Texan born Margaret Crow is a former fashion stylist with credits such as i-D magazine to her name. Together with Brett Redman, Australian super-chef behind Elliot’s in Borough Market, she’s recently launched Hackney’s hip new eatery, The Richmond.
“I can’t be trusted making drinks or serving a table so I’m happiness control”
A serious gourmet, Margaret is waxing lyrical about the menu seconds after we meet and built around oysters, comfort food and a raw bar (all carpaccios and tartares), it’s just as stylish as she. This girl certainly knows her oysters; “We serve six different types,” she tells me, and she and Brett take serious pride in sourcing under-the-radar varieties. “We serve them naked,” she says, “they all have a different flavour depending on the bay or the coast they come from,” continuing that while a Kumamoto can taste really sweet, a Blackwater is brinier.”
Otherwise, she has a particular weakness for the ‘crispy prawns and lemon mayonnaise’ which she crunches like popcorn – shell and all – and her current favourite from the Sunday roast menu is the ‘lamb with crushed celeriac’.So how do Margaret and Brett define their roles? “Brett is the brains, he’s the genius,” she demurs. “I can’t be trusted making drinks or serving a table so I’m ‘greeting and seating’ - I’m ‘happiness control’!” And it’s true. Although she wears her talents lightly, Margaret radiates warmth and has a real gift of putting people at their ease.
A natural host, she attributes this to her experience dining out and attending fashion events: “some people want a host to be a ninja so you don’t even see them but sometimes they want to be entertained.” She’s certainly got the latter covered. Top tips for creating the perfect ambiance and making her guests feel welcome? Simple. “Lighting. Really low-eye level lighting and a lot of D'Angelo on the soundsystem!”
Growing up in Texas, Margaret was the middle child of three siblings. “I was an angel as a child but when I became a teenager I was an absolute terror,” she admits, so her parents sent her to boarding school in Scotland for A-levels. She left as soon as she could at 18 and went on to study at London College of Fashion, meeting Brett when she first moved to Hackney some 10 years ago. “He was the ‘chef kid’ at this little café in Redchurch Street,” she recalls, “and I was always in there!”
Yes, although she’s always been something of a gourmand – as a child she preferred spinach and broccoli to burgers and chips – and even interned at The Observer Food Monthly harbouring dreams of becoming a food writer, she soon realised she had absolutely no idea how to cook for herself. She remembers buying chicken fillets and calling her mother in the US: “she was like, ‘well, you know, you can put them in a pan and fry them or roast them in the oven…’” Margaret laughs. Brett took charge of her culinary education and they became firm friends in the process.
The duo went on to climb their respective career ladders with Margaret becoming a sought-after stylist and Brett opening Elliot’s in Borough Market to critical acclaim in 2006. However, more recently Margaret began to question her chosen path; the joint venture with Brett was actually her mother’s idea! “We were eating at Elliot’s,” she recalls and my mom was like, “why don’t you and Brett do something together? You’re obsessed with food and kind of a glutton…”
“Places around here can be quite samey, so we wanted something totally the opposite - somewhere comfortable, elevated and ‘Dalston grows up (a bit).”
But once the seed had been sewn by Mama Crow, Brett still took some convincing: “I was begging him for, like, three years before he started taking me seriously,” she revealed. But last year they found The Richmond site, previously an Egyptian themed restaurant complete with indoor treehouses, huge golden Sphinx and frescos on the ceiling a la Sistine Chapel and the rest is history.
The makeover, and let’s face it, it needed one, came courtesy of interior designer and antiques dealer friend, Adam Bray (who also helped with the interiors of Margaret’s own apartment “cosy with rugs on the walls and full of random stuff”). And while it took some serious vision, the quietly chic bistro feel with its blood red walls is a triumph.
“Places around here can be quite samey,” says Margaret, citing those oft-referenced ‘exposed brick walls’ and ‘industrial warehouse vibe’, “so we wanted something totally the opposite - somewhere comfortable, elevated and ‘Dalston grows up (a bit)’”. They've most certainly succeeded; what more apposite expression of maturity than ‘oysters and D’angelo’?