This is a version of an article also published by the Financial Times.
There were at least three different reasons why, on the basis of my first visit, I could choose not to return to Jago, a restaurant that opened six months ago on the ground floor of Second Home, a collective for new creative businesses just off Brick Lane in east London.
The first was that on that Tuesday evening only four other tables were occupied. More memorably, we were at a table where my guest sat at an orange wooden banquette that ran the entire length of the room under a curved perspex roof, a combination of colour and contour that reminded me of the 1968 futuristic film, Barbarella. Finally, there was the sight through the windows into the offices on the first floor of cleaners working energetically at 9 pm with large mops.
But it is these facts that are the obverse of what makes further visits to Second Home so fascinating, together with the charms of Jago’s food and wine list. They also present its chef Louis Solley, the son of a wine-loving QC, and restaurateur Hugo Thurston with a particular set of management challenges.
The striking interior is the work of Spanish architects Selgas Cano, who in their first space outside Spain have transformed what was a disused five-storey carpet factory into a series of offices and creative hubs. Second Home has been brought to life by Sam Aldenton and Rohan Silva, with subsequent sites already under discussion in San Francisco and Amsterdam. Their energy and foresight have been matched by an investment of over £3 million from equally committed funders.
The first two floors are occupied by 30 companies in the tech, finance and media fields and it was fun to walk through their empty offices after dinner, where every chair is different and where a large horseshoe-shaped conference table is suspended directly underneath the ceiling so that during the evening the room can be used for more sociable purposes. It is these offices that are by night the cleaners’ domain.
Jago, named after a fictional description of this part of London that has never been short of characters or history, occupies the front half of the first floor and has to serve several different functions. It is open from breakfast, throughout the day and then into the evening.
As a result, Solley, formerly at Ottolenghi in Notting Hill Gate, has to write a series of concise menus that probably get the attention they deserve only at night as during the day Jago is principally a staff canteen with a daily changing Worker’s Lunch (£5 for the regular size, £8 for the large).
Over dinner four of us began with top-quality Cantabrian anchovies and large green Gordal olives before three successful first courses – chargrilled calcots, the thin Catalanleeks, with pungent romesco sauce, sardines with tomato and lemon, and broccoli with a poached duck egg and anchovy dressing – and a disappointing combination of grilled beetroot polenta with goat’s curd. The same success ratio applied to our main courses: skate with monk’s beard, a veal cheek goulash and pressed pork belly with hispi cabbage were excellent while a cauliflower and gruyère croquette was much less precisely judged. Our two desserts, a chocolate tart with sea salt and an orange cake with caraway seeds, were first class.
Thurston, who was at Morito, the busy tapas bar in Exmouth Market, has put together a well-priced wine list that simultaneously offers a great range by the glass to the neophyte yet will enthuse anyone more experienced to ask for guidance in choosing from a range of quite obscure wines. We drank a bottle of the charming and highly versatile 2013 Rosso di Valtellina from Ar Pe Pe (£39).
During a return visit for a plate of the Worker’s Lunch, a copious dish of beef curry, basmati rice, sultanas and fried onions, everything looked very different. The offices were packed, evoking the overall impression that the place was little more than an Apple showroom, and as the customers poured into the restaurant and joined a long queue for takeaway helpings of the beef curry, Thurston’s face took on an increasingly worried look.
In the end the service went extremely smoothly (the industry phrase for when things do go wrong is, at its most polite, ‘in the mire’) and Thurston relaxed. But he admitted that the transition for him and Solley from a restaurant background to one where a restaurant sits alongside a staff canteen within an original office setting has not been easy.
‘At the outset’, Thurston explained, ‘Louis and I concentrated on the fun stuff, writing the menu and wine list. But that wasn’t enough to attract the numbers at lunch so at Second Home’s initiative we came up with the idea of the Worker’s Lunch. We would have liked to price it a little higher but it does draw the crowds’.
Having to staff a station that offers tea and coffee free of charge for anyone working there also frustrates Thurston, but not quite as much as the white paint chosen by the architects for the floor of the restaurant, which, not surprisingly, shows up every speck of dirt.
But the biggest difference Thurston has experienced is that Friday lunch, invariably the busiest in any restaurant’s week, is here the quietest. ‘They all seem to prefer working from home on a Friday’, Thurston commented enviously.
Jago Second Home, 68-80 Hanbury Street, London E1 5JL; tel +44 (0)20 3818 3241