It’s time to meet the people that make East London special, from chefs cooking away in kitchens to young entrepreneurs taking the leap with their business idea and artists adding colour to the streets – there’s something to learn from each. Here, we delve into the mind of Grace Regan – founder of vegan curry house SpiceBox – who shares how she comes up with recipes, what to expect from her famous brunch doffles and the secret to running a successful food business in London…
How did you get started in the food industry?
SpiceBox was my first taste of the food industry! I left university, founded a media-tech company and went straight from that to starting SpiceBox. However, I’ve had a life-long love of food and cooking and always knew I’d end up in the food world.
As an all vegan curry house, take us through the process of creating dishes for the menu. Do you reinvent Indian classics, introduce entirely new dishes or look at trends in the vegan market?
SpiceBox draws inspiration from two of my great loves – the British curry house and home-cooked Indian food. I grew up eating at curry houses in our local town with my family, but my great aunt is Indian so there was lots of home-cooked food and travelling around India too. At SpiceBox, we take British curry house classics and put a fresh modern spin on them, inspired by more ‘authentic’ Indian flavours. We don’t really emphasis the fact we’re vegan: we’re more concerned with creating great-tasting food, which happens to be vegan.
The process of creating a new dish starts in my head. I think about what sort of dish I’d like to make, usually drawing from the items you’d find on a curry house menu and then thinking about what SpiceBox spin we can put on them (our jackfruit jalfrezi for example). I’ll then write the recipe and test it out in the curry house. Then begins to process of scaling it up to work in a commercial kitchen environment – that’s a whole other beast!
Why did you choose to open SpiceBox in Walthamstow?
Walthamstow has a really lovely neighbourhood feel to it. Even though it’s on the Victoria line, it’s like a small town away from the big city! We wanted to be a no-frills local curry house open to everyone; Walthamstow is diverse in terms of age and ethnicities, which has been reflected in our guests who come through the door. The rent is also a lot more affordable than other areas of London.
What are your favourite dishes on the dinner menu?
Chana Masala – it’s one of our simplest curries but has such a deep, rich flavour. We start the curry by tempering whole cassia bark and then layering earthy spices such as cumin and black pepper on top of that. Then, we add in sweet red onion, tomatoes and buttery, slow-cooked chickpeas. Yum!
Full Indian and famous doffles, SpiceBox’ brunch is a bit like combining the best of London’s modern dining culture with Indian flavours. For those who haven’t been, what can we expect from these dishes?
Doffles are waffles made from dosa batter – a fermented batter of ground rice and lentils – which we spice with turmeric, chilli, cinnamon and cardamom. The result is a super light, fluffy waffle that is also nice and crispy on the outside, balancing sweet and savoury flavours. For the Full Indian, we pile the savoury doffles with spicy jackfruit beans, Bombay potatoes and coconut chutney, finished off with THIS Isn’t Bacon if you want. We also do a sweet doffle with a banana bhaji (deep fried banana), coconut ice cream and Biscoff drizzle.
When you’re not cooking up a storm at SpiceBox, what are your favourite East London restaurants for dinner?
I live near Morito on Hackney Road: they do an all vegan Monday night where you can find some of the best vegan dishes in London. Mediterranean restaurant Brawn also does amazing off-menu vegan food: expect a plate of seasonal vegetables cooked to perfection – there’s nothing I love more. For pure rustic Italian romance, I go to Campania.
I love Ozone Coffee Roasters that just opened in Bethnal Green. It has such a great vibe and the food is as good as the coffee! Mother in Hackney Wick also does a banging vegan all-day brunch, not to mention amazing smoothies.
What do you think is the secret to running a successful food business in London?
The food has to be really, really good. I am so often disappointed by the execution of the food when I eat out in London – not enough seasoning – especially with vegan food. Yes, the décor, vibe and service have to be great, but if the food isn’t, people won’t come back.
58 Hoe St, London E17 4PG
By Siobhan Gunner.