Across the Zones: London’s Restaurant Villages
This is our final entry in the Across the Zones series to cover London. We have looked at the bold operators moving into Zone 1’s hot properties, examined the up-and-coming restaurants of Zone 2 and the property hubs around Zone 3 that serve commuter communities on evenings and weekends.
In our final London-focussed piece, we cover those self-contained property clusters focussed around historic cultural centres: the greens, stations and highstreets of London’s restaurant villages. Here thrive operators who successfully combine the metropolitan influence of the nearby city with the unique heritage of their area.
Unlike the commuter areas we covered in Zone 3’s entry, traditionally, Richmond is an area where people choose to live for the merits of the surrounding area. The largest proportion of open space in London (a third) and some of the country’s best schools attract families and well-off professionals who love the area’s historic beauty.
The area and its demographic makes an attractive proposition for pub operators. A Richmond restaurant property location can offer pubs a unique combination of historic property stock, riverside locations and ale-drinking culture ensured by proximity to the Fullers brewery.
The success of this breed of pub is epitomised by the Metropolitan Pub Company. Now owned by Greene King, the group has 71 pubs in London, but their West London portfolio includes some of the best-known in London.
The Cricketers, for example, astutely combines the area’s unique offerings with Londoner’s increasing taste for gourmet dining. A rotating selection of guest ales and much-touted ties to Richmond Green’s cricketing past are married with gourmet pub favourites at around £25 per head.
Any operators trying to enter this market from the outside face stiff competition. Many of the area’s best and most profitable pubs are propped up by the huge breweries (Fullers and Greene King) which rely on them to sell their products.
The result is twofold. On the one hand this ensures the continued survival of some great London pubs in a time when 29 pubs close a week. On the other, independent operators find it tough to survive as they are marginalised by big money.
One such pub is the Pig’s Ear Beer Cellar, quite literally driven underground by the chains’ dominance of Richmond’s restaurant property market. This underground bar has found a niche in the local market selling craft beer alongside a surprisingly large food menu. Its ribs and guest ale meal deal successfully attracts a hipper, younger crowd than the old riverside pubs it rivals.
Crouch End is another area popular with families and young professionals on the verge of becoming professionals simpliciter. Lying under the iconic gaze of Alexandra Palace, the Broadway area of the village has a thriving independent restaurant scene.
What makes Crouch End’s restaurant microclimate special is its success in combining the area’s idiosyncratic quirkiness with the demographic’s demand for child-friendly dining. This comes together most paradigmatically in the Sunday lunch.
Heirloom’s is typical of the area’s weekly roast lunches. The main comes in at £15-20 and is a classic English meal of meat, vegetables and Yorkshire puddings. The distinctive Crouch End stamp is made on the meal through Heirloom’s commitment to only using produce they have grown themselves.
Catering to the millennial diner’s desire to know exactly where their food has been produced, Heirloom grows their own vegetables in Buckinghamshire. They then publish a weekly list of what produce they are harvesting each week, so consumers can be sure their roast goes straight from farm to fork.
South London is increasingly popular among arts students and creative professionals. But East Dulwich is the kind of place that needs to change little to cater to either group.
Like Richmond and Crouch End, family life exists here and Lordship Lane is a long a winding base upon which a busy restaurant village has grown. One of the veterans of this restaurant cluster is Franklins.
Franklins is a staple of the community, with Bawdale Road separating Franklins Restaurant from Franklins Farm Shop. Lordship Lane is renowned as a hub for organic produce and independent retail outlets, and Franklins’ seasonal menu has been part of it since 1999, sourcing their food from farms in Kent.
The area’s mixed dynamic of students, families and professionals sees many of the restaurants that thrive here open from the early breakfast slot right until the end of a dinner service. Le Chandelier embodies this approach, marketing itself as a “tea-house café-restaurant”.
In the morning, a wide range of breakfasts are served: from fine Viennoiserie to American pancakes, catering just as well to hungover students as to parents enjoying a Saturday trip to the café. Come sundown however, the menu ditches its crowd-pleasers to focus on fine French food aimed at the profession-dominated evening market.