In all the kerfuffle of picking a restaurant and choosing what to eat, how often do you think about the crockery – where it's come from and who makes it.
Recently, having eaten soup out of matt, brown-flecked bowls, pickled pork belly off smooth fossil grey and yellow dishes, and dipped sashimi into Prussian blue miso pots, I've discovered a different kind of food story. I've met London chefs who place as much importance on the flavour and arrangement of food as on the dishes themselves, and potters who work with them to design their tableware.
"People have a real thing about plates at the moment," believes Jess Jos, who runs a studio at Stepney City Farm and has noticed the recent interest in this part of her industry. "It's like going back to basics. You eat the food, and you want to know more about where that's from – and now it's the same with these."
Meanwhile chef Dean Parker of The Manor reportedly wants to start making some, James Knappett of Kitchen Table nicknames one of his Kylie, and James Lowe of the Michelin-starred Shoreditch restaurant Lyle's says he often looks for people "making nice things. I like everything to fit together.
I like things made in classic shapes that reveal more upon closer inspection. I don't go for the 'obviously handmade' aesthetic."
It's not surprising that customers often ask about the crockery – lately Lowe has worked with London ceramicist Owen Wall and the artist Hana Hybs, and recommends both regularly. "The first designs were very classic. As we've learned more about how the restaurant works, and what sort of food we want to do, I've needed different sizes to make the dishes work and eat well. Having said that, I've also commissioned something just because I really like it, and then come up with dishes that work in it."
People have a real thing about plates now. They want to know where the food's from, and it's the same for crockery
Helping Jos in the studio is 27-year-old Skye Corewijn, a South African ceramicist whose elegant plates cast in clean, light glazes are being picked up by chefs at Typing Room and The Clove Club restaurants.
On Saturdays Corewijn manages Bermondsey's Druid Street Market, where she also has a stall selling her wares, but she didn't start out with ceramics in mind. Having finished university, Corewijn moved to London and worked with music venues, before attending two courses near Old Street with ceramicist Stuart Carey and eventually becoming a member of the Hoxton pottery school, Turning Earth, where she met Jos.
There she "messed around trying things out," but today Corewijn prefers "the smoother stuff" as she feels that the "really gritty stuff is not good for functional ware as it's more solid, and uncomfortable if you put your lip against it."
Her first commission came while waitressing at Upstairs at The Ten Bells, when her colleagues convinced her to make some plates for fun – and then began serving food on them. "Georgio Ravelli's food is wonderful and sometimes I was waitressing and putting my plates down, and occasionally someone might say 'Nice plates'. It was so nice!"
Since then Corewijn has worked with top chefs, all of whom have different approaches to crockery: "I'll take something to them, they'll look at it and do it in very different ways. Lee Westcott [at Typing Room] was really decisive, I sold Sebastian [Meyers, of Sager + Wilde restaurant] things that they use for small plates, and when I met Isaac [McHale, of The Clove Club] he didn't say much, he just ummed and ahhed. He was really processing it. He wanted little plates that he could serve snacks on. Michael Hazlewood wants me to eat at Antidote first to get a feel for what they do. They always think it all through."
Of course making anything like this takes time – you must wait until things have dried, before bisque firing, glazing and re-firing, but as long as she's not "stressed on time" Corewijn enjoys the process "because you just get into a zone… You can go mad when things go wrong too, but that's what I love about it. Next I'd like to learn more about glazes because the possibilities are endless. This feels like a lifetime's work. There's just so much you can learn."
Four more London potters you need to know about
Naine Woodrow coordinates North Street Potters – now a go-to place for chefs – and the charity Clapham Pottery. After training in Japan in 1978, Woodrow returned to England, and taught herself glazing before supplying Japanese restaurants. "Pottery has become popular again in the last decade, and now people are beating a path to the door."
Set-up: A small shop crammed with crockery of all sorts, and wheels behind a curtain.
Food clients: Le Gavroche, Fera at Claridge's, Robin Gill's restaurants, Coya.
Style: Mixed. "I have a technique that is fool-proof. They come in, get a feel for what they like, then we'll discuss styles. Some things I can do, some I can't. I don't care about the science behind the glazes. I just want to make it work. I know a lot now by instinct."
The co-owner of Ducksoup and Rawduck restaurants has worked with potters for years, but having done a pottery course at Turning Earth she now designs her own under the brand Vessel & Time, working closely with a potter to make them.
Set-up: Lattin sketches out designs and measurements at home. Often she'll go to Dorset and her potter will make things in front of her. "It's really nice to work with someone on raw material, but I think it's important to do the process yourself first, so you can understand it."
Food clients: Rawduck restaurant, London Fields; customers can buy online or in-store.
Style: Lattin specifically likes the textured effect of mixed clay and part-glazing, and the Vessel & Time range is a mixture of pickling pots, utensil pots, plates, miso and fruit bowls, finished with stoney shades.
Cox is executive chef of Simon Rogan's restaurant Fera at Claridges. After working with potters while at L'Enclume in Cumbria, in November 2015 he taught himself.
Set-up: His house in Camden where he has a small Shimpo Whisper potter's wheel, and a 45-litre kiln in his garden.
Food clients: Eventually he will serve food on his plates at Fera's chef's table, Aulis.
Style: A mixture of matt and glossy stoneware crockery with rough edges and colour bursts. "I'm still working out what I like… I want it to be less about perfect round plates and more like pieces of art – you may as well do something a bit different. I don't always have the food in mind, but I have designed some small things for our snacks. Now I'm exploring clay and its limits, glazes, firing, and control."
I want it to be less about perfect round plates and more like artwork
A self-employed ceramicist, Wall also works part-time as a senior ceramics technician at Middlesex University. He learnt from his mum, a potter, and also graduated with a degree and an MA in ceramics.
Set-up: A small studio in his garden in Edmonton Green, stuffed with his glazes, moulds, wheel, kiln, and two second-hand industrial machines (known as a Jolley and Jockey). Wall likes the very technical side of glazing, and says that chefs are "very particular – which I like, because it's like having a tutorial, and they notice the
things that I don't."
Food clients: From The Ledbury and Lyle's to The Clove Club and Bao.
Style: Elegant, often with complex layers of different glazes. Most is done with an assistant using the machines but some clients have hand-thrown plates. "It can get boring doing it hundreds of times on these, but I like the result. Throwing can get stressful."