The Vurger Co.

Co-founder, Rachel Hugh
interviewed by Tracey Pollard

Rachel and Neil began The Vurger Co to elevate the humble veggie burger using the very best vegetables, seeds, nuts and legumes, Rachel and Neil began The Vurger Co to elevate the humble veggie burger using the very best vegetables, seeds, nuts and legumes.

How has the fast casual dining revolution in London affected your business?

For us, it’s everything. For so many years it was so difficult to find fantastic food, in a casual setting and at a sensible price but now it’s become the best way to eat in London. We’ve always loved this way of eating out and we were so excited to create a business that sat right in the middle of the action when it comes to fast casual. There will always be a place for fine dining and London really does have some of the best in the world, but for most people fast casual is going to be the “go-to” option for eating out and it’s definitely the most dynamic sector of the industry.

The vurgers consist of all plant based ingredients, designed for the vegetarian market. Where did this inspiration come from?

The business started when Neil had suffered for years with a really debilitating stomach condition. He had all the tests and scans available and there was still no diagnosis, so we were absolutely convinced that the answer must lay somewhere in the food we were eating. Having been meat eaters for our whole lives, we decided that in our 30th year, there was one thing we hadn’t yet tried! We cut out meat and dairy products from our diets and immediately Neil’s symptoms were dramatically improved. This coincided with us turning 30 and taking a celebratory trip to California. Whilst we were over there, we couldn’t believe how incredible the plant-based food scene was. It was absolutely everywhere and nothing was labelled as ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ – it was just amazing food, in a really cool space and these places were completely packed. Plant-based food in California is truly mainstream, because they focus on natural produce, rather than processed ingredients, which can often seem intimidating to people who don’t usually eat plant-based food. We had never seen anywhere like that in London so decided that we would create some of our own Vurgers and see what London thought of them. We were completely blown away by the response and our market stall quickly became pop-up restaurants and soon-to-be permanent space – it’s been an amazing year!

At what point did the idea turn from a concept into a reality?

We came back from California last year so full of inspiration and so we immediately got in the kitchen and started experimenting. We spent a few weeks pretty much solidly trying different ideas, whilst also knocking on the door of just about every food market we could find in London until we could get a spot. It’s surprisingly difficult for a new food concept to get a market pitch, but we eventually found ours in Tottenham Green Market and got started. It probably took us a few months of part time trading in markets and pop ups to really see that our concept had a real chance of becoming a great business and since then we’ve been doing everything we can to make that happen. From the very beginning, we set out to change the perception of what plant-based fast food really could be. To us, there are no labels and this is not just for vegetarians and vegans. This is simply great, natural and delicious food that is made for absolutely everyone to enjoy. In March we were reviewed by Tatler magazine and listed as one of their top five burgers in London and we were the only non-meat burger on the list. To us, this is the ultimate validation of our concept and probably the point where we knew things were on the right track.

Pop ups are currently your only business sites. What is the most challenging element of creating such a short term venue

There are so many challenges  – finding a suitable space, using unfamiliar equipment, logistics of setting up and packing away, finding staff who are able to help with one off events – the list goes on! Probably the hardest thing for us is building momentum. We work so hard to build awareness of our brand and our customers get so excited when we announce pop up dates. However when the pop ups are finished, we disappear again for a month and it’s really hard to see daily messages from customers asking where we are and where they can find us! Seeing those messages every day has really pushed us that much harder to find a permanent space!

What future challenges and developments do you foresee in the restaurant industry?

It’s a very challenging industry and very often, many people don’t realise just how tight the margins really are. You don’t have to do much wrong to really start to get into difficulties. On a wider scale, the most immediate problem is the macro economic and political environment we find ourselves in. There’s a lot going on, with Brexit on the horizon, inflation rising rapidly and political instability following the general election. All of these things quickly start to impact consumer confidence and often hospitality is the first ‘luxury’ that people start cutting back on. We still feel that the fast casual sector will remain strong because the relatively lower prices are less susceptible to swings in the economy, but it’s still going to be a real challenge for the next few years. In terms of future developments, it’s really exciting to see that developers and landlords are starting to shift their attention to independent brands rather than the large chains. Consumers are demanding more unique and special offerings, and so many of the new developments we’ve visited over the last few months have pretty much stayed away from the usual chains. Again, they will always have their place, but we might see a little shift for a while to balance things out.

What are the current trends in the marketplace and do you see this changing anytime soon?

We’re seeing no signs of the burger trend slowing down, with all sorts of new varieties of concept popping up almost every week it seems. We’re still seeing lots of steamed buns and also bubble tea seems to be everywhere at the moment. The other one we noticed recently in New York and also now in London is the ice cream that is frozen on a slab in front of you!


Founder, Holly Anna Scarsella

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Télémaque Argyriou launched Kalimera, a fresh and exciting natural Greek fast-dining concept, in November 2015 with a food truck in East London. What is your background and how did it lead you to starting Kalimera? I worked in Finance for 16 years, five of those in the City. As all…

The Good Life Eatery

Co-founder, Yasmine Larizadeh

interviewed by Thea Rowe

Co-founders, Yasmine Larizadeh & Shirin Kouros met through their fathers to bring something new fresh & healthy to London’s food scene. More than just an eatery, Good Life Eatery encourages us to eat better, healthier and happier with an array of all day options. As an entrepreneur at such an…

Duke & Dexter

Founder, Hugh Wolton

interviewed by Dominic Tixerant

Duke & Dexter is a British born footwear label, specialising in premium loafers. Designed in London and handcrafted in England, the brand launched in 2014. How important is a combined internet/bricks and mortar approach for your core consumer? An omni-channel approach is essential to serve the needs of our customers.…


Founder, Jeremy Simmonds
interviewed by Alex Mann

Founded by the Institute of Competitive Socialising, Swingers is based on a 1920’s golf-club set in the English countryside. Swingers takes crazy golf, street food & amazing drinks combining them all into one incredible social experience

At what point did the idea turn from a concept into a reality?

We tested our concept via a pop-up in Shoreditch. We put this together very quickly with the purpose of testing the demand and building a customer database. As soon as we opened the doors to the pop-up it felt like the Institute of Competitive Socialising was born.

What have been the main contributors to your brands success?

An obsessive attention to detail, genuine passion for what we are doing and lastly a healthy dose of good fortune.

Where have your biggest influences come from?

We are hugely inspired by immersive theatre. We see ourselves as much as a stage set as a food and beverage operation. We are also massive admirers of the original Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg. They manage to deliver so many elements with amazing attention to detail and the place feels so authentic.

You set up with your business partner, Matt, what would your advice be to any other entrepreneurs thinking of starting up together?

Obviously work through the detail but there comes a time when you just have to take the plunge and get on with it. You will only know whether you have a great concept or idea by making it a reality. I really believe in starting small, learning and going fast.

Where do you see the brand being in ten years time?

Hopefully a group of renowned competitive socialising venues across major global cities. Quality and creativity are what we strive for, not as many venues as possible.

What are the current trends in the marketplace and do you see this changing anytime soon?

We believe the biggest trend, that our whole business is predicated on, is the desire of our audience to go out and have something more to do than just eat and drink. Our audience want to be entertained, participate in the experience and be transported to another world. We believe in an increasingly high paced and digital world this trend is global and here to stay.


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London Grace

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Daniella Draper Jewellery

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Founder and CEO, Ed Stanbury
interviewed by Alex Mann

BLOK is a fitness space in Clapton E5, located in a refurbished victorian tram depot. Founded by Ed Stanbury & Max Oppneheim, the BLOK philosophy is that training is about more than just breaking a sweat.

Ed, What is your background and how were you led to opening BLOK?

I am a property developer by trade, working mostly in the East of London and I was searching for warehouse space for my firm when I found this space (an old unused Victorian tram depot). At first I didn’t know what do with the space so I spoke to Max who is a photographer and we both came up with the idea of  integrating a studio fitness gym with an art installation, bone broth café (the only of its kind) and light installations.

How has the BLOK idea developed into what it is now?

Initially we set up with modest plans to do two or three classes including basic yoga and box fit, but after researching we found there was such a huge lack of space where successful young people could go and train somewhere really enjoyable. Our idea was to integrate art, fitness and benefit our customers by actually helping them learn particular exercises which they were then able to progress and build their confidence. We felt that the large guys were destroying peoples desire to train and learn so we decided to create a place where people enjoyed coming back to three, four or five times a week. Finally we felt it was important to use studios with coaches rather than machines, where instructors can bring their own character and intensity to the sessions, as well as building up a relationship with the customer.

BLOK has a mixture of fitness studios, art, lighting and cafes which serve bone broth. How does this eclectic mix all work so well together?

Naturally our space pulls all of the different concepts together very well. We initially designed the space to work as best as possible for a gym and then loads of artists contacted us saying can we use some of the space to display art. After going out and looking for pieces to buy we were contacted by Arran Gregory who was so blown away by the space, he lent us a load of pieces.

What are your future plans for BLOK?

We have just signed for a further 2,000 sq.ft next door, which we will be using to expand our boxing offering. The space is similar to what we have now with huge double height ceilings, exposed beams in one large hall. We are also looking to expand the business and take on new sites, however we are looking for buildings that really tie in with the BLOK ethos. The right property has to have some form of industrial heritage or architectural merit so that we can really make the best use of it and tie it in with the way we have done things in Clapton.

Where do you take your inspirations from for BLOK?

Most of our inspirations came from looking at bars and restaurants where you see the owners putting their life and soul into creating places where people want to go. The level of design and care was something we really felt was lacking in most gyms and we wanted to create that at BLOK. We are friends with the guys down at the Beagle (Hoxton) and Nightjar (Old Street) who are winning prizes for their design and product and we want to be on that level for our fitness classes.

Where do you see the fitness market moving to in the next few years?

We still feel that there are the super high end gyms and member clubs Shoreditch House and Bodyism, however there is a gap in the industry where we are able to give the customer something very bespoke but also offer them value for money. We don’t tie people down to contracts and that gives them flexibility to come and go as and when they want rather than being lured into a twelve month contract and then feeling they have to go because they are forking out a huge sum each month. It creates a negative stigma for that place and somewhere you don’t want to go often.


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Co-founder, James Gold

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Spazio Armani, Milan

The italian super-brand's hometown flagship

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Having spent a few hours wandering the streets around the Duomo amongst the pigeons and tourists, it was a complete delight to wonder down the leafy streets of Via Montenapoleone, the most famous street of the fashion district. Large multi level stores line the avenue from Valentino and Celine to…

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Angels and Gypsies, Camberwell

Modern tapas restaurant signifying Camberwell's gentrification
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Set in the shadow of Gilbert Scott’s monumental church (way too big even then for the deeply unreligious congregation surely) its decoration is sparse but ecclesiastically fitting with hams hanging in the window against the stained glass murals. The food is never short of excellent, familiar enough to tapas lovers but individual enough to be special (they don’t do patatas bravas, preferring their own unique version). Since it opened, along with the boutique hotel above (more words rarely relevant to Camberwell) it has fostered the u turn that was so desperately needed to meet the needs of the metropolitan mix-up of local dwellers. The south london gallery, a few hundred yards towards Peckham has been a favourite ever since we met Michael Landy there with his “art bin” – although we had no idea we were talking to the artist himself until a rather loud American interrupted our conversation (“oh my god! Michael! I can’t believe you’re actually here!).

They have recently reimagined their spaces with 6a architects, to create among other things a rather on-message london cafe/bar/restaurant. This perhaps doesn’t quite appeal to the art college students next door, but it is always full even though there are now 2 other quirky independent coffee bars on the street (beards, rolled up tight jeans and a fixie being the minimum entry code). The areas restoration must now be coming someway towards its peak, with the recent opening of the Camberwell Arms, a sister (or brother?) to the excellent Anchor and Hope in Waterloo, and with the same excellent quality food and ingredients and indeed the buzzy convivial atmosphere. Oh, and we’ve also now got a Costa, whoopee.

Space Ninety8, Brooklyn

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Having seen them in Copenhagen on a client trip in 2014, I am delighted that this fantastic home retailer has opened in my home town in Bath, as their Flagship UK store. Located inside a former bank on Milsom Street, the shop opened its ground floor initially and then slowly…

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On the northern fringes of the 18th arrondissement  is the famous Marche aux Puces de Saint Ouen. “Les Puces” has evolved (and is still evolving) from flea market to tourist hotspot to antique and art dealer collective. Off one of the side streets is a walled enclave called Vintage Village.…

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Scotland's oldest delicatessen and wine merchants

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Scotland’s oldest delicatessen and wine merchants celebrated their 80th anniversary this year. Valvona and Crolla were founded as a market store in 1934 by an Italian immigrant and now serves a vast breadth of wine, food and a range of kitchenware from all around the world, as well as their…

Palomar, London

A modern Jerusalem menu and creative, crazy environment
by Nigel Gillingham

Chefs from Jerusalem’s coolest restaurant Machneyrda have not disappointed with The Palomar at 34 Rupert Street, London. Following its opening in May 2014, this restaurant seems to have received nothing but positive praise. The modern Jerusalem menu and the creative, crazy environment is inspiring and the non stop showmanship, theatre and energy must be motivated by its Israeli born owners who previously ran a night club.

The restaurant is tiny with just 16 seats around the kitchen arranged at the front of the restaurant, a tiny holding bar/corridor and a dining room which seats just 40 at the rear. It’s cramped, its hot and the kitchen is compromised operationally but boy is it good. The tiny open plan kitchen serves some of the most exciting combination of flavours I have ever had, all beautifully presented. The menu is focused on sharing plates encouraging dialogue and wonderment at what combination of ingredients are contain in each dish. Whether the food comes from the Raw bar, Stove, Jasper or Plancha, it is all faultless.

Often a restaurant will win on its food but it is let down on its service but Palomar wins on both fronts, its staff can only be applauded. They look like they are truly having a ball, with quirky hats and a detailed  knowledge of each dish, it is all backed up by the biggest of smiles and lots of laughter. I’ve not experienced Tel Aviv’s party scene but if Palomar is an example of what its like, I’m booking my flight now.

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The Ginger Pig has Christmas covered

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The Marais is almost as old as some of the first inhabited parts of Paris and still maintains some of that old world charm, it is the only area in Paris that has preserved the narrow streets and architectural styles of the Medieval and Renaissance-era. In stark contrast to the old and historical Marais, it is also a destination for the fashionable, stylish and creative as it is fast becoming  filled with new brands showcasing flagship and concept stores.

In April of this year Japanese brand Uniqlo opened their flagship Paris store in the Marais district – joining many other ‘concept stores’ within this famous city. Spanning over three floors and displays a selection of its menswear and womenswear collections.

The store is 8800 sq. ft. and the next step in the international expansion of the brand. What I loved was the way that a ‘concept store’, something so modern and fresh, opens up behind a classic façade. This juxtaposition is in some ways the essence of the Marais, finding the contemporary amongst the history – well worth a visit.

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A former cave, turned secret studio packed full with design wonders

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Cagliari, Sardinia

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Hudson Yards opens in phases from 2017 and includes 14 acres of public realm

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The largest department store in continental Europe
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The Kaufhaus des Westerns, abbreviated to KaDeWe, is the largest department store in continental Europe. With over 60,000 square metres, trading over 8 floors, it attracts 40 – 50,000 people a day. Whilst full of the typical cosmetics, fashion and homewares you would associate within a world class department store, it’s the food hall which is the real jewel in the crown.

The 6th floor is home of the food hall and delicatessen and offers a massive range of food and drink, allowing you to take away, eat in or buy your groceries.  With around 110 cooks, 40 bakers and confectioners supplying more than 30 gourmet counters and over 1,000 varieties of German sausages! It really is a food heaven.

It has everything including fresh fruit and vegetables, chocolates, teas, fish counters, bakers and bars. Selling everything from German Sausage to Oysters and Champagne. Although it is a justifiable tourist attraction in its own right, many of those who sat around the bars or were shopping were locals and with over 30,000 items for sale in more than 7,000 square meters, who can blame them.

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A great example of a modern food market

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