Meet the Women Shaping London’s Food Scene
The restaurant world might undoubtedly be a male-dominated industry, but there are hugely talented women on London’s food scene. Here are the women who are making London a better place to eat, and, in some cases, a better place to live.
Clare Smyth is a chef who needs no introduction, but she’s certainly deserving of one. There are only two restaurants in London to be awarded three Michelin stars and she headed up one of them: Gordon Ramsay’s Royal Hospital Road. She was awarded an MBE for her work in hospitality and she’s just stepped out on her own with Core, a fine dining restaurant in Notting Hill. Book the tasting menu and expect even more exciting things from Smyth to come.
Core, 92 Kensington Park Road, W11 2PN
Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold
Rochelle Canteen is a wonderfully odd beast. Its home in Shoreditch is strange – around the back of trendy Redchurch Street on Arnold Circus, in the bike shed of a converted school. The restaurant is always busy, but it’s avoided being one of those places everyone and their neighbour is queuing for at 5:55pm. The team of women behind the brand, partners Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold, and their head chef Anna Tobias, have just opened a new branch – Rochelle ICA. Their food is simple; they do away with any fuss, always with the best quality seasonal ingredients leading the charge. They march to their own drum and the food is all the better for it.
Pidgin is a restaurant that totally nailed it from day one. Elizabeth Haigh was the founding head chef and it took just one year to be awarded a Michelin star. The simple concept – a single four-course menu that changed weekly – has been hugely successful and a dish has never been repeated. In 2017, Haigh’s pop-up Shibui debuted at Carousel – a venue for showcasing talented guest chefs from around the world – and it was so successful, she’s opening a permanent restaurant of the same name in 2018.
Shibui, coming soon (and we cannot wait)
Pidgin, 52 Wilton Way, E8 1BS
Zoe is serious about getting people to try something new and discover new cultures through food. Whether that’s with a visit to her Ghanaian restaurant in Pop Brixton or through her latest cookbook, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, she’s on a one-woman mission to put Ghanaian food on the map in London. She’s a woman who adores to feed people the food she loves, so it’s no surprise that supperclubs were where it all began. Like many women on this list, her inspiration comes from her grandmother’s cooking. We could not be more supportive of her endeavour – her food is delicious.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, 49 Brixton Station Road, SW9 8PQ
Spring pulls off the seemingly impossible: whenever you visit and no matter how many times you’ve been, it always feels new and exciting. That’s no mean feat, given how many new openings there are in London each month, and it’s all thanks to Australian Skye Gyngell, one of the most acclaimed chefs in the city.
Spring, Somerset House, Lancaster Place, WC2R 1LA
Mazi Mas was created with one goal in mind: to help women through cooking. The social enterprise works with women from refugee and migrant communities improve their cooking skills and teaches them how to set up their own business. Their all-female team, headed up by half-Greek half-German Nikandre Kopcke, began with a pop-up restaurant before moving to Russet in Hackney. Now the team runs special events and residencies across London.
If you like this idea, check out Papi Pickles, too. It’s run by Abi Ramanan and they work with unemployed women in Indian and Sri Lankan communities across the UK.
Mazi Mas, see their social media for upcoming events.
Bao isn’t just famous for its fluffy buns – it’s also notorious for the huge queues snaking around Soho. They’re thanks to young Taiwanese chef Erchen Chang, who moved to London to go to boarding school. Like a lot of restaurants in London, Bao began as a pop up – a shack in a carpark in Hackney – and it’s a concept that’s proven very popular. There are now three Bao joints in London (and undoubtedly more to come) and their work uniforms are so popular, they’re even for sale.
Bao, 53 Lexington Street, W1F 9AS
Selin Kiazim is becoming quite the rising star in the food industry. She’s a 2017 finalist on the Great British Menu, which is doing absolutely no harm to the reputation of her Turkish-Cypriot restaurant Oklava, which opened in Shoreditch in 2015. As with a lot of the other women on this list, she made a name for herself with pop-ups and residencies around the city.
Oklava, 74 Luke Street, EC2A 4PY
Asma Khan’s Darjeeling Express won us over with fantastic food, but the Indian restaurant in Kingly Court has women and families at the heart of it: from day one it’s been an all-woman team. The kitchen staff aren’t trained chefs; they learn to cook from their mothers and their grandmothers. The restaurant is also charitable with its profits, which go towards Second Daughters, a campaign that celebrates the birth of a second girl in India rather than mourning it. This really isn’t your average Indian restaurant, and it’s all the better for it.
Darjeeling Express, Kingly Court, Carnaby Street, W1B 5PW
Italian restaurant River Café has been running for more than 30 years now, and it’s run by one Lady Ruth Rogers, MBE. Whatever season’s food they’re cooking up, she ensures that it’s being cooked and served by a staff that’s 50% female in a bid to help stamp out inequality in the food industry.
River Café, Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, W6 9HA
Ladies of Restaurants was set up by Natalia Ribbe and Grace Welch. It’s a group that helps women working in all areas of the hospitality industry, whether you’re front of house or washing pots. It’s a hugely valuable support network that’s making the food and drink industry a better, happier and more enjoyable place for women to work.
Ladies of Restaurants, various events and venues – sign up to their newsletter for more