Crab Linguine with Lemon, Chilli and Garlic. Buttermilk Quail. Pannacotta with Blood Orange and Caramel Sauce… With dishes like this on the menu it would be criminal not to take a lunch break, but Emma Miles is modest about the food on offer at Clerkenwell Workshops' Clerkenwell Kitchen, the award-winning café she runs with co-owner and business partner Laura Hearn.
Good family cooking
“Good family cooking is very much what we’re about,” says Emma. “We do the sort of food that you would really like to eat at home if you could be bothered, or had the time.”
We’re not sure just anyone could pull off a Squid and Monkfish Stew as good as Emma’s or Laura’s – Emma has worked with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall at River Cottage while Laura is fomer Head Chef at La Fromagerie in Marylebone, and via The Clerkenwell Kitchen’s busy outside catering service they are regularly commissioned by high-end clients such as the Arts Council, The Serpentine Gallery and the Frieze Art Fair.
Nonetheless, Emma is keen to stress that “the secret is getting the best ingredients. Cooking is like any creative industry. Whether you’re a painter or a knitter, if your source materials are sound then it’s quite hard to mess it up.”
Both Emma and Laura are dedicated to using the very best organic, free-range produce, sourced from producers still using traditional, non-intensive farming methods.
Both Emma and Laura are dedicated to using the very best organic, free-range produce, sourced from producers still using traditional, non-intensive farming methods. It’s a commitment that was rewarded with a Time Out “Best Sustainable Restaurant” award in 2008, and is something that happened organically – no pun intended – as the business developed.
Fresh from the countryside
“I grew up in the countryside and was always going down to Dorset and coming back with a car boot-ful of apples or spuds or free range eggs,” Emma explains. “So then we thought, why don’t we actually work with these people and get them to supply us? Because it’s actually much cheaper that way and we get nicer stuff.”
Their suppliers today come from within as small a geographical radius as possible, and range from Chegworth Valley in Kent (seasonal fruit and veg) to West Sussex’s Rookery Farm (organic eggs). Lamb, pork and bacon are supplied by Keith at Chiltern Farm Foods in Buckinghamshire, where the quality rare-breed pigs and lambs are fed a natural diet. “Animal welfare was always something that was our benchmark,” says Emma. “That’s where we don’t compromise.”
To Workspace and beyond
As co-owners Emma and Laura divide the workload evenly, although while Emma takes care of Clerkenwell, Laura tends to flit between their three other outlets, all based at Workspace centres: The Pill Box Café, Screenworks Café and Acclaim 242. She admits that “four cafes is more than enough. It was never our intention to be a chain, it came out of our collaboration with Workspace. They liked what we did and invited us into their other buildings.”
The Clerkenwell Kitchen caters to both Workspace customers and the wider public, drawing in the crowds for hearty breakfasts and lunches as well as private functions in the evenings. What defines it is its warm, relaxed vibe; the interior is open and airy, with exposed brickwork and wooden floors, while the large terrace outside is something of a suntrap and the perfect place to linger over a morning coffee.
Catering is a notoriously high-stress career but Emma and Laura’s aim has always been to create “a lovely environment”. As Emma elaborates: “Neither of us is Gordon Ramsay. When you’re working with food, it’s as much about nurturing the people who work with you as it is about nurturing the people you’re feeding.”
As we know most of our customers by name, we don’t have table numbers, we just call out.
Emma, The Clerkenwell Kitchen
Customers come first
Seeing the same customers day in, day out, means that Emma and Laura have forged strong relationships with the local community. “As we know most of our customers by name, we don’t have table numbers, we just call out,” says Emma. “We’ve got certain customers who come in every single day, and we feel satisfied if we see them eat a good lunch. It means we don’t need to worry if they don’t get time to eat properly in the evening.”
There’s that “family” approach again… Talking of which, Emma has to run. “I’ve got to get to the shops to get something for tea,” she says apologetically. “I’m basically trying to feed the fussiest people in the world – my family. Our customers are just amazing compared to them!”
Clerkenwell Workshops is one of Farringdon’s best kept secrets and its award-winning organic café is the beating heart of this inspiring business centre which is home to new media and design agencies as well as traditional craft and design businesses, to name a few. If you’d like to request a viewing of our available units at Clerkenwell Workshops, click here.