Papi interview: ‘I want you to leave going: what the f*** was that? But it was banging!’
What will become a party is not yet a party when Matthew Scott, 33, and Charlie Carr, 29, are sat in Wingnut Wines with an open bottle between them. Scott is turning a glass between his thumbs. This is before midday, which means it is before the Malibu and whisky shots and an impromptu catwalk run of sunglasses from a hut next door (bought on credit, though you could say Scott just walked away with them, making promises). It’s before there’s an explanation of why puddings are best when named after porn websites (something about wrong-footing those who think they know everything); before Carr telling stories of his career as a jockey and before Scott recites Wendy Cope — and cheekily claims it as his own. It is before they throw wine over each other. It is before a lot of stuff. And it is before I get home and wonder what just happened.
Carr and Scott’s story is not the usual one. This month, the pair open Papi near Hackney’s Broadway Market, which marks the first permanent restaurant for either; despite that, it’s also easily among the most keenly anticipated openings of this year. With a knowing glance, it will serve an artful riff on nostalgic party food — maybe an elevated Maccies burger, or a Mr Whippy cone gone luxe — in an open kitchen where DJs spin and everyone stays till way past late. It is, then, the restaurant everyone east of Soho is set to flock to as soon as it opens its doors from Valentine’s Day.
Carr is known for Wingnut Wines, which ostensibly is a small natural wine shack in nearby Netil Market, but is also the go-to partner for modish east London supper clubs. It is not unusual to see him marketing across Instagram in a dress, or a studded jockstrap. Former Cub chef Scott, meanwhile, is known for founding delivery specialists Hot 4 U with ex-Silo chef Eddy Tejada (“Eddy stepped away for personal reasons,” Scott explains). It was a lockdown project that became enormously popular for serving its signature mix of garum pom bears with a whisky bone marrow luge; residencies in everywhere from the Plough to Carousel swiftly followed. The euphemism to describe these tended to be “chaotic”.
No surprise that when the Papi pair met, “everyone got drunk really, really, quickly”. Wingnut was pairing fried chicken with English sparkling wine — “Domaine Hugo, I think,” says Carr, who either has remarkable powers of recall or is very good at making things up on the spot. “We’re just very aligned creatively,” he adds. “So we did a bunch of pop-ups — one was themed around Eurotrash, or Brits Abroad and we did cheese and pineapple hedgehogs — and it was so easy working together. No clashes.”
Were the nights well recieved? “Well, my mum came to the first one and she was furious,” grins Carr. Scott explains it had something to do with the size of a suckling pig, and giggles. This was a year and a half ago, or maybe two years — they forget. And now suddenly, they find themselves settling down in a two-storey site — open kitchen upstairs, bar downstairs — just along from London Fields; a slow burn Papi is not.
Settling down is perhaps the wrong expression. “It’s kind of like taking the mentality that you go to another country, eat out, don’t understand the f****** menu, drink a lot, someone’s pouring a house liquor, you’re enjoying yourself, and you leave going: ‘what the f*** was that? But it was banging,’” is how Scott puts his plans, getting through another Guinness. “But we’re never going to force people to have fun either. No expectation. If you want it, it’s here, but if you don’t, I’ll leave you alone.”
It’s kind of like taking the mentality that you go to another country, eat out, don’t understand the menu, drink a lot, you’re enjoying yourself
Papi will combine Scott’s cooking with Carr’s wine, and neither will be static. “I don’t want customers to see the same wine list every time,” says Carr. “I think the wine list should change just as much as the menu does, twice a week, and always fresh.” Nor will either food or drink be intimidating. Carr knows himself that the natural stuff can leave customers uncertain. “There seems to be this line drawn between conventional wine and natural wine making that doesn’t need to be there, especially when it comes to drinking it. Natural wine is just a philosophy of farming and wine making. I think the key thing is whether you enjoy it or not.”
Carr “finds it so weird” that diners are expected to understand wine lists and at Papi, the small team — eight across front and back of house, who will share roles to a degree — will lead customers through what to drink; glasses will start at £7, and bottles at £35, and mark-up will be £18 a bottle, so the more drinkers spend, the better the value.
Food is similarly left to the team to elucidate: “The way we write on menu, it leaves a lot to the imagination until it hits the table, which is like, an exciting way to eat,” says Scott. “It should be always unexpected, always pleasing and always fun.” As follows his form, nostalgia will star. “It’s the food I like to cook,” Scott shrugs. “When you eat these things, they make you feel like a kid again.” What sort of thing? “So it’ll be people’s favourites done in a refined way. Like a smoked rabbit Kielbasa sausage, so sort of like a hot dog, or a cheeseburger tartare, which is ex-dairy beef with a cheeseburger dressing that’s not as cloying and gross as it sounds — it’s actually surprisingly delicious. That’s kind of the point.” Later, he adds, there are plans for soft-serve ice cream with caviar (“Papi isn’t just to get rich quick but… well it would be nice to sit in a bath and eat caviar. I like caviar. A lot.”) Ice cream and caviar? “Yeah, with McDonald’s fries. Come get a French fry caviar cone, a bottle of wine, head to the park and you’re kind of killing it. You are kind of the best guy in the park.” He says it simply, as though it makes perfect sense.
Scott adds that pricing will be about £15-£30 because “food is for everyone” — and that diners can go both ways. “If you want to come in for a snack and a glass of wine and you want to budget, we’ll cover that. And if you want to come in and splash with your heavy Amex, we can do it.” Sustainability is a focus too, he says, slowly, “but look, we don’t want to preach about it. There’s no pitchforks and no one’s sitting on hay bales. We make vinegar out of our wine and we ferment this things out of our trims and we produce excellence out of dirt and waste and scum and things that people would throw in the bin.” He namecheck Douglas McMaster, of zero-waste spot Silo,
Papi, the name, references both Scott becoming a father, and Carr losing his. Both say they’ve changed since — something about having calmed down — and for Scott, who describes his upbringing as “tough and limited”, the restaurant represents starting a legacy for his daughter, as “I never had it for myself”. It is a touching thing to hear. It is also about the point the light starts to grey and the pub empties; we’re back to Wingnut. Hours pass. There is poetry and the porn thing. There are the sunglasses. There are other things. There is an awful lot of wine. I leave thinking I’ve had the full Papi — in other words: what the f*** was that? But then I think, yeah, it was. It was banging.
Papi opens for soft launches from February 14 (before fully opening on March 1) at 1F Mentmore Terrace, E8 3PN. For more information, follow @papi.restaurant