Thursday, 22 May 2014

5 Questions - London From Scratch

Social media is a wonderful thing when it's used to help people connect. When myself and Nicola were down in London a few weeks ago, I was using Twitter to get recommendation for places that we could grab top quality cocktails near Covent Garden. We had just had a very poor experience at dinner at The Savoy and needed a little cheering up. One of the voices that threw her tuppence worth into hat was Michelle Francis, the girl behind London From Scratch, who quickly rhymed off a handful of funky bars all within walking distance of Covent Garden. The following day I got back in touch with Michelle to thanks for her input the previous evening and as I had been able to look over her website I could see that there was a story waiting to be told, so I invited Michelle to answer 5 Questions. You see, London From Scratch is a company who provide regular walking tours through the fashionable district of Soho, educating tourists and locals alike on some of the best places to eat and drink. The tour has plenty of pit stops along the way so that the hungry walkers also have the chance to sample some of the gastronomic delights from some of. Michelle's favourite hotspots. Had I known about these organised food tours before heading to London, we would have booked up months ago!
Here's Michelle's story;
How did you get started?
I'm from Melbourne, Victoria. We like to think it's the 'cultural capital' of Australia. Sydney is sparkly with her stunning harbour and gorgeous beaches, but Melbourne has a better food culture, in my opinion.
In my 30s I owned a couple of food businesses at the end of the Great Ocean Road. A small casual cafe and a slightly more high-end restaurant. Like a lot of people in hospitality I developed a love-hate relationship. It's 'in my bones', but I felt a little 'burnt out' after several years dealing with the highs and lows and have since resisted the temptation to get back into kitchens in a 'full-on' way.
I really missed it though, as every foodie addict does, so I decided when I moved to London five years ago that I'd dip into the supperclub scene here. Supperclubs aren't so big in Australia - I think it's maybe because the health regulations there are much tougher than they are here. I love supperclubs. It's a great way of being able to indulge your inner chef. You can cook as much or as little as you want, you choose the menu and the number of courses and the frequency and complexity. It's perfect for me.
The supperclub is called "Scratch" because I make everything from scratch. I decided to set up the Soho Food Tours under the 'Scratch' banner and call them London From Scratch as it says a lot about the way I hope people will experience London - not the way they think they 'know' London, but looking at it slightly differently - from scratch.
What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
I tend to be something of a perfectionist. I like to wait until all the planets are in alignment and I've got absolutely everything sorted and locked in to place before I tackle something. I don't like to fail. As you can imagine, mostly the planets aren't in alignment and one can get old and wrinkly waiting until it's all 'just so' before you start something. My advice is not to prevaricate. Have quality standards, sure, but work out what you absolutely need to do to get something off the ground and let the optional stuff slide.
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
I'm aiming for world domination with the 'Scratch' brand.
If you could only visit one of the food venues on your tour, where would it be & why?
You do know you're asking me to choose between my babies, right? Hmmm. Ok then, if I could choose just one it would be Yalla Yalla. An amazing hole in the wall diner, down one of Soho's seedier lanes and just up from the 'pleasure aids' store. This place represents so much of the wonder of Soho. It's in an alley which hasn't yet been completely gentrified or zoozhied up. It's rustic, welcoming and humble. But when it comes to it, it's a sort of magical alchemy; way more than the sum of its parts.
The food is seriously good. We sample homemade spicy lebanese, chilli and tomato chipolatas and the best babaganoush (aubergine dip) you've ever eaten. I love taking people here because they 'think' they've eaten babaganoush before and they're all 'yeah, yeah, babba-whatever'. It's ubiquitous now. You can find it in almost every supermarket and online store. But, in general, it has no 'food soul'. Food that's packaged and preserved in such a way that it has a longer life than many animals can only ever taste beige. Yalla Yalla's food sings with freshness and integrity and lingers with you for days after.
Here's my own take on babaganoush - try it and let me know how you get on.
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
I would invite my Mum who died a few years ago. She was a wonderful warm, charming and funny woman with an amazing capacity for life and laughter. I would make Vietnamese style calamari stuffed with coriander root, mint, ginger, pork and toasted coconut. Then we'd probably eat a very aged eye fillet (you never age them for long enough in this country!), with caramelised onion, horseradish butter and a gloriously sticky jus. She had a sweet tooth like me and would have loved my deconstructed snickers. We'd finish with a baileys.

The London From Scratch concept has been well received with glowing reviews on Trip Advisor for Soho Food Tours with praise for both Michelle knowledge and passion as she leads the walkers through the tastier side of Soho.
So the next time that you're heading to London, don't spend endless hours searching the internet trying to find the coolest food and drink venues that you just have to get to - take the hassle out it and book yourself onto the Soho Food Tour and let Michelle do all the hard work, I know that we will!
Keep up to date with Michelle and London From Scratch on Facebook and Twitter.


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