m just the right person to talk about the value in investing in good, local businesses. I wouldn’t have survived lockdown without the support of my local community and our high streets will really suffer if we lose them.
I grew up in north London and I’ve lived in Belsize Park for the past eight years. If you know north London, you’ll know therefore that I am completely spoilt for choice. Pomona is a stunning little deli, fruit and veg shop. The service is second to none but the quality of the food is what shines. Handy tip: their freshly-squeezed orange juice is the best you’ll ever taste, and it reminds me of holidays. The Fields Beneath is a short walk down Prince of Wales Road and there you’ll find one of the best artisan coffee shops in London, situated under Kentish Town West railway. The coffee is off-the-charts good and they are a real cornucopia of vegan food and snacks.
I cook a lot of meat and am a bit of a meat-lover, if truth be told. I only ever buy my meat from HG Walter; it’s by far and away the best quality meat from rare breed farmers you can find in London. The service I get when I order is second to none and the whole experience is a joy. It’s still very much a family-run business and this shines through every part of the experience. Getting the best quality fish can be a challenge when you’re a small trader like me, but I use Capital Seafoods. They have plenty of daily boat catches and not only is the service I get impeccable but the fish is fresher than you could ever imagine. My hot smoked salmon dish tends to blow people away – my customers tell me they’ve never tasted fish so fresh and flavoursome.
Finally, one of life’s true pleasures – cheese! For me, it’s got to be Neal’s Yard Dairy, based in Covent Garden. During lockdown they had a little pop-up at the Notting Hill Fish Shop which is just down the road from me, so I’ve been sneaking in way too much secret Cashel Blue… Anyone who knows Neal’s Yard knows that you go for their enduring commitment to supporting the vibrant British cheese business, going to the ends of the earth to unearth the very best cheeses from these shores and beyond. They don’t get enough recognition for the work they do. If we don’t use our small retailers, we will lose them. One of the amazing things about lockdown has been seeing people shop on their doorstep again, as supermarkets became so unappealing and hard to get into. Long may it last.
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