Quite aside from the fact they occupy the same space on London’s Portobello Dock, there are many parallels between JOY - Stevie Parle’s recently opened outdoor restaurant and retail space - and Dock Kitchen - Parle’s beloved European restaurant, which closed its doors back in late 2017.
Dock Kitchen (Parle’s first solo restaurant venture) opened in the wake of the financial crash as a pop up to support the 2009 London Design Festival - operated in partnership with Parle’s long-time designer friend Tom Dixon. Originally intended to last only a week, the restaurant ran for eight years.
Now Parle and Dixon have reunited to launch JOY, which encompasses an al fresco restaurant space, a stand-alone bar, and a farm shop. Born out of a crisis that has all but decimated the restaurant sector, it’s described as being ‘a temporary hub of food, flowers and happiness’, and is set to only remain open for the next two months.
Parle has said previously that he hopes to reopen Dock Kitchen one day, but his decision to return to the space it occupied came about entirely as a result of the Coronavirus lockdown.
“I had started thinking about potentially creating an al fresco dining space, after the Government suggested outdoor restaurants may be allowed to open before indoor hospitality,” he explains.
“The last few months have been incredibly difficult for lots of people, not least the hospitality industry, and I had this vision of creating a crisp, organic space that would feel unique and distinctive, and make up for some of the things that haven’t happened this year.”
Knowing the site had remained empty since Dock Kitchen closed, Parle approached the landlord, and soon found himself faced with the prospect of having to build a complete restaurant space in a matter of days.
“It wasn’t like my old site was still here and all we had to do is clean it and open the doors,” he says.
“Everything had been stripped out, so we had to build it all afresh. And somehow we managed to pull it together in about two weeks.”
Without the time to formulate a proper design approach, Parle has embraced the natural colours available to him to dictate the appearance of the space.
By the entrance sits a long trestle table loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables, which are sourced from Canterbury-based farm to fork purveyor The Goods Shed. Piles of rich, radiantly-coloured tomatoes sit next to a luminescent selection of apples, oranges, greengages and cherries, all jostling for attention.
The outdoor dining area, meanwhile, is surrounded by an assortment of vintage galvanised bins, terracotta pots and makeshift containers, all filled with dahlias, which have been woven into sculptural birch branches and twigs. Designed by Arthur Parkinson, the flower displays were originally set to be showcased at this year’s Hampton Court Flower Show, before it was cancelled as a result of the pandemic. Looking out over the Regent’s Canal, the restaurant space - suitably called FLORA - is warm, striking, and eminently inviting.
“I’ve always found that when you put constraints on stuff, it can be more creative; and we’ve been completely reactive to what’s available,” says Parle of design.
This ethos extends to the food offering. Parle describes the cooking as recognisably his own; featuring simple, ingredient-led dishes.
The menu will change daily, but might feature clams cooked with butter and fresh peas (£14); red prawns, burned lemon, marjoram (£5 each); and Fosse Meadows chicken cooked over wood and stuffed with ricotta and ‘nduja (£15/28).
Sides have been designed to showcase The Goods Shed produce, and include wilfra new potatoes and smoked butter; green salad served with a cider vinegar and mustard dressing; and fresh coco beans (£6 each). Desserts, meanwhile, take the form of a simple peach (£3); American Pie for the table (£14); and egg yolk and chocolate cookies (£5); alongside a selection of seasonal sorbets and ice creams.
Conscious of the current socio-economic climate that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, Parle is keen to ensure JOY is a concept that also gives back, and helps out those in need.
“People had that first taste of food insecurity during lockdown, and it was scary,” he says.
“Seeing and hearing this happen to so many people over the last few months has made me stop and think more about the importance of our role in feeding people, as chefs and restaurateurs. And it’s encouraged me to engage more directly with the community, to make sure we can also supply food to those who are vulnerable.”
As a result, each customer to FLORA has the opportunity to add a vegetable food box to their bill, which will then be distributed to local charities and food banks by the restaurant, on the diner’s behalf.
One key question is whether JOY, like Dock Kitchen, will turn into a more permanent venture?
Parle won’t be pushed to offer a definitive answer, but says it's likely to be temporary.
“Guests keep asking me if I’m staying,” he says with a smile.
“I think most likely we are just here for two months. It’s all very well spending a couple of weeks building a pop-up space, but for this to become something more permanent, particularly with winter coming, it will require a greater deal of investment, which I’m not in a position to offer right now.
“But it has been so nice to be back, and to feel like we’re part of the community again.
“It’s really special.”
A joy, you might say.
Portobello Dock, 344 Ladbroke Grove, London W10 5BU