Shoreditch House chefs Gilbert Holmes and Gavin Davis have impressed with their confident, flavoursome takeover of the Mandolin rooftop space this week
The entrance to the Mandolin restaurant at Shoreditch House can be hard to spot. But not this week. What used to be the discreet white entrance has been spraypainted in neon pink to read: OFF THE HOOK.
It’s there to mark the week-long takeover of the space by Shoreditch head chefs Gavin Davis and Gilbert Holmes. The two South Africans have served their highly praised Asian-inspired seafood to more than 100 members and guests every night of the popup, while continuing to oversee their kitchens on the fifth and sixth floors of the House.
Not bad for something they decided to do at the last minute. “We were sitting in Mandolin with [UK director] Tom Collins and [general manager] James South to talk about the takeovers we’re doing with Gunpowder Social and Black Axe Mangal,” says Gilbert. “There was one slot left to fill and I said, ‘Why don’t we do it?’ Then we went back downstairs and it was like, ‘Oh shit, now we’ve got to do it’.”
Luckily the two friends, who first travelled to London nine years ago when Gavin was hired by Soho House straight out of his Cape Town culinary school, had been talking about setting up their own restaurant for a long time. “The name came from my younger brother, he’s this 17-year-old surfer dude and he’d been telling me, you have to do a fish restaurant and call if Off The Hook.”
The normally meat-loving pair decided to run with the idea, coming up with talking-point dishes like a tuna jartare – a jar filled with layers of raw tuna, avocado, Chinese cabbage and tomato concasse, topped with a white miso dressing spiced cashews, sesame seeds, and deep-fried chilli. Or the octopus, steamed for two hours in a bag to make it tender before being finished on the Josper grill, basted with Gilbert’s kimchi paste, and served with green aïoli. The dishes are powerfully flavoured, yet simple enough that the chefs could easily stay on top of each service. “With only three of us in the kitchen, we’ve had to be clever about getting the bulk of the preparation done beforehand,” Gavin says.
Despite living and working together, it’s hard to spot any creative tension between the two. It probably helps that the popup has gone very smoothly, with a lot of happy diners. “The point is to have a bit of fun and give our guests a bit of diversity,” says Gilbert.