Walking into the Angels kitchen for the first time was a horror scene. Hobs were leaking gas, the electrics were faulty and unsafe. I don’t think it had been cleaned in an exceptionally long time. We simply could not use the space to do anything. Nick [landlord] told me we had a project and he was not wrong. This was July 2018.
Fast forward to December 2018. The builders rolled in bringing with them a wave of hope and excitement. It brought an end to the horror show, marking the beginning of a new era for the Angel. The recruitment was done, I had sourced a team to support me, we had a good menu and in all honesty… I was just ready to get cooking. The refurbishment however didn’t come without its own stresses. I remember distinctly 24 hours before the big opening day. The kitchen was still a building site, there was mess everywhere! Electric wires all over the place and half of the new equipment was still sat out the back waiting to come in. The manager and I stood at the time in the kitchen with all this chaos around us with the same look of doubt. This however as always with the Angel was overcome and on Friday 14th December we opened with a bang.
Christmas came and went and with that 2018. I knew 2019 would be about educating people. Showing them that what we were offering was good and importantly different from before. With the new crop of staff including Nick and Liam I knew we had the experience between us to make it work. The pub itself looked perfect and on the whole had a good following that wanted to see the change we envisioned. Life is made of challenges and hurdles to overcome and I knew that by trying to be my best every day was the only way forward. Making sure everyone enjoyed my food and when they didn’t, taking on the criticism to further better myself and my kitchen team.
It was always Nicks ambition to create a pub that worked for the whole community. I had in previous times done a small amount for charity work but nothing on the scale it would become. In early 2019 Liam had created a partnership with local charity The Vineyard. The idea was for me to lead a cooking workshop whereby I would teach those less fortunate or who had fallen on hard times to cook substantial/ healthy meals at minimal cost for themselves.
I often stop and think to myself, if I consider how fortunate I am. Then why not share it with others? It is wrong to say that I was helping people when in fact they were helping me. Seeing the enjoyment on peoples faces during these workshops, spreading the passion for food I have was a feeling of contentment.
2019 rolled on. the first half of 2019 was tough, we were all working hard but things just didn’t seem to take off. These were probably some of the toughest days in my career. The rush of the opening had gone but the pubs reputation was struggling to change. I believe the partnership with The Vineyard and the local Church was really where we began to accelerate forward. It seemed the more we got out in the community, the busier we got. I can only talk for myself but I do think at this point Nick and Liam had finally found their feet. The recruitment of Katie, Caitlyn and Leo plus the addition of Hannah to assist Liam in day to day operations created a dynamic which allowed everyone to fulfil the pubs potential. For the first time there was a real chemistry between the kitchen, management and front of house team. We all had each others backs. There was a real family feel to the place and I think our growing number of regular customers could see that.
By November 2019 the pub was flying, the kitchen was doing huge numbers and the feedback was fantastic. Christmas was in full flow. I wouldn’t say we were there yet, but wow we had come a long way in one year. We had been awarded with TripAdvisors certificate of excellence in late 2019 and 2020 continued in the same direction. Numbers were up and I was awarded ‘Best Brazilian Chef in Europe’ by the Good Food award. I had won awards before but this felt different. The hard work behind the scene was exhaustive and so the recognition meant so much more. Those dark days were gone and the hard work had finally paid off!
March 2020 – Lockdown. It seems such a common term to use now but back then I really had no idea what it meant. I don’t think any of us did to be honest. What we did know: as a team we felt compelled to do our bit and so our ‘feeding the vulnerable’ operation began. I don’t think anyone expected it to become what it was. Before we knew it, we were in front of TV cameras on national news, in national newspapers and supplying any essentials needed to around 80 people a day by May. I have to say some of our guests could be more demanding than paying customers! Joking aside; it was an experience like no other. I felt the feeling of contentment filtering back in to me as I saw the relief on our guests face that they had not been forgotten.
I have been unfortunate enough to have been personally affected by Covid19 and therefore feel the loss of many others across the world. That feeling of loss however is overcome by what I witnessed during the first lockdown. The coming together of the British people and specifically the support of the Richmond community. Residents, business large and small. People from every background. Covid19 is negative for so many reasons but I am a man of positivity and what the pandemic has shown us is that when needed; the community came together as one with the Angel at the forefront of it. Knowing you were part of that, the feeling of helping to create togetherness through such dark times. I don’t think anyone will take that feeling away from us as a team.
Looking forward beyond Covid19 – whenever that may be. I expect the Angel to continue in an upward direction. For the brief periods we have been open since the first lockdown trade has been good. For me personally I’m looking forward to 2021 and what it has in store for us all. I am exceptionally passionate about my native Brazilian cuisine and hope to introduce more of that to the menu when we can. Until the point of reopening comes however, my focus is on assisting the rest of the team with our latest community endeavours and making sure that vulnerable people have the support they need.
Geo Bassani Lima: Head Chef Angel & Crown