Generation Next

The man who went from scotch egg slinger to seasoned restaurateur

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How Crispin and Bistro Freddie founder Dominic Hamdy went from scotch egg slinger to seasoned restaurateur

Related tags HAM Restaurants Dominic Hamdy Alex Price Bar Crispin Casual dining Multi-site Crispin Bistro Freddie Generation Next

With his HAM Restaurants group, Crispin and Bistro Freddie founder Dominic Hamdy is slowly building a London-centric empire.

London-based restaurateur Dominic Hamdy is often asked the same question by his parents whenever he returns to his family home – whether he’s planning to put a scotch egg on any of his menus at some point.

The scotch eggs to which Hamdy’s parents refer are freshly boiled Burford Brown eggs, complete with jammy yolk, encased in premium sausage meat, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried to order. As the co-founder of Scotchtails, Hamdy – working with his friend Oliver Hiam – used to make around 1,500 of them a week. The gourmet scotch egg brand started out as a stall in Berwick Street Market back in 2013 and later progressed to a regular Borough Market site – with the eggs also selling in Selfridges Food Hall, Wholefoods, and several London delis.

For Hamdy, who was a university student at the time, it marked his first proper foray into the world of hospitality. “We saw the opportunity to take a product everyone was familiar with and elevate it,” he says. “We weren’t business minded, though. Our GP was all over the place, but it didn’t matter because we had a product that was fantastic and which we were proud of.”

The decision was eventually made by Hamdy and Hiam to retire Scotchtails in early 2020 due to the labour-intensive nature of the product, but by that time the pair had two other projects on the go. One was a Nordic-inspired restaurant and coffee shop in Covent Garden called Lundenwic, which they later sold; the other a modern European restaurant and wine bar in Spitalfields called Crispin. And it was the latter that really took Hamdy from scotch egg slinger in Borough Market to a seasoned operator with multiple restaurants under his belt.

Building a restaurant portfolio

Today, Crispin sits as the flagship of the HAM Restaurants portfolio, which also encompasses Bar Crispin in Soho; Bistro Freddie in Shoreditch; and, most recently, Crispin at Studio Voltaire, which launched earlier this month in Clapham. The group is led day-to-day by Hamdy, although Hiam remains involved in the business.

Named after the street on which it can be found, Crispin opened in 2018 and from the beginning has tapped into that almost insatiable appetite London has for seasonal small plates paired with a list of natural, low intervention wines; a focus the group has sustained as it has grown.

“The pandemic taught me that you just have to be consistent
and be always moving forwards. I think that’s really important”

Hamdy admits that the first few years for Crispin were tough, with the restaurant working hard to find its feet before being knocked back by the impact of the pandemic lockdowns. “Crispin saw the depths of darkness through Covid,” he says. “It went through a tough few years, but what’s exciting is that the interest never went away. And we can see that as we’ve expanded. There’s still this continued engagement for a brand that isn’t necessarily new, but it’s growing up and is developing.

“The pandemic taught me that you just have to be consistent and be always moving forwards. I think that’s really important. If you stop, the passion fades slightly.”

It was this drive that led Hamdy to open his second site, Bar Crispin, on Kingly St in Carnaby in the summer of 2021; and then Bistro Freddie in the autumn of last year, which took over the former Oklava site on Luke Street. While Bar Crispin was positioned as something of an extension of the Crispin restaurant, albeit with a far broader drinks offering, Bistro Freddie reflected more of a direction change. Indeed, Hamdy describes it as a more ‘grown up’ restaurant.

Named after Hamdy’s father, who he credits with schooling him in the art of ‘generous hospitality’, Bistro Freddie has the appearance of a classically-styled French bistro complete with starched white tablecloths and hand-written menus. The food, too, overseen by former Erst chef Anna Søgaard, has a heartier feel with large cuts of meat and sharing pies both featuring alongside the smaller seasonal plates.

Bistro-Freddie_Marcus-Brown_01

“Bistro Freddie is a reflection of where I’m at as a restaurateur. It’s a place I really want to eat in. It’s more timeless than other restaurants I’ve done in the past. And that’s the direction I’m harnessing in the next phase of this group.”

Crispin at Studio Voltaire

This brings us to the newly-opened Crispin at Studio Voltaire, which, as the name suggests, is located within gallery and arts organisation Studio Voltaire on Nelson’s Row. Hamdy hadn’t intended to open another restaurant so soon after Bistro Freddie, but felt it was a great opportunity to grow the business further and put the spotlight back onto Crispin itself.

Like the other restaurants in his group, Crispin at Studio Voltaire champions small and predominantly independent producers and growers. The kitchen is led by Michael Miles, who has previously worked at restaurants including Counter 71 and Manteca, and serves a menu that features modern takes on European and British classics including fresh pastas, charcoal-grilled meat and fish, seasonal vegetables, and comforting desserts.

Crispin-food

While much of the blueprint remains the same as the other Crispin sites, Studio Voltaire has been developed to ensure it suits its surroundings and engages the artist community in residence there. To that end, the interiors, overseen by Hamdy’s longtime design partner Jermaine Gallacher, include table fixtures and ornaments designed by some of the studio’s artists; and the menu features a daily-changing special priced at £7 to help ensure a steady stream of local trade.

Designing new restaurant spaces that share key similarities in terms of concept but manage to maintain their own individuality is key, in Hamdy’s mind, to his business’ growth going forwards. “Designing new spaces, new aesthetics, is something that really excites me. But also, for longevity, if we can have a group of restaurants that have a thread through all of them but retain their own identity, I think that’s a better direction.

“Restaurants are ultimately a people business.
And if you have the right people driving it forward
you have a much better chance of success”

“If you have 10 of the same restaurant there’s less reason for diners to visit you. It’s exciting to go to new places and it’s exciting for us to develop them. Our diners know about the product and style of service, but they can experience new spaces and allows us to grow sustainably.”

Bigger sites in the future

Hamdy cites the likes of Corbin & King, JKS and MJMK as being inspirational to him as a restaurateur. “We look at those groups as a benchmark for where we want to be in terms of the experience we offer. As we’ve grown, we’ve been able to bring more people on board that will bring us closer to the quality of those concepts and businesses.”

Alongside the likes of Søgaard and Miles, they include former Petersham Nurseries chef Lewis de Haas, who oversees the kitchen at Crispin in Spitalfields; and group head of wine Alex Price, who has been instrumental in honing the direction of each restaurant’s drinks offering. “Restaurants are ultimately a people business,” adds Hamdy. “And if you have the right people driving it forward you have a much better chance of success.”

Crispin-team-to-launch-new-bistro-concept-Bistro-Freddie-after-acquiring-Oklava-site-in-London-Shoreditch
Hamdy (centre) with HAM Restaurants head of wine Alex Price (L) and Bistro Freddie head chef Anna Søgaard (R)

Following the quick turnaround of Crispin at Studio Voltaire after Bistro Freddie, Hamdy wouldn’t be blamed for wanting to take a step back and catch his breath. But it’s clear that he wants to keep up the momentum. “When I first opening Crispin, I never had a five-year plan. I wanted to see what was achievable with the resources I had. And I’ve taken my learnings and experience and put them into new concepts and new spaces. It’s been a gradual development and a consistent focus.”

Hamdy’s future attention is on finding slightly bigger sites (all of the group’s current sites hold between 40 and 50 covers) which he says will allow the group greater capacity in what it can cook in the kitchen. Whether they will operate under the Crispin or Bistro Freddie moniker, or perhaps even a new name, however, remains to be seen.

“I’m a firm believer in finding a site and working out what will fit in that space, rather than making a concept deck that can go in any building. The site comes first, the concept follows.”

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