Arthur Hooper’s in the London Bridge neighbourhood has its roots in the market that surrounds it. The restaurant is named after a fruit and vegetable salesman that lived in the Victorian era and his occupation informs the menu of small plates that highlight produce and product from the UK. Angus Wilcox-Pook works the front of the house as the assistant manager, helping guests navigate the food menu and the drinks menu that features wines from the old and new world. In the back of the house, Lale Oztek is the head chef, creating globally inspired dishes like mussels with nduja (a spicy pork sausage), burrata with almond salad, and harissa butter beans with salted ricotta. Both Angus and Lale work with their general manager Sergio Aboy to make the best experience possible for their guests at Arthur Hooper’s.
Besides being part of one of the busiest restaurants in the area, Oztek and Wilcox-Pook are husband and wife, working alongside one another to provide the best experience possible for their guests. Below, we talk to them about the challenges that they’ve faced since opening and the advice that they have for other teams on how to work together.
Take us back to the beginning, do you remember the opening night of Arthur Hooper’s?
Angus: Yes, it was a very busy night with our suppliers, shareholders, lots of industry faces and friends and family. Our restaurant has a very small floor and it was just packed; our brand new team was doing their best serving a canapé version of nearly all our menu and a good selection from our wine list. It was a very cheerful evening with lots of good comments. We felt great afterwards and felt like we had a positive start.
How did you and your team prepare for your first week of opening?
Lale: In the kitchen we started a week in advance, placing all the light equipment in the right spots and doing the last menu tastings. We also made decisions on how to organise the sections of the kitchen and the division of jobs. The last few days it was all about training the kitchen and floor staff about the menu and making sure that they knew it well. We had trainings with our cheese, charcuterie, wine and coffee suppliers to give the best base to our staff before they are ready to serve it to our guests. We also had photoshoots here and there where we cooked the entire menu.
Angus: We did lots of training and test runs, taking turns to sit down and be waited on whilst other team members worked the floor and then vice versa. This also was a great way for everyone to try the food and wines and experience what it’s like to dine in the restaurant which helps them understand things from the guest point of view.
What did you learn about running a business together? What would avoid if you had to do it all again?
Angus: To be honest we were very lucky to have a great team of experienced people to begin with so very little mistakes were made.
Lale: I learned that doing a soft launch period as long as possible with a high number of guests will give you enough confidence for the real deal. I found it very useful because I was able to see the missing parts and where service can go wrong. Also I would like to say dedication and determination. Openings are hard, it is very testing to see low cover numbers for each service for the start period, but you shouldn’t listen to your panicky self saying, ‘should we have done this differently and should we change it now?” I think sticking to what you think is right from the start and working as hard as possible is very important.
On the kitchen side, what was the biggest mistake that you think you made?
Lale: Probably one of the most difficult subjects in London hospitality right now is recruitment, so that would be my answer as well. I would have tried to hire my kitchen team much earlier , so we could start as a solid team who is already on the way of recognising each others strong suits and downfalls. Two to three weeks of working closely can help a kitchen team to have a smoother start.
What was one of the biggest lessons that you learned while opening Arthur Hooper’s?
Angus: Never give up on providing incredible food and service at all times even when it’s quiet and it seems like it’s not going to work, good word can travel seemingly overnight and you never know when you might get a critic in or a reviewer which can turn the business around.
What has been the biggest part of your success as a restaurant team?
Angus: Our team. I would say making sure that we have a strong team of passionate, reliable and hard working people from the get go has been great.
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