Will Josh Katz be the one to finally make Fitzrovia’s 7-8 Market Place work?

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Carmel and Berber & Q chef Josh Katz on his new Fitzrovia restaurant

Related tags Josh Katz Carmel Middle eastern cuisine Berber & Q

The chef restaurateur behind Berber & Q and Carmel has taken the former La Rampa site just off Oxford Circus for his biggest restaurant project yet.

This site has a chequered history… 

Yes. There have been a few operators that haven’t made it work (most recently MJMK’s La Rampa and before that Sweet Chick). I guess it’s one of those sites where people think ‘which idiot is going to take that?’. While I would not like to talk ill of anyone and I’m certainly no oracle, La Rampa was drinks led which I’m not sure was quite right and the space is too big to be a fried chicken restaurant. This place needs a strong food offer, great drinks and a nice space. I think we’re delivering that. But only time will tell. Hopefully these aren’t famous last words. 

This is your largest restaurant project to date.​ How is Carmel Fitzrovia going? 

We’ve only been open for about a week. This is the first time we’ve had a really big site (100 internal covers), so the first service was a bit chaotic but we’re getting the hang of it now. I live in this fantasy world where you think the next launch will be easier than the one before. They never are. ​It’s been a promising start, but it should be busier given we’re 150 metres from Oxford Circus, which I consider to be the very centre of London. I’m under no illusions this is going to be easy. There are a lot of good operators nearby and this is a tough time for restaurants.

Who is your landlord?  

Woven Spaces, which is owned by Adriana Paice Kent. She recently acquired our site and the two either side. She is a forward-thinking landlord that sees the value of working with independents to add value. There are a lot of big chains around here. Covenant strength is all very well, but if you just go with big businesses areas will eventually lose their appeal. 

How did you fund your new place? 

A combination of cashflow, an equity raise, and shareholder loans. While it is our biggest investment to date, it compares well to our original Carmel restaurant (which is in Queens Park, north west London). We spent far too much on that site, partly because it opened during the pandemic when supplies and labour was very tricky. Market Place was a nil-premium deal and we also benefitted from the work MJMK had done to the site for La Rampa. On top of this, big restaurants benefit from economies of scale. 

What changes have you made to the site? 

We have installed new bifold doors to the front that open right out onto the street, so you get this lovely throughfare feel, especially in the summer. Because we are food-led, we have opted to convert the bar near the entrance to the restaurant into an open service kitchen with counter seating. This makes the space much more inviting by creating a sense of energy. It should also help with recruitment - chefs don’t like working in windowless basements. The site is long and thin, but I quite like that because you can see everything that is going on, which is not the case at our other places. The most popular part of the venue so far is the section to the rear that we have turned into a conservatory-like space with lots of greenery. 

Tell us about your background

I started out at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe (the Galvin brothers’ influential but now closed Baker Street restaurant) before spending a long time working for Yotam Ottolenghi. I was living near Edgeware Road at the time (which is known for its casual Middle Eastern cuisine) so that combined with working across the Ottolenghi group was the inspiration for Berber & Q. I run the business with my brother Paul Katz, who is ex-Goldman Sachs and looks after our finances, and Mattia Bianchi, who oversees front of house and our drinks programme.


What is the difference between Carmel and your original Berber & Q concept?

Everyone says that Carmel is a bit more grown up. We opened Berber & Q nearly 10 years ago on a tiny budget under a railway arch in Haggerston. It was and still is a stripped back restaurant that is aimed at a younger demographic. I guess Carmel is more involved with a higher-end finish. I don't like to the use the word elevated because it makes Berber & Q sound bad, and I love that place. The menu is different, too. Berber & Q is a barbecue restaurant, whereas Carmel is an eastern Mediterranean restaurant with a more varied and eclectic menu.  

Is Carmel now your growth brand? 

We do want to open more Carmels but we would also like to launch more Berber & Q and Shwarma Bars (Katz’s even more casual Exmouth Market restaurant). We now have three different restaurant brands that hit different price points and audiences. Now if someone shows me a site, I can find the restaurant to fit it. We also have some other ideas for new brands. 

It sounds like you're keen to further increase the size of your group... 

Yes. We are ambitious. We sat on the fence as a result of Brexit and then the pandemic came. We would like to open quite a few more restaurants. Opening restaurants is like a drug. You open one and it’s very hard but not long after you want to do it all over again.

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