Clapham’s Kings: Adam Byatt and friends talk food and business
They’re top of their game but what else do this chef, butcher, fishmonger and florist have in common? Easy… it’s Clapham
When friends leave London for the sticks, it’s often the sense of community or a village atmosphere they head off in search for. How thoroughly reassuring then, to find a thriving community right here in south west London that is going from strength to strength.
Clapham, revered for its independent businesses, buzzing local scene, top culture and dining, is home to the businesses of chef Adam Byatt, butcher Gary Moen, fishmonger Robin Moxon and florist, Tim Birks. Friends, neighbours, residents, businessmen; the four entrepreneurs run their hugely successful businesses in the heart of Clapham and agree they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Adam Byatt, owner of Bistro Union, Trinity Upstairs and the Michelin-star Trinity restaurant, says it was Clapham’s quality that first caught his eye. “I came to Clapham 20 years ago to look at a little restaurant that happened to be owned by Robin. I went for a walk around Clapham to get a feel for the area and popped into the local butchers, which happened to be Gary’s, and saw they were selling incredible produce. It was the type I wanted to cook with so I bargained that if people were buying from Gary, then they would want to buy it from me in a cooked form. I opened in 2001 and Trinity has been here for 13 years now. Tim [ owner of florist Birksen] is opposite us and opened 12 years ago and he’s been our florist ever since,” says Adam.
All four businessmen commend the sense of community that has enabled their trade to thrive. Gary Moen has run his family butchery in Clapham for four decades and has seen the ‘village’ evolve: “Clapham was bedsit land when I got here. Taxis wouldn’t come this far south of the river! But later families moved into the large houses and the sense of community really grew.
“Our customers have a great appetite, a real joy in food and like to enjoy life. They’re happy to try different things, which makes them great to serve,” Gary says.
Adam echoes these sentiments: “I think my customers in Clapham are some of the best ever. We get so little problems with the customers here. Ultimately, they’re incredibly loyal, love great quality, and they will pay for it if it’s good enough.”
“What is really nice is how food and good quality produce and strong independent businesses can absolutely change an area,” Adam continues. “Businesses like these are really the catalyst for change and they are what has moved Clapham on. When we first opened Clapham was still quite underserved. So people are so happy that you’re there and welcome you with open arms.”
Competition is always tough, though, and the four owners agree that it’s not just enough to set up shop in an area – the hard yards are what has helped each business stay the course.
“Retail is very hard at the moment, so you’ve got to have a bit of a theatre, you’ve got to have something that keeps people coming back,” explains Gary. “We don’t forget that our customers make a lot of effort to come to us in the first place. We’re not always just around the corner so we should appreciate the effort they make in coming to us.”
Robin, who owns Moxon’s fishmongers in Clapham and the excellent fish restaurant Next Door near Dulwich agrees: “I think you should always reward your customer for coming to see you. Every time they come in, it should be a really positive experience that gets developed – it becomes a relationship.
With independent retail, if you’re good at it, it’s a fantastic place to be but you’ve got to keep pushing.”
Tim adds: “If you love your work, the customers sense that and they enjoy coming in to see you. The customers here are really loyal, and they like to support the local independent businesses.”
The throng of great independent shops in Clapham has made it a much-loved destination for south west Londoners looking for top-quality products.
“It’s really important having a network of businesses around you as it keeps shoppers in the area. Some people will have their regular route, picking up this from him and that from her – it’s like Clapham is their onestop shop,” adds Tim.
Adam continues: “I’m a consumer as much as an owner – I come to Clapham to get my flowers and fish and meat and vegetables and my cheese because it has top-level produce.
“You need all the other businesses to attract people in and it means the area is steeped in quality, and has a buzz,” Adam says.
Gesturing to his three counterparts, Adam says: “And I use these guys for the restaurants. Traditionally, you wouldn’t see a restaurant buy from its local butchers or local fishmonger, but we have all these wonderful producers surrounding us. I do buy from Robin, I do buy from Gary, and I do buy from Tim – partly because it’s great produce and partly because I like the full circle of it all. Also, our guests really appreciate and sense that locality – so they know they are Tim’s flowers in the dining room, and I put Gary’s and Robin’s produce on the menu.”
Chatting at the Time & Leisure Food & Culture Awards 2019, it’s clear to see how passionate each owner is about independent retail, Clapham and top-quality offerings. So are awards important to the local enterprise and spirit?
“Absolutely. The more independent businesses are celebrated the better and the more the local consumer is encouraged to support them the better,” replies Adam.
Robin agrees: “It’s a great reward for the team and it’s actually nice recognition for the customers as well. It means they’re going to the right places and they love that.”