With five major restaurant openings marking the first new street-level eateries in Canary Wharf since 2001, London's second business district seems to be developing its own culinary hub. Rosie Birkett reports.
With five notable restaurant brands opening in the past six months, and another imminent, it's easy to see why Canary Wharf is gaining a reputation as a dining-out location in its own right.
Jamie Oliver kicked things off in August, opening the first central London branch of Jamie's Italian in Churchill Place, quickly followed by the launch of Rainer Becker's much-heralded second Roka site in the new Park Pavilion development. Park Pavilion also became home to British restaurant chain Canteen's fourth site, Parlour, a new outlet from pub and bar operator Drake and Morgan and the third branch of Mexican restaurant group Wahaca.
The openings show no sign of abating, with London pizza chain Rocket set to launch a Canary Wharf outlet early next year. The spate of openings, the first since Smollensky's and Carluccio's in 2001, have come at a time when the finance sector - the major employer in Canary Wharf - and the restaurant industry have both been struggling, begging the question: why now?
Camille Waxer, vice-president of retail for the Canary Wharf Group, puts it down to the growth in the working population - withstanding the departure of 5,000 Lehman Brothers employees in 2008 - and the need to make space for food.
"We knew we needed more restaurants on the estate because our population grew from 60,000 to 93,000 and we hadn't introduced any new restaurants because of lack of space since 2001," she says. "We identified a couple of locations where we thought we could make room, went to the market and it responded positively."
Patrick Clayton-Malone, co-owner of Canteen, had been in talks with Canary Wharf for two years after the success of the group's restaurant in Spitalfields, in the City, and when the Pavilion development took shape he was quick to accept an invitation to open there.
"When the offer came it was too good to refuse," he says. "The great thing about Canary Wharf is that there is a requirement for restaurants and not enough seats for the people. Our Spitalfields site has a similar retail-business crossover clientele so we knew it would work, but what we've been surprised about is how busy we've been at the weekends with trend from the locals."
Clayton-Malone believes Canary Wharf has become a destination, with locals attracted by both the retail offer and the Jamie Oliver factor. "Canary Wharf is excited about having above-ground restaurants and it's becoming a competitor for the city," he adds.
But not everyone was enthusiastic about the potential of Canary Wharf initially. Mark Selby, co-owner of Wahaca, says he was put off by the development's association with "dreary underground tunnels".
The creation of the Park Pavilion development changed all that, with its above-ground views and attractive buildings, according to Selby. "The new buildings allow the workers to go out and get air and light. So it used to be somewhere we didn't want to go but now we're in a nice stand-alone unit and we bring our own vibe," he says. "We're in the process of building a cocktail bar looking out to Canada Square and we've done what we wanted to do, which is bring some soul into Canary Wharf."
The early months have proved successful for Wahaca, particularly on Saturdays when it is typically full from midday onwards. "Since we opened we've been absolutely rammed - it has been brilliant. We love Roka and they enjoy our food, too, but they're very different and we don't compete," Selby says. "All of us add our own element and draw people in - it's becoming a destination in its own right, and with all the restaurants here now it's quite a pull for people."
As for Roka itself, Rainer Becker decided on the former port as the location for his second London outlet after the original Charlotte Street restaurant because he felt it offered a brand-new environment and audience. "I had been looking for a suitable site for a second London Roka for a long time," he says. "Canary Wharf offers a unique urban environment with its own energy and is a great contrast to our West End location. It is very exciting to bring Roka to this whole new audience and, so far, we feel it has been well received, we are very busy."
It all paints a vibrant picture of a bustling restaurant district in the making but, with the exception of Roka, most of these operators fall into the more informal category of restaurant dining. One restaurant critic recently referred to Canary Wharf as "London's Las Vegas" but the Vegas strip takes in Michelin-starred chefs such as Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Thomas Keller and Alain Ducasse. Is this the sort of calibre Canary Wharf is hoping to attract in the future? Waxer remains fairly tight-lipped, but says: "Discussions have taken place over the years and it's something we're considering but we're short on space at the moment."
What she does reveal is that there is another major restaurant opening in the pipeline for 2011. "We have another big dining opening of about 12,000sq ft, which I can't say much about now but it's something totally new to Canary Wharf and it will fit in beautifully."
Watch this space.
CANARY WHARF: A POTTED HISTORY
- 1988 Construction begins.
- 1990 Buildings such as One Canada Square - the UK's tallest building at 235m - reach completion.
- 1991 The first tenants move into Canary Wharf State Street and visions of a bustling business district to rival the City starts to take shape.
- 1992 London's commercial property market collapses, causing Olympia & York Canary Wharf Ltd to go into administration, in 1993.
It is renamed Canary Wharf Ltd, which later becomes the Canary Wharf Group, but it takes another two years before its sale to an international consortium of principal investors is completed in 1995. By this point, 75% of Canary Wharf is leased, it has a working population of 13,000 people, 42 shops and restaurants and Docklands Light Railway services to and from the development on weekends and evenings.
- 1999 The opening of the Jubilee line extension through to Green Park, crucially connecting Canary Wharf with central London.
- 2000 Canary Wharf Group announces that it will build a new 500,000sq ft office building and 200,000sq ft retail and leisure building at Canada Square, and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter leases the 50th floor of One Canada Square, bringing occupancy to 100%. With a working population of 35,000, construction commences on a new 85,000sq ft retail mall, Jubilee Place.
- 2001 Carluccio's and Smollensky's sign street-level sites in Reuters Plaza.
- 2002 The 100,000sq ft branch of Waitrose Food and Home opens in Canada Square. Canary Wharf's restaurants and shops open on Sundays.
- 2003 Canary Wharf Group and London Underground announce further improvements to the Jubilee line which will provide an increase in capacity of 45%. Jubilee Place opens to the public with 38 shops, bars and restaurants.
- 2004 Canary Wharf Group Plc is acquired by Songbird - a consortium of investors led by Morgan Stanley.
- 2009 Jamie Oliver restaurant Jamie's Italian opens in Churchill Place Mall. The Park Pavillion opens for business with four restaurants - Canteen, Roka, the Parlour and Wahaca.