Brunch With The Cadburys
His great grandfather created the most famous brand of chocolates in Britain but Joel Cadbury’s only connection to that today is on the dessert menu at his charming pub, Bel and the Dragon, in Cookham, a prosperous village in Berkshire, England. He is quintessentially British with years of experience in the food, wine and entertainment sector and is particularly known for spotting profit-generating, new businesses with determined success. Joel was a partner in the prestigious Groucho Club, the original media-based, private members club in Soho and founded the innovative health club chain Third Space, the first to incorporate an organic food supermarket, café and integrated medicine hub on the same premises. Subsequently he also conceptualised London’s only 24-hour restaurant, Vingt Quatre in Fulham, that still rakes in queues of customers at 4 a.m.
Divia is the daughter of electronics magnate Gullu Lalvani and spearheaded the New Wave Japanese restaurant Zuma, in Knightsbridge. She has the style and connections for an instant induction into any A-list celeb scene with aplomb. Her present focus is Pageonelondon, (www.pageonelondon.com) which is a discerning insider guide for trendy gastronomic restaurants, a definite bonus for flummoxed visitors to the capital. A shared passion for food and wine infused with encompassing knowledge has entwined them together and keeps their partnership ever evolving.
We met for brunch at their pub Bel and the Dragon, a 14th century coaching inn renovated to exacting standards with a glass atrium and an open terrace. The kitchen has been converted with the inclusion of a unique Josper grill (Heston Bluementhal uses one too) that is like a specialised indoor barbeque and is used for flaming meats at high intensity. Head chef Ronnie Kimbugwe (ex Gordon Ramsay at the Claridges) prepared scrambled eggs and chorizo pizzetta (which was outstanding), Devonshire mussels with Jack Cider and bacon broth, (fresh, juicy and fragrant), poached duck eggs with avocado, Serrano ham and hollandaise sauce and finally delicious French toast with grilled strawberries, while we chatted about their work, family life, reality checks and daughters….
Excerpts from the interview:
Where did you meet? An anecdote after marriage?
Divia: We met through mutual friends at Zuma. I had heard of him as he had developed a few restaurants near Chelsea. He kept returning to my restaurant with his friends three or four times a week. I used to tease him saying don’t you have your own restaurants to go to? At that time Zuma had an international scene with hardly any English people there but after he started coming with his friends we got the English crowd in. I think he was fascinated with me and what I had achieved. He didn’t have many Indian friends then and only knew Karan Bilimoria and Gautam Singhania. We started dating six months after we met.
A few years later, we got married in London and then had an Indian ceremony in Phuket. After that we went to Singapore and, even after we had reached the airport, he would not disclose where we were going for our honeymoon. He had confided his plans only to my father. It was only when we reached the gate at that airport that I realised that we were going to the Maldives, which was lovely as I had never been there. And after two-and-a-half weeks in the Soneva Fushi and Cocoa Island resorts, I thought we would be returning home but he surprised me yet again at Singapore airport and took me off for a week to Bali. We stayed at (luxury hotelier) Christina Ong’s fabulous spa resort at Begawan Giri which was both serene and energising.
Joel: We had had a church service in St Paul’s in London, which is an important part of my life, on Divia’s 30th birthday. Then in Phuket the ceremonies and celebrations lasted nine days. It was the first time I was part of an Indian wedding, my wedding, and I remember being tired as I had to ride an elephant and especially since I get vertigo sometimes. I was exhausted by the time we started our honeymoon. Waking up in the Robinson Crusoe villa in Soneva Fushi in the Maldives, watching a wonderful man ferry my breakfast on a small boat whilst being surrounded by the tranquil blue ocean was peaceful. We visited all the places that I was wanting to discover with the most special person in my life.
What made you want to open London’s first 24-hour dining restaurant?
Joel: In 1995 when I started Vingt Quatre, I did not know much about restaurants. There was a Greek guy running a small restaurant in the same premises and I remember going there at 2 a.m. to have taramosalata, humus and pitta bread as I had a building two doors down from it which had a members club and offices and I was often working late. This guy would make me go across the road to the late supermarket to buy the bacon and eggs and then charge me again for cooking it for me! He would be closed all day and open only from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. I got a 24-hour license from the council and took over the premises and started the restaurant. It is still the only 24-hour restaurant in London and popular as an after-club dining venue. It’s perfect for ending the night slowly.
Tell me about your chain of Bel and Dragon pubs? What attracted you to the venture?
Joel: I bought the business last September and there are four stunning freehold properties in Cookham, Godalming Reading and Windsor. We wanted each of them to be like old-fashioned country inns with individual characteristics of their own, though the menus are the same. All the pubs serve simple unpretentious food with a great wine list. This one in Cookham is from 1417 and has three fireplaces and is a short walk from the picturesque Thames river path. The building in Reading was a former biscuit factory and sits in front of a canal and the adjacent broad-walk and moored boat provide an optional waterside setting for al fresco dining. The one in Godalming was formerly a beautiful church and has a galleried mezzanine with seating around open fireplaces and is located alongside River Wey with a walled private garden. The Windsor pub is an old heritage property dating back to the 11th century and is across the footbridge from Eton College where I had studied.
What is your vision of India? Do you have any investments there?
Joel: We have an investment in a Japanese restaurant in Delhi called Al, with (restaurateur) AD Singh. India is a learning curve for me and I am waiting for Divia to get her POI/OCI card as it will change things and I will then be able to do business on a level field. The whole of India fascinates me and I have got to know Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. I am involved with a charity in India called UnLtd India, a foundation working with social entrepreneurs to benefit local communities. It’s exciting to observe emerging trends – for example a few years ago Bollywood promoted a curvacious look whereas today, it’s all about absolute fitness. I remember landing in Mumbai and telling Divia on the phone that I feel like I’ve come home. I remember looking at a big banner of a Bollywood actor with a six-pack and knew then that Bollywood had gone body beautiful and that that alone would change attitudes across the country. I had wanted to get into the health and fitness business there. Years ago, on my first night in Mumbai, I had dinner with our friend Parmeshwar Godrej and again it was fascinating to notice the contrast in her life there with many others and understand the electrifying speed with which other Indians would soon be wanting to have the same. Vikram Chowgule was telling me only four per cent of the Indian population drink wine but it’s increasing immensely and that increase is going to be more than the whole of the British population here. Indian women are drinking wine too and it is becoming more popular. This is a great opportunity and I would like to invest in the wine business in India.
What lead you to start your website for restaurants? What inspires you?
Divia: I was often being asked by people visiting London, which are the best places to visit for different cuisines and I realised I was becoming like a concierge service for my friends and family. Joel suggested that I should turn this into a business and introduced me to Fay Maschler, one of the most respected restaurant critics in London and she loved the idea. We decided to create a website and keep it very simple and have only a 100 restaurants with 10 in each category from different cuisines such as French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian…. It’s a digital website and is constantly updated and we give our members monthly bulletins and keep adding new information. It’s always fun to venture out and try new places with great chefs and most of the recently opened restaurants are all in the East End. We are out for a lot of tastings. It’s a great job for me as we have a young family and it allows me to keep flexible hours.
You are raising multicultural children in the UK. How do you both keep the balance?
Divia: Earlier on I never thought about my culture so much but you do it more when you’re not married to someone from your own community. Joel and I have both discussed it and are very much on the same page and want to educate our daughters, Ariana and Alaya about both cultures. Ariana is almost four years old and Alaya is 18 months younger. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Hindi as my mother was born in Hawaii and never taught me any and my father never spoke it either. We did not have a traditional Indian household whilst growing up. I would like our daughters to learn to speak Hindi but right now they are learning Spanish as their second language as our nanny speaks to them in Spanish. We would love to travel with them around India and see them embrace the culture.
Where do you go for family holidays?
Divia: With young children it’s easier to go where you have a home, so we go to our farm house in France near the Spanish border. It’s a two-hour drive from Barcelona and we don’t have to take anything there as it’s like our second home. We also go to Phuket to visit my dad and to Hawaii to visit my mum. And we take the children skiing in Switzerland. We also try to eat two or three times a week with the children. Our children eat everything we eat. We don’t cook any food separately for them. I feel it’s important to make them develop their palate for different flavours from a young age.
Divia: I have studied nutrition and would like to write a book on children’s nutrition between ages 0-5 years after my younger daughter is a bit older. I do not believe in antibiotics and I have done a lot of research and have many Indian, German and Austrian natural remedies. If either of my daughters catches a cold I give them chopped onion juice with honey to help cure it. Food is medicine. And I am a firm believer of homeopathic and alternative cures that help build the immune system.
Favourite restaurants in London?
Divia: New York still has cutting-edge concepts on the restaurant scene but London today is almost at par. My favourites are Nippa (Thai), Sedap (Malaysian), Cambio de Terracio (Spanish), Yashin (Japanese) and Miyama (Japanese).
Joel: I think London is now the restaurant capital of the world and because of the international community here you have the best Italian, Japanese, Indian, Spanish and French food. Twenty years ago it was backward, but today the choice is fantastic. I’ve been to about 140 good restaurants in London in the last two years. I like Chisou and have takeaway sushi from there on my desk three times a week; Min Jiang has spectacular views and great Chinese food as does Ken Lo’s Memories of China. We like trying new restaurants and updating our preferences.