Liz Lowe of the Islington Gazette meets Emma Duggan, the chef at WALNUT café and dining room in Finsbury Park
Emma Duggan’s chef’s jacket has crossed London many times during her 25-year career. She’s cooked for the theatrical set in a Covent Garden members’ club and, as head chef of Gordon Ramsay’s Foxtrot Oscar, given Chelsea residents something to soak up the Chablis. She’s worked alongside top chefs, including Angela Hartnett and Oliver Peyton, in inspiring locations such as The Wallace Collection and Whitechapel Gallery.
Emma’s first solo venture, WALNUT, is a café and dining room set within John Jones Arts Building in Finsbury Park representing a homecoming in both location and style.
‘Good, simple, seasonal,’ says Emma, ‘that’s how I describe my food.’
A long-time resident of North London, Emma lives a short distance from the site with her partner and her dog, Sid. Walking by one day, she noticed the previous café had closed, and was quick to make her pitch.
‘We loved Emma’s ideas,’ says Kate Jones of John Jones, ‘plus she has a brilliant background in hospitality and a strong connection to art, so the synergy was perfect for us.’
Bespoke framers and art conservation specialists, John Jones has been based in the six-storey Arts Building since 2014. The eponymous founder built his reputation in the 1960s, framing the work of artists such as Francis Bacon and David Hockney. Situated next to Park Theatre and employing many working artists, it’s a creative hub and emblematic of the regeneration of the Finsbury Park area, something Emma says she is excited to be part of.
John Jones wanted a ‘neighbourhood eatery, with a presence from morning to night’. Open all week, Emma hopes WALNUT will appeal to local residents and workers looking for quick, tasty breakfasts and fresh, healthy lunches to eat in or take away. A counter will be laden with an ever-changing salad selection, plus protein options such as savoury tarts and fish. £10 will get you a big plate of three salads and a tart, and hot sandwiches will be around £4.50.
In the evenings, the vibe will change as the 58-cover space becomes a cosy dining room, with a more traditional three course menu. Prices will range from £7- £8.50 for starters, £12 – £18 for mains and £6.50 – £7.50 for desserts. The food and wine will all be European and guided by seasonality.
‘It’ll be asparagus season when we open,’ says Emma. She’s thinking hollandaise sauce and cured ham from a traditional brickhouse smokery in Suffolk. ‘I like the classics,’ she adds. Emma sources suppliers carefully, with an emphasis on sustainability. She supports small, independent businesses in the UK ‘as much as is possible; after all we’re in the same league as them!’
Front of house will be managed by Kate Higginbottom; previously at Bedford & Strand and described by Emma as ‘just brilliant: staff love her, customers love her’.
WALNUT’s open kitchen is now open and serving up what Emma calls ‘just good comfort food – things people want to eat’.
WALNUT, John Jones London, The Arts Building, Morris Place, N4 3JG