Turning the tables

The latest dining revolution has arrived. Space-sharing is proving the perfect recipe for new chefs, savvy entrepreneurs and switched-on foodies

Photography Louise Banks, Max Flash/Landmark

Media/ImageCollect, Sylvain Deleu, Mark Wallis, Matt Badenoch, The Gaztronome, Stephanie Broom Jason Lowe

Words Rupa Sudra

Is it an art gallery, a restaurant or a bar? In fact, it's all three. Thanks to a new foodie revolution sweeping through the UK, venues are joining forces with chefs and entrepreneurs to diversify their offering. The results include cafés that turn into fine dining eateries after dark, and chefs showcasing their skills in disused churches, shops and galleries.

One such venue is Manzes in Islington. A pie and mash shop by day, this transforms into The Seagrass high-end restaurant by night, with a focus on seafood and game. Then there's The Book Club in the heart of the City, which has multi-functionality at its core. Opposite page: The Book Club - open for breakfast, lunch, street parties and club nights This page, clockwise from top: Tramshed operates as a bar, restaurant and gallery space; Delicious street food - markets are the perfect place for chefs to showcase new ideas; Diners about to enjoy the wonderland of The Reindeer restaurant; Delicious fare from a night with Grub Club."

We open early as a café-bar, serving breakfast and lunch, and providing a haven for freelancers and business meetings," explains The Book Club's Freya Coote. "Then, as the night draws in, the ground floor operates as a bar. The basement is used as a cultural event space during the week and for club nights at the weekend. We also occasionally hire out the different spaces for private events and hold the odd street party in Leonard Street Car Park."

If the latter sounds decidedly unglamorous, think again. Entrepreneurs Pablo Flack and David Waddington are among those determined to prove that such 'pop-up' events can be both stylish and luxurious. The pair made headlines in 2006 by setting up a temporary restaurant in a car park on east London's Brick Lane. Called The Reindeer, this raised the bar, showing how even the simplest of spaces could be transformed into a stunning wonderland, offering fabulous food in comfort and luxury. Tables sold out in August - four months before launch - and the restaurant turned over a seven-figure sum in just 23 days. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the duo have hosted similar events since, welcoming the likes of Tracy Emin, Roland Mouret, Kylie Minogue, Erin O'Connor and Tom Dixon.

Among high-end, edgy venues, meanwhile, the trend for space-sharing is also growing. Tramshed restaurant in London's Shoreditch is one such example, offering a bar, eatery and art gallery all in one space. With the specially commissioned Damien Hirst 'Cock and Bull' sculpture towering overhead, chef and owner Mark Hix admits: "In this great building, I had to do something that was a bit different. The whole point is there's something for everyone."

The nearby Hoxton Hotel is also appealing to an evergrowing audience thanks to its diverse use of space. The Soho Group, which is behind exclusive members clubs Soho House and Shoreditch House, run the Hoxton's restaurant area. Meanwhile, the hotel's other spaces, including The Apartment - a dedicated entertainment and events area regularly hosts secret gigs, pop-up cinema screenings, cocktail master classes, comedy clubs, vintage markets and even mosaic workshops. As The Book Club's Freya Coote sums up: "Running business this way keeps things fresh for everyone - customers and staff. People like the variety."

In fact, space sharing is unlikely to be a fleeting trend because it offers up the perfect recipe for everyone. For new chefs, using a temporary or shared space is a risk-free way to try out their own 'restaurant', launch a product or road-test their ideas. It's also a good way to gather market research on recipes, customer-base and location - all essential for future business plans and investors.

"For diners it's a great step forward," says WenLin Soh, founder and CEO of the online foodie directory Edible Experiences. "People get to try out more creative food from innovative independent operators."

Meanwhile, for venues, it's a win-win situation. Being able to offer a different type of event or cuisine every night draws in consumers. "Supper club and pop-up hosts used to contact us asking if we knew of any places where they could hold events," says Soh. "Now, it's turning the other way around. Venues are contacting us to find people that might like to use their space."

"There's definitely an increasing number of underused spaces and a growing number of people looking to either host or be entertained somewhere different," agrees Olivia Sibony, co-founder of Grub Club, a website that connects foodies with chefs and spaces across London.

Now is the time for these venues to take centre stage, Sibony says. "Due to the domination of huge branded stores and the internet, independent shops, cafes and restaurants are struggling to survive. Grub Club is using the online world to bring people together in interesting places offline."

With chefs gaining more exposure, venues making extra income, and people accessing diverse food and entertainment experiences at their fingertips, space sharing is a simple, and increasingly sustainable, recipe for success.

Gizzi Erskine has never been straight laced. The striking, 60's-styled, rockabilly-loving chef has the kind of edgy cool that comes from having a rebellious start in life - and she's seen a lot in her 34 years. After dropping out of school, Erskine branded herself with several tattoos, including a large pair of angel wings on her back, and found work as a body piercer. Several jobs and nearly 20 years later, she still refuses to toe the line.

"What I do is very different," says Erskine. This is because, as a sideline to her work as a cook, food writer and broadcaster, she hosts culinary events - mainly in east London. These are more than just dining experiences. "They're multi-faceted," she explains. "They're for all the senses. Food is at the core, but we might have dancers, music, art. It's really fun."

Erskine has a tendency to veer between extremes. After her wild child phase, in her late teens and early 20s, she embraced the disciplined world of cookery. Winning a place at Leith's School of Food and Wine, Erskine worked her stylish socks off, studying by day and slogging it out as a kitchen porter by night. She trained at some of London's best restaurants and graduated top of her year, winning an internship at BBC Good Food Magazine.

Next came a spell as a food stylist and writer, running supper clubs and temporary pop-up restaurants with the likes of Street Feast and Disco Bistro. "My food is fusion meets Americana, but that isn't always right for these events," she explains, mentioning a recent San Sebastian-themed experience where she "pulled together the best tapas chefs I know." At another event, Michelin-starred chef Angela Hartnett catered for thousands in a Hackney builders' yard.

Sometimes, though, Erskine's food is the focus. Her TV shows, including Cook Yourself Thin and Cookery School, have cemented her reputation both as a dieter's friend and technical chef, and she now writes a regular food column for The Sunday Times Magazine.

"Nothing scares me with food," Erskine grins. "I'm fearless when it comes to ingredients." It's that same blend of rebelliousness and compliance - adventurous with flavours yet precise with recipes. "I'm secretly a bit of a swot," she confides. Albeit on her own terms.



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