Whistles Women: Alexis Noble
After stumbling across Wander: an Australian restaurant based in the London neighbourhood Stoke Newington, we were immediately taken by the ever-changing menu, carefully curated wine on display and distinctive aesthetic, as well as the all-female team working there.
We sat down to talk to the chef and owner behind the restaurant – Alexis Noble – about the inspiration behind her dishes, the travels that bought her to London, the artists she works with and why she chose Stoke Newington to open her first restaurant.
Poised, exuberant and self-assured, it’s impossible not to find Alexis inspiring as she discusses her love for cooking, the friendships she has made along the way and her ambitions for the future.
How would you describe Wander restaurant to people who have never been there?
I’d describe it as a casual neighbourhood restaurant, with sharing dishes and seasonal menus that are constantly changing. It’s fun, relaxed and unassuming. A lot of people don’t expect much when they come in and I think they’re always pleasantly surprised.
How did you get into the restaurant business and can you tell us about your path towards creating Wander?
I’ve been a chef for thirteen years now – I grew up cooking and always really loved it. I went to university first as I thought I wanted to be a doctor or a physio, so I did a bachelors in medical science before starting a master degree – and then I dropped out. I got an apprenticeship and started cooking in Sydney, working there until 2012.
After that, I travelled and lived in San Francisco and New York for a while, before going on to do a working holiday here in London. I always knew I wanted to open my own place but I never thought it’d be here because when I first came to London I hated it. The first six months were tough and I didn’t appreciate it until I returned home to Sydney. I got some perspective then.
“I’d describe it as a casual neighbourhood restaurant, with sharing dishes and seasonal menus that are constantly changing. It’s fun, relaxed and unassuming.”
What inspired you to choose Stoke Newington as a location?
I’d never been to Stoke Newington until I came to see this venue but I liked it straight away. I explored to get a feel for the area and the people – it all just felt right.
Everyone thought I was insane because this was an abandoned Thai restaurant at the time but I had a vision of what I could do with the space. Stoke Newington is great too, there’s an actual sense of community which is hard to find in London. Everyone knows each other and I love that.
“Stoke Newington is great, there’s an actual sense of community here which is hard to find in London. Everyone knows each other here and I love that.”
You work closely with a team of women in your restaurant, can you tell us a bit about your team at the moment?
My team’s very small and always changing. The majority of the Wander team have always been women but I never thought it would be that way – that’s just who we’ve attracted. And that’s not to say we wouldn’t hire guys, because we would.
However, it is relaxing for us all to be able to come in and not worry about how we’ll be treated. I’m happy the girls can feel comfortable here too.
“I don’t like to be referred to as a female chef, because well, what’s the difference?”
On International Women’s Day you held a Wander Women dinner in celebration. Can you tell us a little bit about this event and what inspired your choice of dishes and wine selections?
Last year everyone was asking what we were doing for International Women’s Day and we didn’t do anything. I think it’s great to celebrate women of course, but I always wondered why only do it on one day? What about the rest of the year? Also, I don’t like to be referred to as a female chef, because well, what’s the difference?
This year I got on board though because International Women’s Day is always growing and other people love celebrating it. We work with some amazing women at Wander and for the dishes, we used all-female cheesemakers. The wine list came from female wine producers too.
Are there any other events are on the horizon for Wander in the coming months?
We just built a private dining room downstairs so I’m trying to figure out how we use that space. We’re hoping to do some ‘produce of dinner’ events and I’m really into cider, so we might do a tasting or pairing with courses.
We’ve noticed you work with artists such as Lucia Fraser to create a unique look a feel inside your restaurant - from the prints on the walls to the ceramics you use. How do you decide who to work with and can you tell us a little more about this collaborative process?
After I first found this venue, I was on the way home and stumbled upon a ceramics sale up the road, which is where I met Lucia and Ophelia. I’ve been working with them ever since. A lot of people approach me about collaborating but I’ve worked with these guys from the beginning. I’m very loyal and we’ve become such good friends – they’ve been so supportive.
Lucia created all the paintings you see here today – I’m very lucky. They’re all in my colours and they change depending on the light. We’ve also had three ceramics markets in the restaurant during the week selling their pieces – I’m hoping to do another in June.
Your menu is constantly changing - how do you plan this process and where do you source inspiration from?
A lot of it is dictated by the weather and seasonality. For example, wild garlic arrived early this year and I think a lot of other things will too. We get our fish from day boats too, so that depends on what gets caught on the day.
As soon as the sun comes out I cook lighter dishes and more Asian selections – but sometimes I just get excited by something new. It depends on the time and what’s going on.
“As soon as the sun comes out I cook lighter dishes and more Asian selections - but sometimes I might just get excited by something new.”
And can you talk us through your drinks and wine selections?
I’m a chef first and foremost so learning about wine has been such a learning process for me. We tend to offer mostly Australian, Italian (because I lived in Rome for a while) and Portuguese wines. They’re all low intervention, clean and natural selections from smaller businesses. I like to consider the colour and labels too – the aesthetics.
Again, as the sunshine arrives the wines will change and we’ll choose selections to compliment the dishes. We make a small number of cocktails too made with Australian spirits from the Adelaide Hills, using native Australian botanicals. We always base our list on what we’d want to drink ourselves.
Which other restaurants in London do you admire at the moment? And where are your favourite spots in East London?
I really like Bright in Hackney and I love most Turkish restaurants – especially when it’s BYOB. I get my meats from The Cookery and I love the Newington Green Grocer – I use the local businesses in Stoke Newington as much as I can.
Abney Hall is a great market too – that’s where I met all my ceramicists- and The Growing Communities Market is a favourite of mine during summer.
What do you love most about London?
London has endless possibility – you can do anything. Most people here are here for a reason, there’s a lot of ambition and people love trying new things.
What’s next for Wander and Alexis Noble?
We’ve already done so much and Wander evolves quickly. I’m not being modest when I say I could never have imagined we’d be where we are now – I don’t know what’s next. I get a lot of ideas and they happen quickly though – the last few months have been all about developing downstairs.
The ultimate dream would be to have a restaurant here and a restaurant in Sydney and go between the two. Summer, summer, summer, summer… I would never have a winter again.