Neal’s Yard is the new haven for great food, the best coffee and doughnuts to die for. Meet Zoë and Layo Paskin, the siblings behind The Barbary restaurant and Jacob the Angel coffee house, and the charismatic restaurateur duo, Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, talking about their new St. JOHN BAKERY concept.
Zoë and Layo Paskin
The siblings behind The Barbary restaurant and Jacob the Angel coffee house – both in Neal’s Yard – let us through the doors to reveal the secrets of their success.
What do you love most about the Seven Dials area and being in Neal’s Yard?
Zoë: Layo and I have been working in the area since the mid-90s with The End nightclub, which Layo co-founded. He was one-half of DJ duo Layo and Bushwacka! Having spent many lunchtimes in Neal’s Yard over our years there, it seemed serendipitous to return when an opportunity arose. It already felt like home.
How do you go from DJ to restauranteur?
Layo: We sold The End in 2009. I continued to DJ and produce, while Zoë went to work at Hawksmoor restaurant in Spitalfields. Then we started to talk about doing business together again, and we felt this time it should be a restaurant. I was doing a gig in
Tel Aviv in 2012 and I told Zoë she should come over for the weekend. We went to a restaurant called Machneyuda, and then it really all began with our friend, who introduced us to the chefs, who were wanting to open a restaurant in London.
How would you best describe The Barbary and why do you think there’s such an appeal?
Layo: The atmosphere is relaxed and the team both in the kitchen and front of house bring a lot of vibrancy and warmth to the restaurant. The food stretches from the Atlantic Coast through to the Mediterranean, leading to the Middle East. All these countries have such rich culinary traditions, flavoursome spices and cooking techniques passed down through generations. It’s about food available at that moment and cooked in the purest way - with fire. That is the basis of The Barbary; some history, a little bit of romance and a kitchen bar.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu and why?
Zoë: On a research trip Layo and I took to Tel Aviv, we tried sabich at an unassuming little place. The memory of this dish really stayed with us. it’s an Iraqi stuffed pitta with fried aubergine, egg, potato, chopped salad and lashings of tahini and amba (mango pickle). Having spent time working with Daniel, our head chef at The Barbary, we have finally crafted the recipe.
What kind of people like to eat and drink at The Barbary?
Layo: We have always tried to produce venues that are accessible, places that anyone can come to. It’s great as we meet such a mix of different people.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Zoë: We always try to create the kind of places we would like to go to ourselves, and this time round we wanted to serve food we could eat all of the time. We do a huge amount of research and, with The Barbary, we travelled extensively, finding what each area had to offer and which flavours resonated with us. Then we worked with our chefs to deliver the ideas.
As a former DJ, does music play a part in creating the ambience of your restaurant?
Layo: Restaurants are essentially part of the entertainment industry so, yes, music is a hugely important part of what we
do here. It’s pivotal in creating the right atmosphere. The Barbary has its own energy and the music is tailored depending on the feeling from our guests.
What new dishes will you be introducing to the menu for autumn?
Zoë: Sabich is new on the lunch menu at Jacob and at breakfast our homemade granola has just been added. Both recipes have been tweaked over the last few weeks, so we have now moved our attention to a chicken soup that we hope will do justice to our earliest family memories. At The Barbary, we are constantly evolving dishes; sometimes this will be weekly or it can often be on a daily basis.
There are so many coffee shops, so how do you make yours stand out?
Zoë: The quality of the produce in each of our dishes of course helps us to stand out, and like with our other restaurants we make everything possible on site, from our challah bread rolls to all of our cakes, pastries and tray bakes. The dishes we have put into Jacob are personal to us and our journey to get here. We hope that shows
in the finished product.
Where do you both like to go during your spare time in the Seven Dials area?
Zoë: I mostly just love sitting in Neal’s Yard, watching the world go by. It’s incredible how much life there is in such a secluded corner of Seven Dials.
Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver
Charismatic restaurateurs and business partners, Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, co-founders of the iconic St. JOHN restaurant in Clerkenwell, tell us why they have brought their amazing new bakery concept to Neal’s Yard.
Why is Seven Dials the right location for your next St. JOHN BAKERY, and why Neal’s Yard in particular?
FH: Well, I lived in Covent Garden for 30 years with my wife Margot, and we brought up our three children there. It’s an area very close to my heart. I remember Neal’s Yard Bakery in particular, as there was a real wholemeal-y, worthy quality to it, and it was so important to the area.
TG: That was just opposite our new bakery. We love the idea of helping to bring that back and being a living part of a bustling community.
How is the Seven Dials bakery different from what you’ve done before?
TG: This is our first ever standalone bakery shop, and it is a natural progression for us. When we first opened St. JOHN Smithfield almost 25 years ago, we knew that we wanted to bake our own bread for our restaurant tables, and so we had our bread oven in the pastry section. Word got out and customers began to ask for loaves to take home.
What does the St. JOHN bakery experience offer that other bakeries don’t?
FH: It’s a wonderful thing, in the middle of London, to have a bakery which not only provides flaky morning delights and fluffy doughnuts for elevenses, but also proper loaves for your lunch table or to pick up on your way home.
TG: The middle of London can lack proper supplies. We are here to help.
Do you share a passion for food and a vision on how it should be presented?
FH: We certainly do. We both know how important it is to have a rigour, a simplicity. But the simplicity is deceptive – simple is not easy! And through the 25 years that we have worked together our visions have merged still further.
What kinds of bread does the St. JOHN BAKERY specialise in?
TG: Our sourdoughs are renowned, and for good reason, we think, as they have a depth of flavour that is sadly lacking in depressing commercial fare.
FH: And our white loaf, as there’s nothing quite like proper white bread. It’s the one we use for our bacon sandwiches, and for our Welsh rarebit. It is fluffy, yes, but it has proper pull and proper flavour. Also, what is a cheese board without a raisin loaf? We soak the raisins first and then ferment the raisin liquor to create the sourdough mother. It is a fine bread.
What else can customers buy aside from brilliant bread?
FH: One of the things that never leaves our menus at St. JOHN Restaurant is the Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese. A wonderful combination. More wonderful still – we sell our Eccles at our Neal’s Yard bakery, and you can run around the corner to pick up some Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese from our friends Neal’s Yard Dairy. The very cheese we use ourselves. What a dinner party you can throw with those up your sleeve.
TG: Yes, those and some wine! Shortly, we hope, you will be able to buy our wines too. A loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, what more do you need of an evening? And what a dinner party guest you will be with a bag full of Eccles cakes, cheese and bottles!
Why is good bread so important to have with most meals?
FH: Bread is as important as your knife and fork at the table. There is the mopping, the spreading, the possibilities afforded by the void between two slices of bread. Cold cuts and cheeses! The world is your oyster.
TG: The loaf is your oyster. The loaf is your world!
What do you like in particular about the area?
FH: In amongst the shops and the restaurants, we never forget that there is a thriving residential contingent. I have been part of that contingent. It feels healthy and alive, and is particularly special in central London.
What are your favourite places to go to in Seven Dials and why?
TG: It’s a good thing to walk around and people watch. The streets are so attractive.
FH: Sitting on that central monument, eating a doughnut, is a fine way to spend a happy 10 minutes.