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Digital Subscriptions > Delicious Magazine > February 2018 > How we made our restaurant dream A REALITY

How we made our restaurant dream A REALITY

Turning your passion for food into a proper business is no easy feat. Yet supperclub couple Terry Blake and Yohini Nandakumar did just that with Sparrow, their fledgling restaurant in south London
RECIPES YOHINI NANDAKUMAR AND TERRY BLAKE WORDS PHOEBE STONE PHOTOGRAPHS MIKE ENGLISH FOOD STYLING LOTTIE COVELL STYLING VICTORIA ELDRIDGE

Only a few years ago, Sparrow co-owner Yohini was a lawyer with zero food experience, but that wasn’t going to stop her fulfilling her dream of opening a restaurant. She made endless fruitless requests for work experience in restaurants before Terry, then head pastry chef at London’s St John, offered her a stage in his kitchen. The professional relationship became personal too – the pair are now married – but the rest wasn’t quite history.

“I’d been telling Terry for ages about my plans to open a restaurant,” says Yohini. “After we’d been dating for a year he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we did something together?’ and I thought, ‘No way – this is my dream.’ It didn’t quite work out that way.” Yohini gave Terry, who’d worked in top kitchens in London and New Zealand, the push he needed. “Being a chef, opening your own restaurant is the end goal, but if it weren’t for Yohini I’d still be in someone else’s kitchen,” he says.

Supperclubs proved a good steppingstone to finding a suitable site, but it was a slow process. “I wanted to be in charge of the supperclub but I’d never run a pass before,” says Yohini. “We didn’t understand the importance of front of house – we didn’t give our waiters any briefing about the menu. Our first pop-up was mainly our friends and family, so no one said anything awful, but months afterwards a friend would say, ‘The hot drink was a bit cold by the time it arrived’ and so on – feedback like that is so valuable.”

EVOLVING ROLES

Eventually, a place in Lewisham became available – right on the traffic-clogged main road. Yohini knew the spot because her dad had a fried chicken shop there years ago. “It’s scary, knowing the business before you has failed, but we did it with optimism. I thought, ‘We’ll make sure everyone has a great time while we make lovely food… How hard can it be?’”

The answer was: quite hard. “You need stamina,” says Terry. “When we opened it was long days, every day.” Yohini adds: “It’s easy to underestimate. You need passion, but you also need to realise that when you run a restaurant, only half of it is about the food.”

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About Delicious Magazine

The February issue of delicious. brings some cheering warmth into the kitchen with recipes using tropical fruit, Theo Randall’s pasta masterclass and food to make you go ‘mmm’. Fire up the grill for The Unruly Pig’s legendary cheese melt and tuck into Thane Prince’s comfort food classics. Looking ahead in the diary, be sure to treat your loved one to our Valentine’s Day cheesecake and see in the Chinese New Year with proper dim sum.