In a brutalist building in central London, the founders of the Frieze contemporary art fair have opened a perfectly curated restaurant
Housed in a brutalist concrete building which straddles the Strand in London, you would be forgiven for strolling past Toklas.
What lies inside this stark 1970s structure is rather special. The vision of Frieze art fair founders Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, this new restaurant comprises a 50-capacity bar, bakery and a large and verdant 280sq m terrace which can accommodate up to 100 diners.
Designed by Stafford Schmool, who refers to himself as a “consultant bricoleur”, it has a low-key brasserie feel. A reclaimed parquet floor, iroko table and counter tops and vintage Børge Mogensen chairs sit alongside bespoke pendant lights with an innovative LED reflective form.
A sliding wall divides the restaurant and bar areas so that the space can be repurposed according to the occasion. The malleable style is in keeping with the ambience and there is a healthy amount of foliage courtesy of the terrace garden, which contains beautiful trees and plants in pots designed by landscape connoisseur Miria Harris.
Needless to say, the art is impeccably curated. The main dining room has a large, sunny Wolfgang Tillmans photograph from 1993 of tomatoes and aubergines by a pool. A wall in the bar area is covered with recent and vintage posters from significant arts exhibitions from the last 50 years. It is a gentle nod to the people behind this dynamic venture.
The name also draws influence from the art world. It is inspired by Alice B Toklas, the writer and partner of Gertrude Stein. The couple lived in Paris in the first half of the 20th century and hosted countless dinners for artists and writers, including Picasso, Matisse and Picabia.
Oh, if those walls could talk. In 1954, the creative hostess published The Alice B Toklas Cookbook, chronicling many of the dishes she had cooked and eaten during her time in France. As tempting as it may have been to serve dishes from the book, you won’t see any of them on the menu. Light Mediterranean flavours are the running theme, with the majority of dishes plant- or fish-based.
Head chef Martyn Lyons, who has previously worked with Ollie Dabbous and at Spring and Moro, is at the helm. He is focused on Italian, French and Spanish tastes and ingredients. The same applies to the wine. Kingfish crudo with fennel and caper leaf; broccoli with farro, goat’s curd and black garlic; and halibut with girolles and coco beans are a selection of his signature dishes.
Not forgetting Toklas Bakery, which no doubt lures in many passers-by. It has been set up by Adam Sellar, head baker at Abergavenny’s Angel Bakery. Janine Edwards, who was previously head pastry chef at London-based artisanal bakery Little Bread Pedlar, takes on the head baker mantle here.
A range of breads, patisserie, sandwiches and coffee are displayed in custom units
that evoke European-style bakeries and pasticcerie. There is a grocery shop, which also has a selection of kitchen and
homewares, on site too.
This is all underpinned by some serious restaurant credentials. Head of operations is Claire Wright, from Smokestak and the Wing, whilst the restaurant manager is Alcides Gauto, of Llewellyn’s and Rochelle Canteen, who has a loyal fan base.
Toklas is in good company. Its neighbours at 180 The Strand include a Soho House club, co-working space Soho Works as well as production and exhibition spaces supporting emerging talent. No doubt the resulting footfall will admire what has been done with the place. Did we mention this is where Frieze London’s offices are?
This is a project with a rather unique approach which makes perfect sense considering it is Sharp and Slotover’s foray into the restaurant scene. That they founded the world’s most coveted contemporary art fair bodes well for their ability to break new ground.
Images by Matthieu Lavanchy
As featured in OnOffice 158, Spring 2022. Read a digital version of the issue for free here