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The new Lmnh Kitchen

The team behind pioneering London cycle café Look mum no hands! has opened a new location at The Loom. We stopped by to ask co-founder Lewin Chalkley what’s on offer.

City Life: How did you choose Whitechapel for Lmnh Kitchen?

Lewin Chalkley: Whitechapel has always been a bit of a destination for us, mostly to eat amazing Pakistani food. So we’ve known the area and liked it. We also realised that it’s hugely up-and-coming. You’ve only got to look around in any direction from The Loom and there’s buildings going up all over the place.

So I think we just saw the potential, as well as The Loom being such a beautiful building with beautiful furniture, nice floors, loads of natural light coming in the windows. Half of the job was done for us when you walk into a building that’s this pretty.

What’s on the menu at Lmnh Kitchen?

We’ve got grab-and-go stuff. So we make sandwiches and salads that are fresh every day. And then we’ve also got a menu that runs throughout the day that’s got cooked pastas and fresh salads, a burger, that kind of stuff.

Our food and drink offering has really evolved over time. When we first started Look mum no hands! at Old Street, we put in domestic equipment, made very simple salads and bought in pies to heat up and sell. But what we’ve tried to do over the years was make everything better. A year ago we hired professional chefs to come and work for us, properly trained people that really know their stuff. What we’ve got at both locations now is a fuller, fresher offering.

The original Look mum no hands! has become an Old Street landmark. How did it all come about?

Myself, Matt and Sam are the owners, and we’re all mad cyclists. We were racing bicycles, buying and selling bicycles, fixing bicycles, watching cycle sport on the telly. I’d been running cafés for eight years. Sam had been running cycle workshops for eight years, and it was sort of a natural time to try and do something on your own.

There was another bicycle café in London, but it didn’t have all the elements that we felt were important. So we found that location, opened it. I was on the coffee machine, Sam was fixing punctures and Matt was on the till. That’s how it started. And thank God it worked because God knows what we’d be doing now if it hadn’t.

Is the new location an attempt to copy the formula?

No, no, not at all. Our original location is quite a unique space. It’s on a busy cyclists’ artery. You’ve got outside space, the bicycle workshop, a very large basement where we do most of our bicycle repairs. The reasons to come to Look mum no hands! – there’s just millions of them. You might be local, you might work locally, you might need to repair a puncture on your child’s buggy, whatever. It’s a right old mixture of people at Old Street.

This is different in that there’s no bicycle workshop. This is all about food and drink, as well as a cozy and warm environment. Most of the people that are coming are the people that are working above us, but we hope over time to build a wider customer base of people living in the local area that appreciate good food and drink.

What we’ve got at both locations now is a fuller, fresher offering.

Your first attempt at opening a second location – on Mare Street in Hackney – didn’t quite work out. Why was that?

It was great at Mare Street, because it was a really vibrant place. It was perfect for us, in many ways. But the landlord decided he wanted market value, understandably, and the upshot of that was that the rent for the whole building went up by 400%. That didn’t work for the Trampery (which finds cheap spaces and passes them on to small businesses) and as sub-tenants of theirs we were out.

Are things looking different at The Loom?

One of the reasons The Loom was attractive to us is because it’s a more secure lease than we had when we were sub-tenants. Here, we’ve set the terms with Helical directly, and I feel much more secure than we did at Mare Street.

Do you plan on opening more locations in the future?

We’re really happy with what we’ve got at Old Street and we’re really excited about what we hope Lmnh Kitchen will become. So I suppose we want to see how this goes. It’s looking good so far.

Lmnh Kitchen is at:
The Loom
101 Back Church Lane
E1 1LU