|As New Chiswick House Café Opens Its Doors|
We meet the driving force behind what is hoped will become 'hub of the community'
The long awaited, and much discussed, Chiswick House Café opened its doors on Monday 1st February to a larger audience than customary for a cold February morning under the watchful eye of manageress Jenny Shaw.
Jenny has worked with Company of Cooks since their inception 14 years and has come to Chiswick from Kenwood.
“There are less dogs there,” she said as we discussed her first day of business in W4. “The clientele appears to be similar but the cafes are different. Kenwood’s is charming [it is housed in the former brewery] whilst Chiswick is defiantly more stylish, more chic."
I had anticipated the conversation would be focus on food but Jenny is clearly as interested in the café’s architecture as much as what is on offer within it.
“Can you see how the café’s style echoes the classical style of the house?” she asks. “It’s not what people are expecting so I explain how the design is linked to the house, how the marble mirrors the stone of the building. People don’t seem to understand the building; they want to know why it’s so different.”
Jenny has been involved with each new Company of Cooks opening and has spent time at every site. “I get involved with everything from project management to creating menus but get such a buzz from being on the floor.”
Feedback is actively encouraged from all the staff and comments are added to the company’s Good to Great process. “On the whole feedback has been good although opinion is very divided over the issue of dogs being allowed inside the café. We’re learning all the time. Ideas are good in theory but we’ve got to find out if they will work in practice.”
Designed by architects Caruso St John, the contemporary café looks out on the gardens and neo-Palladian villa. Inside there is seating for 60 with enough space to sit a further 80 outside both under the covered terrace and, eventually, out across the area adjacent to the lawns and overlooking the children’s playground which is still under construction. A generous number of smart stainless steel dog bowls are distributed amongst outside tables.
“This is actually a soft opening,” says Jenny (pictured on the right beside colleague Tania). “We’re still finding our feet, we not offering a full selection yet. We’re building up to April 1st when the Trust officially takes over the grounds and ready in time for Easter.”
Chiswick House and Gardens Trust Director Sarah Finch-Crisp commented on how Company of Cooks were keen to open earlier so that they were ready when the Trust took over.
“Company of Cooks was chosen to create a real community feel in the café, not become a faceless business,” said Sarah. “They have years of experience working within parks environment.
“We hope the café will provide a valuable year-round resource for the local community and other visitors. We have responded to what local users said they would like to see in a café and we hope that it will become a hub for them. Also, we are particularly proud that, given its very special surroundings, the café stands in its own right as a fine example of modern architecture.”
Dishes currently specific to Chiswick House Café include, Bircher muesli with cranberry, apple, Greek yoghurt & honey, Broccoli, quinoa, feta & toasted seeds salad, Hot roast pork sandwich, sage butter, stuffing and apple sauce and Cauliflower cheese, thyme and sourdough crumbs with smoked chilli jelly.
On the subject of cost Sarah said, “We went for best value. You could get cheaper but then you would have to use cheaper ingredients so we went with a policy that struck the right balance between quality and cost.”
Coffee starts at £1.50 and £1.85 for pot of tea. “Every cup of coffee bought every cup of tea drunk here goes towards keeping the gardens going,” added Sarah.
If you needed any other reason to give Chiswick House Café a try, they will also be pioneering a partnership with London BioWare and Juniper Waste for ‘closed loop recycling’.
All the disposable cardboard and paper cups and napkins are made from renewable sources and the ‘plastic’ tumblers are all made from corn starch and are fully compostable.
Instead of being sent to landfill after use all the food waste and disposables will be collected by Juniper, composted and then distributed to farms in Kent for use in the growing of fruit and vegetables. All glass bottles, plastic bottles, metal cans and cardboard will be separated and collected for recycling.
Only a very minimum of waste will end up in landfill.
February 3, 2010