Kitchenette is a new face on West London’s dining scene, but it’s not a restaurant. And it’s not a pop-up, either. On its website it calls itself a food start-up incubator — but we think that sounds far too unsexy. The space is the latest (big) step from an organisation founded a couple of years ago, which works with markets and mentors in the capital to help would-be restaurateurs find their way. Essentially, it contributes to the brains, brawn and backing of London’s foodie future.
It’s one to get to know if you’re keen to try some diverse and exciting cooking before it reaches the mainstream — and help it get there too. And it's a useful place to go if you’ve ever considered starting a restaurant, market stall or food business yourself. We visited the new space, ate Japanese tacos and spoke to founder Cynthia Shanmugalingam about how it works and what it’s all about.
What does Kitchenette offer?
“Kitchenette has worked closely with Hackney’s Netil Market since last summer, and has its own ‘shack’ alongside some of London’s top street food stalls. Food traders-to-be can apply to run the shack for a month of Saturdays. They get live feedback, access to our equipment and suppliers, and help with the documentation needed to get started. They also just have to pay a percentage of earnings — set according to circumstance — rather than a scary flat fee.”
And now there’s a restaurant?
“Tom Dixon offered us this beautiful little chocolate box of a site on Portobello Dock alongside his showrooms, below Stevie Parle’s Dock Kitchen restaurant. It was perfect for us — a proper grown up restaurant, no drinking out of plastic cups in Hackney! It’s a real platform for our up-and-coming restaurateurs to be able to showcase their food, while we can focus on the service and the ambience. Tom’s been a real champion of the project, using his beautiful furniture and lighting to create this space.”
Every four to six weeks, Kitchenette give the space to a different foodie start-up with an idea for an affordable, original restaurant — and help them run it. As well as paying for these people’s time, they also split the restaurant’s profits with them. They even have chef mentors — including Mark Hix, Yianni Papoutsis of Meatliquor and Daniel Willis of The Clove Club — to help along the way.
Where did the idea come from?
“It was kind of a mash-up of two ideas from the US. Pete, one of our directors, had done this tech incubator called Y Combinator. For 3 months they met every week, presented progress, and had access to amazing mentors and investors — he went on to start Songkick and others on the scheme created Dropbox and Reddit.
Separately, a friend mentioned La Cocina — a kitchen incubator in San Francisco, helping would-be food traders and restaurateurs. The team behind it run a big street food festival which their start-up food entrepreneurs can trade at, and work with top restaurants.
We realised there was an opportunity to help people starting restaurants — to offer guidance from people who’d done it before and help them avoid some of the pitfalls.”
And how did it get going?
“We set up a market for our first batch of entrepreneurs in a beautiful disused church as part of Mile End’s Shuffle film festival in spring 2013 — Danny Boyle came and tried all the food. We then had a lot of support from street food markets including KERB, Feast and Street Feast, who all gave pitches to our start-ups.
Before we opened the restaurant we had a summer pop-up in a disused car garage in Islington. We really had no idea what we were doing. I had to learn all about rotas, cleaning schedules and pest control — it made me realise that running a restaurant with our entrepreneurs was an amazing way to help them launch.”
What's your biggest success story so far?
“It’s got to be The Good Egg. When Joel, the founder, came to us he was daydreaming at his desk in a software job. He did his first supper club with us and then his first market — off the back of that he launched a Crowdcube campaign which he smashed just before new year, raising enough money to open up his own site in Stoke Newington this spring. We couldn’t be prouder of him.”
So, what’s on the menu for punters?
“For the next few weeks, you can catch Kushi’s serving up these exquisite Japanese tacos alongside Asahi and the best fried chicken we’ve had in a long time. It was started by the remarkable Greg Round, who used to work at Pitt Cue Co and is a barbeque fiend. After that it’s Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, whose fresh, light take on Ghanaian food is going to surprise people. And then we’ve got some affordable fine dining, a Persian supper club, a Sri Lankan feast and a few other treats planned.”
NOTE: We tried Kushi’s food at Kitchenette and can highly recommend it — expect vibrant flavours, smoky grilled meat and crisp, morish sweet-coated fried chicken.
And what’s next for Kitchenette?
"We’re about to open our next round for 2015 and to open up opportunities for more food investors too. We’re also keen to do a second site in the not too distant future."
Kitchenette is at 344 Ladbroke Grove, W10 5BU. Their website has information of what’s on offer — whether you’re looking for something to eat or somewhere to start a business.