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114-year old Barge East is Hackney Wick’s youngest venue

114-year old Barge East is Hackney Wick’s youngest venue inploi Team | 13.06.2018

A decade ago, Hackney Wick’s canal was a no-go zone. But thanks to its position a few miles from London’s Olympic Park and Westfield Stratford City, the area is undergoing major regeneration. The most recent addition? A 100-tonne barge which set sail from Den Helder in Holland a little over a week ago. Over the next month, this barge is going to be transformed into Hackney Wick’s first floating restaurant and bar. We caught up with the team behind the idea, to find out more about their vision for Barge East.

Without a barge in situ, the team’s first challenge was to find and manoeuvre their venue. “We looked at bringing it across by road because it’s 114 years old,” Ryan (Barge East’s co-founder and Head Chef) explains. “They said, ‘How much does she weigh?’. I said, ‘100 tonnes’, and they said absolutely no way – the limit on roads is 40 tonnes.” Their only option was to sail her across the Channel, requiring much of the mast and upper deck to be cut off to enable her to pass under the numerous bridges they would encounter en route. In spite of their efforts, the barge suffered by running aground twice and flooding once before she made it safely to her mooring. “It’s so good to finally be here,” Ryan says with relief.

Currently a floating workshop, what Barge East will look like when it opens remains a surprise, and the team will be working full-out to get her ready for their soft opening. What we do know is that Ryan, Blandy, Tommo and Tom (Barge East’s co-founders), want to stay true to the local area’s history by keeping the interior rough and ready, keeping true to Hackney Wick’s style. With a present crew of two, the team are looking to hire two chefs, and five front of house staff to bring their idea to life.

Working on a barge presents unusual difficulties for the team to be. For a start, with a ceiling height as low as 6ft3”, Ryan and Blandy are keen to find people who are happy to work in a unique (but slightly confined) space. The kitchen at the stern of the barge will be made up of a team of three chefs: Ryan as Head Chef, a Second Chef, and a Kitchen Porter/Third Chef. Having worked on superyachts for 5 years, Ryan swore to himself that he would never step foot on a boat again, before ironically buying a narrowboat himself to live on and agreeing to get involved with Barge East.

“Chefs can be highly strung. I have done that in the past, but I can’t do it anymore,” Ryan comments. He’s subsequently on the lookout for a strong second chef, who’s switched on and looking to put their mark on something. The food onboard will be different from what Hackney Wick currently has to offer. “It’s going to be a little more refined with funky plates and really simple ideas executed really well,” says Ryan, “and a short menu that keeps changing to keep people interested.” The second chef and kitchen porter that join Ryan in the kitchen will be able to become integrally involved in how Barge East and its menu develops over time.

Blandy will lead the front of house team at the bow of the barge. A physiotherapist by training, Blandy discovered his interest in bartending whilst working seasonally in the Alps. Speaking about the bar menu he explains, “On the bar everything is local. We’re getting our beer from Trumans which is 500 metres away. All our house spirits from East London Distillery. And we have a cool spirit called Cold and Blac’ which is a coffee liquor made in Dalston.” For his team who will work across the bar and front of house, Blandy’s not necessarily seeking people with experience. “We can train them, as long as they’re friendly, outgoing,” he says.

Once kitted out, Barge East will be able to host around 120 people at a time. However, the team have also acquired a small amphitheatre-style grass area on the canal side which they’re eager to use. “We want to make it a destination,” Blandy says. Once established, the plan is to host regular markets inviting local producers, street food traders and creatives to; drawing locals and professionals working at Here East for lunch, and tourists attending concerts at the Olympic Stadium during the evenings and weekends. With the founder of Hot Tugs on board, we’re sure there’ll be plenty of interesting partnerships, parties and news to share about Barge East in just a few weeks!

Interest in joining the team at Barge East? Check out their latest openings on the Barge East company page here.