Fulham has landed on the gastronomic map
Aug 2 2010 By Adam Courtney
Fulham, for so long in the gastronomical shadow of neighbouring Chelsea, is fast becoming the food capital of west London, with eateries like the recently Michelin-starred Harwood Arms leading a pack of new restaurants which are getting national recognition. ADAM COURTNEY spoke to some restauranteurs and the founder of the new Union Market to find out why the town has finally found a place on the foodies' map.
Eamonn Manson, Manson, Fulham Road
There are few people in a better position to speak about Fulham's food scene than Eamonn Manson.
He has owned several restaurants and pubs in the area, starting 16 years ago with two branches of The Pen in Fulham Road and Parsons Green Lane and, after a four-year hiatus in America, he recently returned to open a new restaurant, again in Fulham Road, called Manson, which boasts young Gordon Ramsay-trained chef Gemma Tuley.
The change, he says, since his return has been marked. "In terms of the food industry Fulham had always been a bit of a barren desert.
"There have always been restaurants in the Fulham Road but none that gained a real reputation and when people were organising their forays to eat out, invariably they'd head to Chelsea, Notting Hill or the West End.
"No one seemed to want to take the bull by the horns and do food really well but all that seems to be changing."
He returned from America just as The Harwood was turning into a gastro enterprise and then he himself started up the Sands End near Wandsworth Bridge Road.
He puts the boom in part down to the smoking ban, explaining: "It made people change what they were looking for – pubs suddenly became restaurants.
"Neither the Harwood or The Sands End were remotely interested in food but suddenly they are leading the way. It's great for the area."
Olivier Lavigne du Cadet, My Dining Room, Farm Lane
Experienced Frenchman Olivier Lavigne du Cadet, who has worked in a number of top restaurants across Europe, looked at several boroughs before realising Fulham offered the greatest opportunity for his new eatery, My Dining Room.
"We saw the site and immediately realised it was for us, not just because of the building but because we could see Fulham was becoming trendy.
"And people here have knowledge of food – you have a lot of young people, a lot of first time buyers who know what they want and enjoy and that is where our concept of value, fresh food fits in well.
"I wanted to find somewhere with a village atmosphere which had a big residential area nearby and this is perfect."
Since taking over the restaurant (previously The Farm) in February, Mr Lavigne du Cadet has noticed more and more customers are coming from out of the area.
"It's not unusual any more – people aren't scared to get in a taxi and come to Fulham because they know there is a lot of choice here right now."
And, perhaps surprisingly for a fledgling restaurant owner, he welcomes the competition.
"Competition is good because it brings the best out of people and can only be good for the area."
There is one thing still hindering Fulham, though, and that is parking, according to Mr Lavigne du Cadet.
Tony Bromovsky, Union Market, Fulham Broadway
Union Market opened next to the Tube station last month promising a farmers' market-style store with supermarket opening hours.
Founder Tony Bromovsky, a former organic farmer and City worker, was in no doubt the area was crying out for such a concept and says early results have proved him right.
"There's a massive, uncapped market for food here. We looked hard for a new site and wanted somewhere with a strong sense of identity, character and a good mix of people and this place has that.
"It's amazingly lively compared to some other places, there's a sense of something happening on the street and there's a buzz about the Broadway.
"There has been so much curiosity about the produce in our shop and people saying things like 'we've needed something like this here for years' that, to me, it proves the point that there was a big untapped demand for food here."
For a long time, the Fulham scene had been dominated by pubs and clubs and Mr Bromovsky believes that may have contributed to its years in the food wilderness.
"I think some people look at an area and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – they see things and think it defines the place.
"We thought it was time to break the mould and look at giving the town a greater balance between food and drink."
Rachel Thomas (assistant manager), Harwood Arms, Walham Grove
Perhaps at the heart of the Fulham food boom is The Harwood Arms, the first pub in London to be honoured with a Michelin Star.
Previously a 'boozers pub', it has been transformed beyond recognition and received so much national coverage in the wake of its Star that it's no surprise the perception of Fulham as a food centre is changing.
The exposure is attracting people from people not just from across London but from around the country and the fact the pub is in the middle of a relatively non-descript residential zone hasn't made a difference to business according to Rachel Thomas, assistant to young manager Alex Sergeant.
"We're off the beaten track somewhat but I think people will go almost anywhere if the food is good enough.
"We have a lot of Americans coming in and I think in the past it would have been quite rare for tourists to come out to Fulham.
"What all the restaurants, and the Union Market, have got in common is that everything is British-led, all the ingredients are sourced as locally as possible and that is a great selling point.
"There's no doubt the area is on the up – and long may that continue."