Hugo Warner, co-founder of Benugo, has just opened Market Café in Hackney, his first solo venture since leaving the company in 2010. He spoke to Janie Manzoori-Stamford.
What inspired you to open the Market Café?
The original idea was born while I was still at Benugo when I found an old Woolworth's menu in the Museum of London archives. It was beautiful and very simple. I have always used history as the basis for my restaurants and it's incredibly important to get the context right. The Formica café was the ideal vehicle for what I felt Hackney needed.
How did you recreate the spirit of the classic Italian Formica café of the 1950s?
I have always tried to create spaces in which people have fun. We designed it ourselves and it was great fun seeking out items that would work together and be 1950s, as well as represent modern Hackney.
There were a lot of late nights spent scouring the internet for lights and furniture as well as some long trips to reclamation yards and car boot sales. I wanted the café to feel as though it had always been there, so we sourced original 1950s wallpaper from Germany and tongue and groove from an old warehouse. Even the booths use old lab tops complete with teenage etchings.
What's on the menu?
Signature dishes are truffled rarebit, hand-cut tagliatelle and meat sauce and fish stew. But we serve steak Florentine for two people as well as amazing puddings such as Amalfi lemon sorbet and gingerbread ice-cream with a mini gingerbread man. Our signature drinks are Prosecco Royale (we don't sell Champagne) and Hackney cup for two, a sort of Pimm's crossed with a Negroni.
How did you fund it?
Private investors, including my mum.
What are your growth plans for the business?
I don't want to do another Benugo - at the moment. Market Café is a one-off and the more special for it. We're looking at a butcher from which we can supply our own meat, make our own sausages and cure our own bacon and salamis. I've always been interested in artisanal products, so I feel that's more the direction for me at the moment.