Luke Blackall: I'm all for pies, pop-ups and "squatter" restaurants

Man About Town: M. Manze's has the type of retro look that owners today spend millions trying to achieve

I hate to see empty buildings in the centre of London. It's not just the houses, flats and apartments that could house entire communities, but also those places that could provide exciting bars, restaurants and galleries for that community.

So many are bought as investments, which ramps the price up, and drives people outwards. So I was pleased to go to town this week for the launch of Pret a Diner, which has taken over an enormous – and empty – former casino on St James's Street.

The people behind the venture have turned the five-storey townhouse into an art gallery and Italian restaurant (albeit with a French name), which will run until the Olympics. It was also nice to have it described as that most awful of phrases, a "pop-up".

The place was packed with the polished patrons of the party scene. And with half of them crowding the kitchen, waiting for more food to come out, and the other half hanging around on the stairs in the half-decorated hallway, it felt (in a good way) like the venue was squatting there.

The following night, I went to the Seagrass restaurant in North London, a place that actually describes itself as a "squatter restaurant". It isn't there during the day, but in the evening, it comes into its own.

During daylight hours, it is M. Manze, one of London's dying breed of traditional pie and mash shops. The place used to close in the afternoon, but recently a man who lives in the flat above (who happens to own a meat and seafood supply company), decided to run a restaurant there in the evenings.

He couldn't have chosen a better spot. With its white tiles, mosaic floor, wooden benches and hanging lights, it has the type of retro look that owners today spend millions trying to achieve – except for the fact that it is all original.

The food was fresh, simple and remarkable, given that they use a kitchen more set up for baking pies than fine cuisine. But one of The Seagrass's triumphs is the way it uses space. With a huge percentage of new restaurants failing, and prices and rents being constantly driven up, paying to squat in someone else's restaurant when they're not using it seems like a sensible and cautious approach to take. It is one trend that I hope catches on.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam