Inside Oma and Agora, the two new Borough Market restaurants by Manteca’s David Carter

Restaurateur David Carter  (Anton Rodriguez)
Restaurateur David Carter (Anton Rodriguez)

Usually, the term “itchy feet” spells disaster. For David Carter, however, it’s an opportunity. A chance to challenge London’s diverse, competitive restaurant landscape. A challenge that, luckily for us, has resulted in two of London’s best restaurants, Smokestak and Manteca, and as of this week, two more – Oma and Agora, housed within the same building in the heart of Borough Market.

“I think it takes a year to get a restaurant off the ground and it takes a year to get settled. After that, that's when my creativity starts to wander,” says the Bajan restaurateur, while pacing the new space.

Initially inspired by a trip to Greek islands, where Carter fell in love with their “remote serenity and simplicity”, the idea for opening two new restaurants rather than just the one came from the space he discovered in Borough Market in October 2022. Spread over two floors, he says “I would never [have considered opening two restaurants] if the space was all on one floor, that's just silly. But we had the infrastructure to play with. So if it wasn't hard enough, we thought let's do two, make it even harder.”

A bounty of food at Agora (Gilles Draps)
A bounty of food at Agora (Gilles Draps)

On the ground floor is Agora, which hasn’t stopped bustling since it opened earlier this month. Named after a gathering space or marketplace in Greece, according to Carter, the no reservations spot “is designed to be an extension of the market.” Inspired by the lively street markets and tavernas of Athens (including the famed subterranean restaurant, Diporto), it revolves around a two-metre-long charcoal souvla and wood fire oven, while Crittall windows are designed to allow the restaurant to spill out onto the street. With all but one dish priced under £10, “It's a bit dutty, a bit naughty, and very accessible,” says Carter. “You come for one skewer and a beer, or you come for two full hours, we don't really care.”

Like Diporto, the menu offers copious vegetarian options, including slow cooked chickpeas and fava beans with red onion and crispy capers. Meanwhile, juicy pork souvla, lamb kebab with sumac onions, and the confit lamb, spiced tomato and garlic yoghurt flatbread are crafted from whole animals from Somerset and Cornwall, and designed to be washed down with fun, citrus-forward cocktails such as a chamomile-spiked Paloma and frozen Margaritas.

Plates reminiscent of those at Diporto, Athens (Gilles Draps)
Plates reminiscent of those at Diporto, Athens (Gilles Draps)

Opening today, upstairs you’ll find Oma and its much calmer vibe. Headed up by Carter alongside ex-Sabor chef Jorge Paredes, it’s designed to celebrate the “warmth and romance” of the Greek isles via a crudo bar and a live-fire grill. Flooded with natural light, come May the calm, chic space will spill out onto a terrace. Offering dishes such as brown crab börek, gilt-head bream ceviche, and wild red prawn orzo giouvetsi to be devoured with lesser-known mineral wines plucked from Greece and other coastal regions, Carter says it’s a destination you plan to visit.

Freshly grilled fish at Oma (Gilles Draps)
Freshly grilled fish at Oma (Gilles Draps)

Judging by the crowds swarming the building already, both are set to be a huge success. But what learnings has Carter taken on board from his previous two restaurants? “I think what we've done well over the last years is promote accessibility. We want restaurants to feel very, very accessible.” Though for him, approachability shouldn’t feel cheap.

“We throw a lot of capital into making restaurants feel quite smart and a place you want to be, but we don’t want to charge a lot of money for it. People want to go into a restaurant and feel good about themselves. Now, through the team, the design, the offering, the music, the produce and the lighting, we’re trying to make affordable places where people walk in and are like, ‘Shit, this place is alright, I want to go back.’”

And as for why he chose Borough Market, “I’ve always had my eye on it.” says Carter. “I think it's a vibe. Five years ago it probably lost its way in terms of being more of the commercial side, but more people are coming here now, there are more likeminded independent operators who really care about produce and sourcing.”

So, with barbecue, Italian and Greek under his belt, what’s next? Naturally, Carter’s a touch too busy with Oma’s opening night to think about that right now. Though he does fancy a holiday, and it seems he’s not over Greece just yet. “I’m going to take my wee one to Sifnos, Paros and Chania for half term. I missed the Easter holidays due to the openings, so making up for lost time.” As for our next favourite restaurant? We wait with bated breath...

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