Chef Simon Whiteside: "Roe is not a traditional fish restaurant"

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

Roe restaurant Pop Brixton Simon Whiteside chef
Irish chef Simon Whiteside launched his first solo seafood restaurant, Roe, in a shipping container at London's Pop Brixton last month.

He previously cooked with Robin Gill at two-Michelin-starred Don Alfonso in Naples and London's Sauterelle, before co-founding sustainable fish and chip concepts Hook and Bia Mara.

Whiteside spoke to BigHospitality​ about his plans for Roe and why it was time to for him to go it alone without investors.

You’ve had quite a varied career in restaurants…

I started out working in high-end fine dining, but I had a type of arthritis that surfaced in my back and had to leave London because I could barely walk. I went back to Dublin and the doctors told me I couldn’t do that kind of work anymore as it was too much pressure on my back. After a year in recovery I got the opportunity to set up a market stall in Dublin City centre in 2011. I realised no one had really done anything different with fish and chips, and that's where Hook was born as Bia Mara.

We've now got several Bia Mara restaurants in Belgium, but I’m a minor player and it’s taken off with numerous investors. There’s also one Hook restaurant in Camden.

Roe is a more high-end fish concept, why did you decide to make the change?

I’ve done the fish and chips and casual dining thing for the past five or six years, but I got a bit bored and wanted to get back in to real cooking.  I also wanted to get away from investors, as I found that quite restricting and creatively I had my hands tied. I decided to try and break free and go it alone with my wife, so this is totally self-funded.

Roe has gone from idea to restaurant in about four months. When Pop first opened I had Hook in a container, and it was perfect timing as the unit came back available. I think the higher-end offering really works there. We’re opposite Smoke and Salt and obviously Kricket made it. It’s really surreal to think that a few months ago this was just an idea and now we’re sold out Saturday nights.

What’s on the menu?

Snacks start from £4, you get your own mini loaf of Guinness soda bread which comes with a seaweed butter. You can add a pate or whipped smoked cods roe on to that for £4. Small plates range from £5-£8 and include charred mackerel with mushroom, onion and mushroom dashi; and confit sea trout with oyster and sorrel emulsion and sea greens. We always have a whole fish special on the wall for £20.

roe-dish

We’re trying to make Roe super accessible, it’s not a traditional fish restaurant. We’re getting a great price on fish, so I’d much rather deliver that to the customer. I like chopping and changing dishes quite regularly. We’re just printing off the menus at home so we’re super flexible, I like that freedom.

Is it a bit of a squeeze in the shipping container?

We’ve got 32 seats but we’re only really using the indoor half at the moment as it’s a bit nippy. In the summer we’ll open it out and have more of a terrace. The whole Pop site is enclosed now, they put a roof on and there are heaters.

In the kitchen I’ve got two young chefs with me and three front of house. It’s tight, I won’t lie. The hot section of the kitchen faces the sink, so we call it the hot and wet section because whoever’s cooking is usually doing the dishes as well.

When I was recruiting I was really keen for everyone to gel. In such a small space and open kitchen if you have an ego or any other rubbish it sets a bad tone for the restaurant. One of the things I’m loving is the interaction with the customers. I have the chefs bring out all the dishes and it’s great to see the positive feedback and to tell them about the fish.

roe-brixton

Would you like to move Roe to a permanent site in future?

I’d love to, but I’m aware London is a difficult place to open. I love south London and like the idea of opening a restaurant in a neighbourhood area as opposed to more centrally. In a way Soho is the dream but the reality is it’s so incredibly expensive.

I’ve got a two-year lease at Pop, as the whole site is up for renewal, but I’d like to think by the end I’ll have created a following that will allow me to open a restaurant off my own back, instead of trying to drum up funds from somewhere else.

https://www.roebrixton.com/

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