The irrepressibly Andi Oliver is exactly that when we speak. Alongside partner Garfield Hackett, the chef is in high spirits as she explains their latest restaurant, Wadadli, which opens later this month in Hackney Wick and spins off from the successful delivery service of the same name.
“We want people to feel… well, we want them to exhale, to relax, to not stand on ceremony,” she says, breathlessly, sounding just as bright and upbeat as she is on TV. “We want them to feel abundantly joyful, sharing a time and space with each other – we want families to come and share a moment with our family.”
There is a sense that that feeling – that one of her family feeding others, that sense of a welcome – is everything. But the idea of sharing here owes something to education, too: the 1,200 square foot venue has a keen eye trained on the influence of the Caribbean upon Britain, and both Oliver and Hackett are keen to redress what they say is a corruption of the idea of multiculturalism.
“The team here, we’re all sorts,” says Hackett. “Yes!” says Oliver, leaping on the idea, “We’re Black British people of Caribbean heritage, and we have everything else besides: people from France, there’s Trinidadian heritage, someone from Yorkshire. We’re everything and everyone and that’s what we want to celebrate.”
“The tone of some of the conversation in some of British politics has been a little distasteful at times,” says Hackett, something in his tone suggesting he’s being rather politer than he might be. “They’ve tried to make multiculturalism a bad word, but it’s a celebration of all that we are, and all we’re going to be. People talk about bubbles as if they’re bad things, but I don’t want our bubble to burst, I want to welcome people into it.”
To that end, the project is looking to put its money where its mouth is, and be a force for good.
“We’ve always been purposeful and driven but there’s something about the sadness people are feeling, after the last year,” says Oliver, “The difficulties people have had to navigate. But lately, it feels politics has had a broader, destructive, divisive narrative that’s been going on too long. We want to remind people that there’s more outside that narrative: there’s a Britain that’s lovely and warming and welcoming and kind – all the things that we love, that have made me proud to be a Black British person.”
People talk about bubbles as if they’re bad things, but I don’t want our bubble to burst, I want to welcome people into it
And so it is that the space will support the Wickers charity, which aims to reduce gang and knife related crime among teenagers – vital in a year when it looks as though a tragic record may be claimed, that of the highest number of teen deaths from stabbings – as well as the Black Trans Project and the Refugee Community Kitchen. From every meal, says Hackett, £1.50 will be donated.
Ah, yes, the food. Good intentions aside, Oliver and Hackett are just hoping draw the crowds to their Hackney home for their Caribbean-British cooking. Wadadli is primarily split into two parts; first is the Wadadli kitchen is a 50-cover affair, a place for communal dining with table service. Two dishes rule the menu; the first, a seafood boil, will be a bubbling blend of shrimps with mussels, crab clusters, all cooked in stock with smoked sausage, corn, plantain and sweet potato. They say it’ll be Caribbean-spiced, with a nod to the flavours of the southern states in the US “that we just love”, and served on a roti-style flatbread known as a Buss Up Shot. “It’s the kind of food that you want to put your face in!” is how Oliver puts it.
The other is a dish called Ital Oil Down, which will be both meat and dairy free: “It’s enlivening and it’s uplifting,” says Oliver, “It’s not a plant-based version of anything. Instead, it’s plant-focused, it’s a plant dish.”
The other component is the Wadadli Roadside, so-called, Oliver says, “because the best dishes in the Caribbean are always served by the side of the road.”
This will be a more casual affair, closer in spirit and menu to the takeaway service, with what Hackett calls “all our classics”, meaning spice-rubbed, spit-roast chicken and Oliver’s much-loved curry goat-loaded fries, but more than that, too. “It’s yams, it’s cornmeal puddings, and mackerel, and barbecuing chicken and it’s a homage to that way of cooking and living,” says Oliver, unstoppable in full flow, “And don’t forget the cocktails! We’ve kept it short, I don’t like a giant cocktail list, I get overwhelmed.” What’s there is mostly bright, long drinks, lots of rum, lots of lime, lots of freshness and fruit.
No surprise the pair are fun company; they are lively, always chatting, always spinning into new ideas, new conversations and threads. But there’s a point they circle in on, over and over. Both of them talk about the importance of the place being a family, and of having that sense of a family having been involved, and using that to broaden perceptions. “My family come from Antigua, my mother was born in Saint Kitts. Garfield is Guyanese and Jamaican, but the influences are pan-Caribbean, from right across it, from Trinidad to Saint Lucia, I draw influence from everywhere.”
Of which, she adds, there’s a huge ignorance around where food is from and who came up with it; “People don’t know barbecue is a Taino-Indian words. They think it’s American! And jerk chicken is from the Maroon and Taino people, too. There’s a lot of history there, a lot of dark history too, but we’ve been learning a lot. How can knowing more be a bad thing? You can only look each other in the eye when you know the history the world shares.”
And even if not everyone is going to get into the past of it all, the pair are determined to at least move things on a little: “The way people view Caribbean cuisine is through a very, very narrow lens,” says Oliver. “It’s not all Bob Marley and 1975 and reggae. That’s not at all what we’ve about. There’s a lot more here, and we’re going to prove it.”
Both Wadadli Kitchen and Wadadli Roadside open on August 14 at Unit 1 Hamlet Industrial Estate, 96 White Post Lane, E9 5EN. Booking lines are now open. For more information, including about the venue’s private event space, visit wadadlikitchen.com