A place renowned for its foodie community and underdog establishments that have taken the rest of London by surprise, Shoreditch is also home to a lesser known epicurean trend.
Heading up the rise of niche food retail joints in the East End is Gaia Enria, an Italian ‘sfoglina’ or pasta making lady from Torino in Northern Italy. On May 29th 2013, she brought a little piece of her Piemonte heritage to Redchurch Street, opening the doors to a fresh pasta workshop called Burro E Salvia. Till 7pm every night, the rustic chocolate-box shop serves up beautifully parcelled portions of native agnolotti (Piedmontese for ravioli) and tagliolini (thin tagliatelle) for the locals to take home and experiment with, as well as homemade sauces and the mandatory bottle of wine.
Here’s how Gaia’s idea began to bubble up, with a few healthy lashings of salt to taste.
What does the name Burro E Salvia Pastificio mean?
The word pastificio is Italian for fresh pasta deli, something very traditional in Northern Italy. Burro e salvia is butter and sage, the most basic fresh pasta sauce. In the shop, the concept of butter represents the passion of people, and the sage adds a little more of an elegant touch.
How did you come up with the concept?
I’d been in communications for big clients such as Carluccio’s and Peroni beer, so I had plenty of time to do market research and to see where there were gaps. I wanted to really bring to life that idea of what we have in Italy but not to be a generic Italian delicatessen.
So why Shoreditch for your first shop?
I needed an area that would allow me to create and promote my brand. I was looking at having the right footfall but also somewhere trends were being launched. Of course Redchurch Street was that very niche type of street, growing but growing in the right direction. The more I was talking to people the more I was listening to interesting stories about how the landlords and real estate agents were trying not to bring the mainstream.
The shop is quite unique in layout, why did you choose this particular space?
It was a gallery before, so we could understand the potentiality of it. We have the tiny kitchen upstairs where we prepare the food and the filling, but the pasta is made here behind that glass because I knew that people would love to see and ask questions perhaps, and with the eating corner we can present the dishes according to our standards and then if they want, customers can replicate at home because we sell the same ingredients. When we offered that idea, from the beginning the estate agent and the landlord got the understanding of what we wanted to happen. They got interested in it for the same reasons I was interested in the street; the independent high quality type of retailer.
How would you like the local food scene to change?
More independent retailers! Coming from Italy, I have a background of the local market for fruit and veg, and then the fishmonger, the butcher, the baker, the milk shop. Even here there is a similar background, I think it just disappeared with the supermarkets in most areas, but there is an interest to bring it back.
What's different here is that you could have the same approach with so many cultures. I always say that I live and work in two of the most interesting areas in London, according to my standards. If I want to buy Indian or Northern African groceries, I know where to go and I can see, on Redchurch Street or similarly on streets developing in Peckham where I live, the multicultural side coming.
Where do you source your ingredients?
I’m very proud to say one of the key ingredients, which is eggs, is British. And lots of people don’t believe this because in Italy the hens that give eggs for pasta or patisserie eat a different type of food that is very rich in carotene, so the yolks are very, very dark in colour. I said ‘Ok it’s not going to be the right colour, but it needs to be the happy hen’, so I found probably the most expensive ones, but the most amazing eggs from Clarence Court. It was a very non-ethical concept to bring eggs from Italy, we only use Italian suppliers where absolutely necessary, for example mortadella - mortadella comes only from Bologna.
Do you think people are interested in the quality of food?
Generally the people I’ve seen coming in and people from the trade, they’re really interested in the way you source ingredients, and the way you transform ingredients, so I think this is definitely a foodie area.
Why is that?
I see very much a connection between being a foodie and coming from a creative field. I think here it's really like art, design, advertising and it's the curiosity that these people have, they want to always find out about like new things.
Where do you like to eat in the local area?
I keep going to the Allpress Espresso Roastery, which is where I source my coffee. My favourite food places in the area are the British type of restaurants, the wine/bar type of culture, so on this side I would go to Brawn. Otherwise, my favourites on the other side are Tramshed and Rivington Grill. I've been to Ceviche a lot of times, I love that concept and I'm very much looking forward to the opening of Andina.
Aside from selling pasta, how do you connect with your customers?
We’ve catered for the Estorick Collection during the Frieze Art Fair. My friend and Italian artist, Enrica Borghi, had been invited to exhibit, so we did the catering for the preview and she gave us a couple of works of art which is these two plastic jellyfish. We also take part in the Shoreditch Design Triangle, we did it for the first time in September, and we are going to do it again for Christmas and I think I can anticipate that we're going to do a pasta making evening, on 12th December, because we just launched our pasta making classes yesterday and it was very successful! For us it's so important to feel we're part of something bigger.
Can you tell me a bit about your workshops and why you think handmade pasta is so special?
It's the whole concept of craftsmanship that has been so successful in the past few years in every area - even fashion, if you think of how many brands have gone back to communicating the handcrafted element.
You've had a good initial reaction to the workshops, what was the reception when the premises opened?
I was amazed by the number of residents and local businesses coming to introduce themselves. I remember the first day, the amount of people coming and knocking at the window to say 'Oh, we live around the corner, we just wanted to say welcome to the area’, something that - trust me - in Italy, would never happen. I felt this is the best thing that someone could have told us.