Describe the space...
Margaret Crow: We haven’t held back. We worked in partnership with Russell Sage Studio and we kept saying “more, more”. More colour, more textures, more styles of furniture. We had our work cut out convincing the hotel to let us paint the walls apricot. The space we had to work with is clearly different to The Richmond (the Hackney gastropub the pair closed in June last year) but we’ve retained the eclectic feel.
You aren’t obvious candidates for a hotel restaurant...
Brett Redman: They wanted a wildcard. They (The Principal Hotel Company) approached us but we had to go through a lengthy tender process against a number of other independent restaurateurs. We haven’t taken a lease and there’s no rent to pay. Technically our staff are employed by the hotel.
Do you think attitudes towards hotel restaurants are changing?
BR: Absolutely. Hotels often have amazing spaces but need the energy and vibrancy of smaller organisations. Five years ago it was all about fine dining, but now hotels want accessible places that trade throughout the day.
What was it like working with a big corporate?
MC: We’ve always worked for ourselves. It was a good experience to work with a larger player. There’s been loads of support. I’m excited that we now have someone who sorts out our HR.
Why did you decide to close The Richmond?
MC: The decision was made in early 2017 after we signed to open at The Principal. It was always going to be a switcheroo. In many ways Neptune is The Richmond mark two.
BR: It’s going to be a better, more developed and slightly more mature version.
Is it true The Richmond used to be an Egyptian themed restaurant?
BR: Yeah the design was mental. We looked at keeping some of the stuff but on closer inspection we realised it wasn’t that high quality, it was all papier-mâché and chicken wire. It all ended up in the skip.
How similar will the menu at the neptune be to The Richmond?
BR: It’s completely different, but driven by the same idea. All my restaurants revolve around quality ingredients cooked over wood and charcoal. The food is informal and relaxed but super high quality. It’s a long and sophisticated process to get the dish to the customer, but we don’t tell them about it. It’s low key.
MC: We loved The Richmond, but there were a lot of limitations in terms of space and facilities. For example, we always wanted to do a big, sexy oyster bar in Hackney but there was no room: it was just a fridge at the end of the cocktail bar. At Neptune we’re going to have a grand oyster bar. We’ll be looking to shake up the shellfish platter too, because they can be dull.
BR: Ours will have five individually dressed and garnished items. It won’t be a big heap of difficult to eat undressed fish and shellfish as it is in some places.
What’s on the menu?
BC: Our launch menu includes wild Cornish mussels with a saffron, orange and bay leaf soffrito; steamed chowder clams with buttermilk dressing and dill granita; dived scallop carpaccio with ajo blanc and nori; whole Cornish crab with house spaghetti in a smoked Datterini tomato, basil and long pepper sauce.
What are prices going to be like?
BR: It will be more expensive than The Richmond. But great value when compared to places with similar ambitions to us.
Will you still be doing an Oyster Happy Hour?
BC: I don’t think the economics would work in a more central location, we barely made any money at The Richmond selling them for £1 a pop. But we will be looking at ways to attract people during quieter times. The main kitchen will close between 3pm and 6pm but we’ll still offer oysters and a bar menu.
What’s the deal with breakfast?
BC: The hotel does not have a designated breakfast room, people will be able to choose between us and some of the other places here.
Are The Neptune, Jidori and Elliot’s Café all part of the same group?
BR: Technically, no. Margaret was my business partner at The Richmond and is going in with me at Neptune too. I launched Jidori with Natalie Lee-Joe. Elliot’s Café is just me. But all the restaurants are part of one big family really, we share staff and ideas.
How is the new Jidori in Covent Garden bedding in?
BR: It’s going well. It’s been challenging, but also interesting, to bring Jidori to such a different location. The original Dalston site served a very specific late-20s-to-early-30s demographic. The market in Covent Garden is broader so we have had to adapt the model a bit, but it’s still a yakitori restaurant inspired by izakayas and small bar culture in Japan. The menu is basically the same, but we have introduced donburi rice bowls for budget-conscious diners – there are a lot of students in the area – and also a chef’s selection of the best skewers of the day.