June 2021

Icy Poles & Sausage Rolls

Brett RedmanBrett RedmanBrett RedmanBrett RedmanBrett RedmanBrett RedmanBrett RedmanBrett RedmanBrett RedmanBrett RedmanText: Mikey Gilles Images: Kingsley Ifill

For every 100 Australians who lug a backpack over to the Continent – drinking excessively five days a week, settling in East London and working in cafés with other Australians – there’s maybe one who doesn’t get stuck in that cycle for the entirety of his/her visa. There is also very occasionally one who takes what’s in front of them and comes up with something unique, boldly adding something new to the already rich cultural tapestry of one of the most developed cities on Earth. Brett Redman qualifies as one such (exceptional) drunk backpacking Aussie bastard in the motherland, proud owner of organically-providored, lakeside(!), East End-oasis café, Pavilion…

Mikey Gilles: Firstly, how awesome is it that your last name is REDMAN?! Do you get free tickets to the Wu turning up in your mail all the time?

Brett Redman: It was a bit tricky growing up, what with all the mistaken identities from his fans. I’ve learnt to embrace it now though.

MG: Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Too much caffeine today and that’s all I’ve thought about since I got your email address. So here we go with the serious questions: when did you first move to London and how long did you expect to stay for?

BR: I think it was 2005. Initially the idea was work hard for a year, improve my resume and move back and get a better job. Pretty simple concept really.

MG: Did you have heaps of cash saved, or did you just get into working the Australian-backpacker jobs like bars/restaurants/cafés/retail that you can do really hungover?

BR: I worked like 12 jobs a day before leaving so I had enough to be able to take a good (read: ‘shit paid’) job over here. In true Brett fashion though, I managed to lose a couple of grand on my way to the bank the day before flying out. Kind of meant I was absolutely skint when I arrived, so yeah, I took a job in a bar off Brick Lane and it was all sort of downhill from there for a while.

MG: What is the best method to make it through a shift in a café with a brutal hangover, incidentally?

BR: At the Pavilion we do an outrageously refreshing sparkling elderflower drink. That shit will get you through anything. 

MG: How did your first Bethnal Green guerilla-restaurant idea come about, and how long did you do that for? Feel free to elaborate extensively, it was before my time in London so I’ve only heard Chinese-whispers…

BR: Ummm… Good question. Don’t really know myself. There wasn’t a plan as such. A friend of mine was running a Korean restaurant in the same space, which I used to frequent with friends etcetera. Think he got bored of running it and had loads of other stuff going on, so basically said if I wanted it I could have it.

It was a bit of a make-it-up-as-you-go-along kind of thing. I only had about £1,500 to get it going but with a bit of foraging around markets and significant time spent in second-hand catering equipment yards, it managed to come together.

In the early days there was a lots of taking orders, running upstairs to cook the food and then running back down to make the coffees. I also had lots of willing and helpful friends and at one stage even had my Mum washing the dishes and working the floor whilst she was on holidays.

It only really lasted a year and then the site at the Pavilion came up. Probably lucky really, as, in the long term, it definitely wasn’t a sustainable venture.

MG: Was it a natural step to do a good, honest Australian-style café in East London? There are still so few decent coffees to be found around London.

BR: At the time, I think so. It’s what I knew, so it made sense to me. I don’t think you could come over here now and get away with what I did. The London coffee scene has grown astronomically in the last few years and now has some seriously great places. I think the key with the whole ‘Aussie-style’ approach is the combo of great food and great coffee. So many places do one or the other but not many can do both. 

MG: I wish every lakeside kiosk in the world had you running it, at most of them I only have the balls to get an icy pole, since the sausage rolls and meat pies (aka ‘rat coffins’ and ‘maggot bags’) look like they’ve been in cold storage since the ’70s. At your kiosk, I want to order everything on the menu! How did the whole Pavilion thing come together? The location is unbelievable.

BR: Again, it was total chance. A customer of mine found the council’s tender document scrunched up on the sidewalk, thought it might be of interest to me, so left it with whoever was working at the time.

A friend of mine, who is now my business partner, was running a stall at Borough Market and also looking at getting into the cafe game, so we thought, ‘Why not do one that uses the best ingredients available at Borough?’ We already had the contacts so it just grew from there, really.

The Pavilion now is a lot different to the Pavilion of old. It took us a long time to break down this ‘icy pole and sausage roll’ culture you speak so freely of and start attracting different users. I remember being called a cunt and told it would never work ’cause I didn’t sell chips or coke. 

It’s all changed now though. We get all types in, from the Hackney trendies to old school East Enders who wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else for their lattes.

MG: There are so many cute mums that frequent your café. Why do you think that is? Is it the gluten-free cakes? It can’t be the decadent Pavilion breakfast (so good).

BR: They come to perve on the hairy-chested male staff members. Just ’cause they’re mums doesn’t mean they’re not dirty perves like the rest of us. Fact.

MG: Has anyone ever fallen into the lake while you’ve been on shift?

BR: Yep. Quite a few times actually. We’ve had heroic dads leapfrogging the fence to pull children from runaway buggies, a novice bike rider going straight over the handle bars, a crazy man on acid strip naked and swim out to the fountain and an attempted (sadly it died) dog rescue when it fell through the frozen lake last winter.

MG: What’s the next step, I hear you’ve got a restaurant or a bar about to open? Are you doing that because you miss the kitchen?

BR: Pretty much. It’s an all day cafe/restaurant located in Borough Market. The kind of unpretentious casual place that I would want to go and eat in. Very much a culmination of all the things I’ve learnt over the past few years and a few extra things that I’ve not been able to do at the Pavilion.

I’ve been visiting lots of the farms and trying to get a better understanding of the produce, where it comes from and the people behind it. 

MG: What does your perfect day off consist of in the London summer months?

BR: When I get one, it would normally be spent lying in the park with a cider, some cheese and a big stick of salami. 

MG: Do you see yourself ever moving back to Australia?

BR: Definitely. Every time I go back I love it. It still feels like home but you never know. At the moment I’m just focusing on the here and the now and we’ll see what happens. I’m not one of those five or ten year plan people.

MG: Any advice for people who want to make the most out of moving to London?

BR: Oh shit. I really don’t know if I’m the one to ask. Some people seem to think moving to London is just like Halloween (e.g. an excuse to dress up like someone you’re not and act like a complete knob). I’d say to try and avoid that if possible.

MG: Finally, where do you see the calming world of café music going in the next few years? Last decade saw a stranglehold by the Café Del Mar compilations, The Streets and DJ Shadow, lately I’ve been noticing a strong ’60s garage push, and world music too… what genres remain to torture the barista?

BR: Don’t forget about god damn Macy Gray and I definitely walked out of a few places when that bloody Amy Winehouse was everywhere.

I’m voting for a return to radio. We’ve started putting on BBC Radio 6 quite a bit and at the old Elliot’s we were quite infamous for playing Radio 1 out of an old tape player.

MG: Thanks for your time, Brett, even though you’re in danger of turning English after all this time, you’re a bloody legend and an inspiration!

Pavilion Cafe

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