Interview with an Innovator

Kricket’s Will Bowlby: ‘Offal and game birds, they all lend themselves quite well to Indian flavours’

The culinary half of the Kricket duo on sweetbreads, overseas expansion and trialling a vegetarian-focused menu.

4 January 2019
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The past 12 months have kept Kricket founders Will Bowlby and Rik Campbell on their toes. After making the leap from 20-seat pop-up to two-floor Soho site in 2017, the pair sped up expansion last year with brand-new venues in Brixton and White City. But don’t expect the same rate of openings to continue into 2019.

“We’re going to leave it at three Krickets in London for now,” says Bowlby. “We feel that’s enough. We need to consolidate what we have and make sure that we’re able to run these new restaurants at the same standard as we ran one. 

From watching Jamie Oliver on telly to running his own one-man catering company in his teens and early 20s, Bowlby was always interested in a culinary career. It was his two years working in India, however, that got the chef mulling an idea for what would become Kricket.

“It was a few months in that I quickly became bored cooking European for Indian clients and became fascinated with Indian food,” he recalls. “From there, I started thinking about what I wanted to do when I came back to London. I just felt a lot more could be done with Indian food in this country.”

Following his return to England, Bowlby spent a brief stint working for Vivek Singh at Cinnamon Kitchen in the capital, before going into business for himself, cooking a handful of dishes at Pop Brixton.

Today, he oversees a different menu at each of the Kricket venues, making changes once or twice a month as well as seasonally. Like many UK chefs, Bowlby has also been preparing a more vegetable-focused offering for January. He tells Food Spark where (and when) he gets his inspiration for the ever-changing line-up of eats.

Honestly, the process normally starts in my bed when I’m trying to sleep, which is really annoying! An idea will come into my head and then usually I have to write it down. Then it’s a question of getting the ingredients in and trying out what you originally thought and trying out variations – different garnishes, different textures, different flavours. Sometimes you’ll get it first time, but quite often a dish will evolve over three or four tastings.

The history behind Indian food is what got me into it in the first place. It evolved, developed over however long, and it’s been affected in different pockets in different regions by different countries that have colonised different areas… I’m fascinated by the story of food, how varied history makes it everywhere you go. I look at that as my inspiration.

There are three or four dishes that have been on since the beginning, which is the bhel puri, the Keralan fried chicken, the pakoras and the delica pumpkin. They’ve been on since day one and they’re realistically going to stay on. I can’t really take them off because people get upset. They are our signatures.

I wish people would order less fried chicken… I’m not complaining, obviously, it’s very nice that people like it, but, you know, it’s fried chicken. I’d encourage people to try the more left-field dishes, stuff that involves offal, mussels, things like that. Things that don’t necessarily jump out.

We’ve got a lamb sweetbread dish in Soho that I didn’t think would sell that well. It’s a seriously good dish, which is why I put it on the menu, but I was pretty convinced it wouldn’t sell very much, but I’ve been surprised at how much it’s sold.

Offal and game birds, they all lend themselves quite well to Indian flavours, so it kind of makes sense for us to use them.

In each Kricket there’s a different menu. You’ll come into White City and you’d want to try the feasting-style plates, like the Iberico pig shoulder vindaloo or the tandoor-roasted partridge. Whereas in Brixton, we have a different crowd to play to, one that is a little more adventurous. So we have stuff like rolled pig’s head vindaloo or a spiced cod’s roe or masala chicken livers.

Recently, we’ve tried some ham that we made on site from wild duck. A spiced wild mallard ham, which we served with tandoor-roasted shaved chestnuts.

I’m now at a stage where I have to write out my recipes to [Instagram], and it goes on a system so everyone has to cook it properly, while before I’ve always been like, do this, do that, pointing at things.

Aloo gobi

In January, we’re making a conscious effort to make the menu more health conscious, more vegetarian focused… Vegetarian is something we take seriously because: a) the demand; and b) India is a country where vegetarianism is massive, it’s so prevalent, there’s so many things you can do. It’s not just for January, but we’re starting it in January, and we’ll see what the reaction will be like.

I don’t think London necessarily needs another Kricket. There might be spin-off ideas. There might be bars, there might be different variations of Kricket, potentially. We’re certainly looking to go abroad.

America is on the cards, as is Europe. Distance isn’t’ the thing really, it’s where we can see the concept working. We started Kricket when there wasn’t anything else like it around, and there’s a reason why we started it then. Indian food has progressed so much since and more and more restaurants have opened since, and it’s hugely popular now in another way than when you just had your curry houses or you had your high-end dining places.

I absolutely will be doing different things in the future. What they are, I don’t know! If you’d asked me five years ago if I would be running Indian restaurants, I would have said no. Right now, Kricket is definitely my focus.

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