How did you manage to launch a restaurant on such a tiny budget?
I grew up in the care system. From a young age I have had to make homes for myself with not very much. That has meant learning a lot of skills. As with my previous Caribbean restaurant brand (which was originally called Sugarcane but changed its name to Paradise Cove ahead of closing in 2023) I pretty much built the whole thing myself. Two very kind local traders gave me a lot of their knowledge and time and did some of the things I could not do including the plumbing and electrics. I’m still paying them back. Everything else was me. It’s just a small place, we have 30 covers inside and a further 20 outside.
What about your materials and furniture?
Much of the restaurant has been made from scratch using things that were lying around, including the tables, the chairs, the curtains and the toilet cubicles, which are made from old garden sheds. I’m not saying that everyone in hospitality can or should take this DIY approach, but the industry does seem to have forgotten a lot of these skills and now outsources things at great cost, which racks up debt.
You launched just before Christmas. How is it going?
Local support has been great. It is a little quieter than I'd like but that's just the post-Christmas market so I'm trying not to panic just yet. We’re based in Battersea. Sadly, the Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station developments are taking a lot of business away from the high street. Even worse, as far as I know no local businesses have been given an opportunity to open within these developments.
Your prices are extremely accessible…
Yes. Locals are being priced out. I've lived in Battersea since I was 17 and I love the area but I can’t afford to do much here now – it’s just too expensive. It’s important to me that people on lower incomes have access to good quality, affordable food. Gentrification in Battersea and nearby places like Brixton and Vauxhall is seeing our suppliers get squeezed out too. The ULEZ charge is also causing problems. We used to be able to order little and often but now we can’t. It’s very important to me that we support our local suppliers, most of which I have been using for many years.
What are the restaurant's key dishes?
We do offer the classic Caribbean dishes that most people expect like jerk chicken and curried goat. But since visiting my grandfather in Jamaica recently I’ve had a bit of a rethink. The focus at the restaurant is now on fresh, organic produce and my cooking has become more creative. I’m making all my spice mixes and marinades from scratch, which very few other Caribbean restaurants do. We also avoid long marinating times, because that’s something that was developed in the UK. It's not authentic. In Jamaica, people set up a pot on the side of the road and make a stew based on what they have that day, and it’s delicious. I want to bring that thriftiness and spontaneity to what I do here. I don’t want to be offering a fixed menu. We change the menu every few days now.
Your last two restaurants employed people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Are you doing that here too?
We eventually want to return to that but for the moment I’m trying to create a good quality restaurant with a strong cash flow so we can look after our team properly. At the moment we’re BYO. I want to focus on food. A lot of restaurateurs say that nobody makes any money from food, it's all alcohol. But I have always managed to make a profit by just serving food. It helps that we also offer takeaway and delivery. I also don’t want Paradise Cove London to be a place where you come and get drunk, I want to educate people about Caribbean food and culture.
Tell us about your background
I got a job in a café age 17. It taught me basic stuff like cashing up, how to serve customers and how to prepare food. From there I worked at Bodean’s BBQ in Clapham, at Source Battersea, and finally for Anthony Demetre (the chef behind Wild Honey and the now closed Arbutus). I always knew I was going to open a restaurant, so I worked in lots of different departments including the kitchen, front of house and even reservations. I took a little knowledge from everywhere.
And then you became a primary school teacher?
Yes. I love hospitality because it provided me with a steady income for the first time and allowed me to go to college and then onto university. Following my stint in education I opened my first restaurant Sugarcane in 2020. We got a great review from Jay Rayner and became busy, which generated the cash for a second restaurant (on Clapham's Lavender Hill). I walked away from the restaurant early last year (following a trademark dispute which saw both the restaurant's names changed to Paradise Cove). I never intended to take anyone’s name. I called it Sugarcane because it was a sweet thing that was designed to make people smile. But it wasn’t really about the name. We had our fair share of battles (the original restaurant on Wandsworth Road was broken into) and I had no security of tenure, they were both informal leases. Last year, I crowdfunded to launch a pub, but it didn't work out. Over the past few years I’ve written a few cookbooks, too. I've packed it in; I’m only 29. But I will stick with hospitality now, it is the thing my heart beats for.