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The Interview DAVID WADDINGTON & PABLO FLACK

We meet the Bistrotheque restaurateurs ahead of their pop-up at 5 Carlos Place and the opening of their new venture in Manchester, Cultureplex.

Words by Lauren Cochrane.

The East End of London is now a destination for dining, at least partly due to restaurateurs Pablo Flack and David Waddington. The duo opened their first restaurant, Bistrotheque, 15 years ago in Bethnal Green. An ‘if you know, you know’ type of location – the quiet street doesn’t exactly come with huge footfall – it has played host to local artists, designers and creative types and more. If a reputation for wild parties brought them in the early days, they stayed for the industrial chic ambience, the classics-with-a-twist menu, and the warm welcome. ‘It’s the sort of place where, if someone’s mum and dad come to London, they bring them here for fish and chips,’ says Flack. Waddington adds that the combination of ingredients – no pun intended – used ensures a like-minded crowd. ‘If the building and location and the style of the operation makes sense to you, it’s a sort of filter,’ he says. ‘And then all the people in the room vibe off each other.’

Flack and Waddington have since brought this idea to various pop-ups as well as to Shoreditch, with Hoi Polloi in the Ace Hotel opening in 2013. A Bistrotheque pop-up cafe begins at MATCHESFASHION.COM’s townhouse 5 Carlos Place this month until the end of December. Next up is Manchester, where Cultureplex, the duo’s most ambitious project to date, opens in a warehouse space in the Northern Quarter of the city. Described as a ‘community centre’, it will feature a restaurant, event space, coffee bar and cinema. Here, Flack and Waddington – both card-carrying Northerners – reveal what the UK’s second city can expect.

Cultureplex, Manchester

People associate you with London. Why Manchester for your new venture?
Flack: 'When you have a restaurant, agents come to you and say, "We’d love to show you a restaurant site". For some reason, someone wanted to take us to Manchester, and we thought "Oh, a day out". The restaurant they showed us wasn’t right, but it was the first time I had been back for a while and we also started to see all the new things that are happening there. Manchester has the ingredients of being interesting with the good bone structure of amazing buildings.'

Do you have fond memories from growing up?
Waddington: 'I remember teenage shopping trips. Going to Afflecks Palace was like a rite of passage. I bought Freelance platform shoes with stripy soles. I had a Red or Dead shirt - Giles [Deacon] reminded me of this the other day, it had flamenco ruffled sleeves and a really giant white collar. It was just lovely.'

Cultureplex exterior
Interior details inside Cultureplex

How have you approached working with a new city?
Flack: 'We have Katie Popperwell as our programme director. She is from the area and has worked in arts institutions and private galleries and at the BBC. She understands the cultural makeup of the city. We have gone, "Here’s this space, you go out and find people to do stuff". We’re kind of leaving her to it.'

Why was culture so important here?
Flack: 'We have got to the point where food and drink places are doing a bit of culture and it’s really fake and just grafted on. We wanted to do something that engaged properly and to take a path halfway between the two. Yes, it’s got food and drink, but the cultural offering is robust. We have done stuff to help people working in creative industries too, even with something as basic as doing your tax return.'

Your London restaurants have always had style and substance. What will Cultureplex look like?
Waddington: 'It’s a mid-nineteenth century Victorian warehouse, built next to a train station, next to a canal. It was the place where you would take things off a barge and put them on a train. Its red brick with really high ceilings, beautiful brick arches. The most present things are these huge, huge cast-iron columns. That means it has this massive weight and gravity about it.'

Flack: 'Loren [Day, the interior designer] is inspirational. She lives in upstate New York, she has created an interior that is super calm. It’s like it has always been there. Restaurant design can be a bit pastiche and tricksy and not very timeless. This is the opposite of that.'

Hoi Polloi at The Ace Hotel, Shoreditch
Flack and Waddington; Bistrotheque

What about the 5 Carlos Place pop-up?
Flack: 'We hosted in Carlos Place for Pride Week in July and we made it quite low key - nice service and some people we knew for lunches. Artist  Sue Tilley did a show in town, so we did a lunch for her.'
Waddington: 'It’s a great space and it’s fun to be in the house, to be part of that. It’s a simpler menu. We’ll do breakfast, a cake-y kind of moment and a few cocktails from under the counter if people ask.'

What do you think makes a trademark Bistrotheque project?
Flack: 'We will often we’ll get opportunities to do things and then we’ll get people on board. Like with the Westfield pop-up [in 2010], we brought architects Carmody Groarke on and they were like, "It really changed us as a practice". It’s always been collaborative, about whoever we are working with or whatever we’re doing. We published Reba Maybury’s Radical People, for example. All of these little projects that are quite interesting. They’re basically to keep us entertained.'

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pHOTOGRAPHS the urban spotter, daniel bruno grandl/blaublut edition, Valiana Variantza/Blaublut Edition.

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