In a new, regular feature, HITC bar and restaurant reviewer, Walton Woodford, sits down with one of London’s food and drink impresarios. He kicks things off with Richard Biggs, the man who brought you Cantaloupe.
Richard Bigg opened his first bar, Cantaloupe, in the mid-nineties. Since then he has taken over the Big Chill brand and started Camino, a restaurant brand that celebrates all things Spanish. We catch up with Richard on where he is at …
So Richard, how on earth did you make the transition from hipster bar Cantaloupe to Spanish food?
Ha ha, well Cantaloupe just happened to be the right thing at the right time, as much luck as judgement, in an area that no-one had ever heard of before called Shoreditch. I had been to Spain for the first time travelling across the country with my girlfriend in 1982, and was captivated by this wild land of strong contrasts and enormous spirit. I kept going back, and a quarter of a century later. we used all I had seen and learned to open the first Camino.
Do you actually get into the kitchen and cook? Or serve drinks for that matter?
I cook a little at home, with far more enthusiasm than skill, but the only job I’ve ever done in the restaurants’ kitchen is wash dishes. I was only an OK waiter in the States in the mid-eighties, but not too shabby as a bartender, and continued in London till the early noughties, but I no longer get behind the bar these days.
How do you pick your staff? Is it just a coincidence that they’re all good looking?
Of course it’s a coincidence, how lucky we must be! The managers pick the staff, but our terrific group training manager Hannah is there from the outset to ensure we get the best most positive staff we can.
Where do you like to eat and drink when you’re not dining at one of your own restaurants?
I love going to new places as the London scene is so exciting and innovative. I get ideas from everywhere, not just here but on travels, predominantly, of course, in Spain. I just got back a few days ago and came across a great bar and restaurant called Patrón Lunares in Santa Catalina in Palma, which had a great, bold and confident design.
So you have four Camino’s now. Surely that’s enough? Or do you plan to expand?
We do intend to steadily continue to expand with a target of 10 in the next 3 years. To keep interest and energy levels high, keep things exciting and crucially to provide opportunities for staff, expansion is a good thing.