Food is our common ground, a universal experience.
Food is our common ground, a universal experience.
Travel Stories and Guides by Table Magazine
A collection of travel stories and guides by Table Magazine and contributors from around the world.
Preview of Vol 2: Jolene
I meet David on a Sunday morning at Jolene, the bakery, café, and restaurant that serves very good wine and even better pastry. There is a comforting warmth to Jolene. It is low lit with neutral tones and tenderly on-trend dusty pink walls. Names for bookings are written on the zinc topped tables in chalk pen, and the daily changing menu is hand written on a large blackboard. It is nine o’clock, one hour before opening time. Tea lights are being lit and dotted around the tables and there is the smell of melted butter in the air. “We’ll start bringing out the pastries at nine thirty,” David says to me with a smile. He is either a mind-reader or a man who has come to know the look of a pastry fiend well. I suspect it is the latter for I am without a doubt presenting ‘croissant face’.
Jolene is the third restaurant owned in partnership by David and his business partner Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim. The two met whilst working at Wright Brothers – David cooking and Jeremie front of house. It is a dynamic they continued with when they set up their first restaurant five years ago, Primeur. “We had regulars from day one,” says David. These would range from the threadbare thespians to Islington’s affluent. Like Jolene, Primeur serves simple food; without the frills, but with all the good stuff. Their second restaurant Western Laundry with a focus on seafood, nurtured a similar loyalty. Both serve low intervention natural wines, as does Jolene. Was it always the plan to open a third? “We were in the courtyard of Western laundry with pints of Guinness and just decided to do it,” David says. The site was free and there was space for a bakery which is something David and Jeremie had always wanted. And so, six months ago Jolene opened its doors onto the heart of Newington Green.
Like Primeur and Western Laundry, Jolene is completely self-funded. “It was important for us to be the decision makers,” says David. “We had a very clear vision of what we wanted to create and wanted to do it our way.” “We are not business men,” he jokes. “Sometimes we have to make decisions that aren’t good for business, but they’re good for people.”
The people of Jolene are happy people. The front of house team gleam with a comfortable confidence. They are informative, patient and genuinely happy to be at work. “The team are like family,” David tells me, and that goes for the chefs too. “Without the people it’s just an empty trendy-looking room.”
We head to the back of the restaurant where the kitchen and bakery sit. The energy is electric and the air is sweet with icing sugar. There are baked goods on nearly every surface. Smells of cinnamon, citrus, butter and freshly baked bread. Head baker Alex is loading loaves of their house sourdough onto a cooling rack, hot out of the oven. I spot another baker, Kaye, flinging icing over cinnamon twisted buns from a large balloon whisk. There are pains au chocolat being artfully placed onto wooden boards – like flakey, golden, buttery Tetris. Trays of pains aux raisins and almond croissants are waiting at the pass, ready to go out. A flash of pink whips past me. “They’re rhubarb and vanilla custard Danishes,” Alex says with a grin. By midday everything will be gone, to be replaced with madeleines, financiers, rich chocolate cookies and hot sausage rolls. All of them made from scratch right here in this kitchen.
Grains are central to the menu at Jolene, with fifty different ancient varieties going into their flour. Most of which are grown by Groove Armada’s rock star turned expat farmer, Andy Cato, in France. “I couldn’t name them all,” David says, “but there’s rye, spelt, einkorn and emmer.” A more robust, textured flour is used for the house sourdough, and for their pastas a finer grade similar to the traditional 00. The pastas are served in the evening. “We always have two pastas on the menu,” David says. It could be a ricotta-stuffed ravioli, pappardelle with beef shin ragù, or tagliatelle with walnuts and butter. The grains are milled onsite in an enclosed shed-like area of the kitchen. “It smells a bit like a hamster cage,” he jokes. David switches on the mill, showing me the journey of the whole grain from stone milling, to sieving, to ready-to-use flour. Then he lets me sniff the ‘mother’, which for any novice bakers out there is the key to baking sourdough. It has a far mellower scent than anything I’ve managed to concoct at home – yogurty and almost sweet. I can’t resist taking a deep inhale of the kitchen once we step out of the grain room. An eclectic mix of fresh pastry, bread and now the unmistakable scent of something glorious being fried. The breakfast rush is beginning. Plates of fried eggs with jamón, soft-boiled egg on curried spinach with crispy breadcrumbs, and marmalade toast are flying out of the kitchen at high speed.
Produce is crucial to what they do at Jolene. French butter is used for the pastry, the eggs are Clarence Court, and the vegetables come from Cornwall, Cambridge and North Yorkshire. The flour by-products – husks and hulls left over from the milling process and incredibly nutritious – go back to their farmers for them to use as animal feed. A little is used to add texture to breads, biscuits and granolas too, David tells me. “We try to use everything where we can. We have very little waste.”
David worked in Michelin-starred restaurants from the age of seventeen to thirty. “I grew a little tired of it,” he said. So he went to Cornwall. He cooked, fished and foraged. “[It was a] time that changed everything. I realised that food was really just about creating enjoyment he says.”
We talk about the simple pleasures of good bread and salty butter, just a little more parmesan on your pasta than perhaps you need, but exactly what you want. Good cheese to finish a meal, ripe juicy tomatoes with an aged, almost tipsy, balsamic. It’s the kind of food that can simply be described as ‘food you want to eat’. And it is this food that they serve at Jolene.
I ask David where else he finds his inspiration. “Barcelona!” he exclaims. Simple countryside restaurants around Catalonia. “It’s food that makes you happy.” In London it’s Columbia road’s Brawn. “Whenever I eat Ed’s food I think ‘this is it’. His food is spotless.” (Ed Wilson, head chef at Brawn.) The River Café too is a favourite. Our conversation drifts to today’s menu, and then back to the pastries now prompting a small line of hungry locals to form at the counter.
Before I leave I cannot resist asking him about the name. Was it because of the Dolly? “It was,” he grins. “Jeremie and I were sitting in the courtyard of Western Laundry, unable to decide on a name. Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ came on the radio, and that was it!” “It’s a good song,” I say. He responds, “It’s a great song!”