It's barely been a year since Craft London first opened, but Stevie Parle's third venture, located near North Greenwich's O2 arena in London, has just launched Test Kitchen Tuesdays, which invites guests to try experimental dishes and rate them, with the most successful going on to appear on the à la carte menu. He talks to Hannah Thompson about testing, tasting and constant innovation
Why launch Test Kitchen Tuesdays now?
It's a natural progression for us and I've wanted to be more open and collaborative about the creative process for a while now. Also, I just always like to have something new on the go.
What will the test kitchens ideally achieve, long-term?
It's both a means to an end and an end in itself. Yes, we'll test new things out and see how they go on a Tuesday before launching, but also having to keep all our systems agile enough to be able to do this every week is a great discipline.
How different will the test dishes be to the à la carte options?
Sometimes completely new things, sometimes tiny variations on a recipe or just or a new supplier. Often there will be a new ingredient.
What has changed since you first launched the kitchen in April?
Lots. We've scaled down the size of the menus, which has made a big difference. When you're working too hard to keep on top of a big menu, it's difficult to keep things new. I knew this before we opened, but I think I got a bit over-excited.
Have there been any surprises since then?
Millions. It sounds big-headed, but I was surprised by how many great reviews we got. I wasn't sure people would agree with what I thought was great, but they did, so that's brilliant. Craft London is a really difficult site: it's in North Greenwich and while there are plans for 20,000 homes, art galleries, running tracks and all sorts of amazing stuff, right now it can seem pretty quiet on a rainy winter night if there's nothing on at the O2. It's only three minutes on the train from Canary Wharf and a few stops from London Bridge or Westminster, but we've had to work hard to get people in.
What have you been most pleased about since opening?
I'm very pleased with how delicious the food is, and its so different to our other restaurants. We're doing things that are properly original and it feels good. Everything is of amazingly high quality.
Make some mistakes. It's not that we don't take risks or push things, but often things only go on the main menu when they're 100% done. Some dishes we'll run on a Tuesday will be more left-field.
Why get the public's view?
It's more fun, and what feels good in the kitchen for a taste can be quite different if it's part of a whole meal. We don't always get to have that experience. It's vital to the integrity of Craft London.
One of the key elements of Craft London is the variety of processes done on-site. How do you make sure you balance every area?
It's extremely difficult, but I have dedicated people, a wonderful coffee roaster, beekeepers and a guy who looks after the smokehouse. I do a lot myself, and a few things, like the garden right now in the winter, are being slightly ignored. But we've got big plans for the spring.
What else do you still want to do with Craft London that you haven't been able toyet?
So much! This year the vegetable garden is going to be a million times better than last.
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