Charlotte Wilde, who in the summer of 2013 was one of the founding members of fine wine bar Sager + Wilde on Hackney Road, has told Eater that she will launch a business — called Darling — in the former Shanghai restaurant on Kingsland Road this autumn. It will, she says, be not just a wine bar and restaurant, but a multi-use space and “launchpad for creatives” in London.
What that means in practice is that during the day time it will serve neither food, nor wine, but be available for private hire; its many different rooms will serve as shared working spaces, photographic studios and shoot locations. Wilde sees herself as both in the business of hospitality, but also in the provision of “creative services.” Given the much publicised tough times in the industry — “there are some incredible restaurants closing,” Wilde says — Eater asked whether the plan to access multiple revenue streams was by design. She felt it was a “sensible idea to do more than one thing” but that “the venue decided itself — it lends itself to many things.”
From 5pm, each evening the space will open as aIn charge of the food is Dan Wilson, previously one half of Dandy, which closed in Newington Green last year. Wilde says his menu will comprise simple, seasonal dishes — both via an a la carte offering, and through a selection of bar snacks.
Wilde says the wine offering is still in development, but did confirm that, like Sager + Wilde, it will not subscribe to the typical stylistic code of modern wine bars in east London. Which is to say, it will not list only natural wines. “I have a love and respect for both natural winemaking and conventional winemaking,” she said.
Although Wilde was unable, for legal reasons, to discuss the split from Sager + Wilde, when asked how she felt about the continuation of a business that still bears her name, she said she “was very proud” of what she created. “It’s a very good bar.”
She likens her work then — “opening a fine wine bar in an old BNP pub, on the edge of a council estate,” as she puts it — with her new project. She said that it’s a “good time to open,” adding that “Dalston is ready.” “It’s a very vibrant neighbourhood [and is] fast becoming a great destination for eating and drinking,” she said. Before citing local places such as Sapling, Ruby’s, Duke of Richmond, and Newcomer Wines. And, while both Sapling (albeit further down the road, towards Shoreditch) and Newcomer (just around the corner) are technically wine bars, Wilde suggests that there’s a gap in the market for a wine offering like hers.
Darling replaces the popular local dim sum restaurant, which had traded for thirty years. Shanghai closed late in 2017, because the owners wanted to retire, Wilde says. The space, which is covered in stunning, original tiling and features a number of stained glass domes, was built in 1910, it was the original F Cooke pie and mash shop. Given the apparent rarity of the tiling, in particular, and the quality of their preservation, Wilde says that the space has already taken bookings.
Dalston is a changing neighbourhood. Only a few doors down a Marks & Spencer food hall recently opened — a corporate arrival that had sparked fears of an increase in anti-social behaviour, as well as a threat to some local businesses. Asked about the role of a so-called “new-wave” wine bar in the neighbourhood, Wilde first points to the importance of preserving the building — what she calls “a gem of the community.” She recognises that a “small audience” will mourn the passing of Shanghai, but says that Darling will consider hosting “Chinese pop-ups.” With the name — “a term of endearment used by everybody” — she and business partner Andy Bird wanted it to be “romantic”. Wilde believes that Darling will “sit nicely” between “old and new Dalston”; between “new money and the working class.” And to get to know the community, she says they will offer local discounts. And it won’t be exclusive; there’ll be no membership. “[We’ve] done an enormous amount of work making wine accessible,” she said, implying that this would continue to be one of her goals.
In total, the space is 4,000 square feet and Wilde says she believes it has capacity for 300 people. Phase one of the project — the front room evening wine bar and restaurant — is scheduled to be completed in September, with the rest of the build targeting the start of 2019 for completion. There’s a garden, and a semi-secret upstairs space whose wood paneling recalls a 1980s accountant’s office. Like most of the spaces, it will remain unchanged.
Bird, who sits in the background as a silent partner, was most recently involved in the taco restaurant Bad Sports — on Hackney Road — which closed in March. He’s also behind the popular cocktail bar, Happiness Forgets, and pubs the Nelson’s Head and Chesham Arms. Together, he and Wilde have created a new company, called Haha Gins Limited — deliberately an anagram of Shanghai.
Cocktails, then, will also be a focus at Darling: Wilde says that Tom Soden, owner of Nine Lives bar in Bermondsey, will run the cocktail programme. And in the spirit of the increasingly common effort to make cocktails more affordable, a range of “ready to drink” pre-made drinks will be sold at the bar. It is said that the drinks list will comprise “clever twists on classics like the negroni, the old fashioned and the martini,” somehow a result of Soden having “taken inspiration from the ‘decadent decay’ of the venue.”
Fashion designer Patrick Grant (of E. Tautz and Community Clothing) has been appointed to design the utilitarian uniforms for staff.
Check back later in the year for a first look.