Roe, Wood Wharf: Can the Fallow boys do it again?

 (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
(Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

The Fallow boys are a phenomenon. The three of them — chefs Jack Croft, 31, and Will Murray, 32, and chairman-fixer-bit-of-everything James Robson, 50 — have amassed something like their own cult. A cult glued to the TikTok recipes (how to scramble eggs like a chef? An easy 7.1 million views), the Instagram posts (231,000 fans and counting) and a YouTube channel which, with 385,000 subscribers, makes Fallow the most followed restaurant in the world. Then there’s real life: the place itself, in St James’s, is open from breakfast till supper seven days a week, and packs out every service; they reckon they feed about four-and-a-half thousand diners a week. Naturally, there’s a line of merch — sriracha sauce, posters, £45 T-shirts.

But such framing does the trio a disservice. Fallow isn’t a jumped-up fad restaurant slinging the internet’s latest obsession at inflated prices. It’s not about McDonald’s burgers given a posh-over or sandwiches that “drop” on a Monday morning. No-one trickles salt down their arms. Instead, it’s made a name for its modern British cooking and conscious approach to sustainability. Those T-shirts? The cotton is blended with seaweed. The hit dish? A cod’s head — the part most places ignore. Another head — this time of a chicken, bursting through the lid of a pie — landed them headlines in Australia, and bewilderment from the Loose Women. And now, five years in, they’re hoping they can do it all again; more of the same, only different.

On Monday, their new restaurant Roe opens in Wood Wharf, Canary Wharf. Like Fallow, its menu will be nose-to-tail and root-to-stem, and like Fallow, sustainability of the meat and fish is paramount. So, er, why not just open another Fallow? “I didn’t think it could be replicated,” says Robson. “Fallow is like our first child,” nods Croft. “We didn’t want to bastardise it.” Murray? “Not enough cod heads in the UK!” he says, breaking into laughter.

“The way I describe it, it’s a different name, a different design, a different menu, predominantly a different team, but it’s got the same DNA,” clarifies Robson. Well, the name’s a giveaway, with roe and fallow both being deer.

The main dining room (Roe Restaurant)
The main dining room (Roe Restaurant)

But the true answer might be that they didn’t want to be held back. Roe might be the younger sibling, but it feels like the bigger brother, both in appearance and ambition. The place is a monster: there’s room for 500 over three floors, which includes both a 10-seat chef’s table downstairs and a waterside terrace that can take 250. There’s a table for two set in a glass box, walls stacked with rare wine and spirits (“One for the 12-hour lunches,” quips Robson), a pair of open kitchens, and a marble counter about the length of two tennis courts. The design of the place, which has been looked after by Studio Gossamer, also leans into the luxury sustainability shtick. The dining room is dominated by a sculpture from Hackey studio Fab.Pub that looks like a tree but apparently represents a coral. “This is one of the very first permanent, 3D-printed, plant-based, recyclable structures that there is,” says Robson. “If that gets damaged, it gets taken off, crushed down, reprinted, sent back, full loop. It was bloody hard to get it in.” So why bother? “Well, it’s the future of design, of build,” he begins, before Murray cuts him off: “There was a massive pillar to hide.”

Robson says Roe has cost somewhere in the realm of £6 million, in part because it was an empty shell beforehand. “It was daunting for us because with Fallow, it was more of a facelift. The framework was there and you could see — ‘Oh, we’ll move this and that’. But here, it was just concrete. How do you even begin with a site like that?” asks Murray. Well, quite. How did they?

A banana pudding, made with sugar-pickled skins (Roe Restaurant)
A banana pudding, made with sugar-pickled skins (Roe Restaurant)

“Everyone threw their ideas down on paper and then we just compared them all,” says Croft. “When we saw this place, it was an eye-opening prospect. We just fell in love with it because of the potential.” Canary Wharf has a bit of a reputation for eating restaurants, though — didn’t the location put them off? Robson points to the residents, and to the weekend crowd that comes in. “We’ve got a completely different customer base, but it’s also a completely separate talent pool [for staff],” says Murray. “And,” adds Croft, “to be frank, quite a lot of the stuff we can do here, we wouldn’t have been able to do in somewhere like Soho.”

Like what? “Like the vertical farm,” says Murray. “I think we’re the first restaurant to use an aeroponic system in the world.” He’s not quite right — Gather, in Omaha, would like a word — but it is unusual. Aeroponic farming is a way of growing crops by spraying them with a nutrient-rich mist, which eliminates the need for soil, and the systems are engineered to waste less water. The carbon footprint is low and what’s grown has zero food miles on it.

The vertical farm, the 3D-printed stuff, it adds work. But it’s worth it, to be doing cool, interesting things

“I think we might be the first restaurant that grows strawberries inside,” adds Murray, who evidently was raised on a diet of Guinness World Record books. The vertical farm, which is a wall, requires two full-time farmers to attend to it. It doesn’t look very big, I say. “We’ve got peas, broad beans, French beans. The oregano we use in a tonic for one of the cocktails. There’s Vietmanese basil, Thai basil. We should get wild garlic all year round. We’ve got padrons, but the nutrient mix isn’t quite right, so they’re too hot to use at the moment,” Murray says. “But yeah, in terms of an actual, practical system to feed the restaurant, that’s not what it’s meant to be. But in terms of being in Wood Wharf, with all this concrete, the chefs don’t always have that much contact with produce.”

Mostly, what’s grown will be used sparingly with specific dishes, and it means Roe can grow ingredients otherwise hard to source, like “fraises des bois. I love them, but you can never get them because they turn to mush in a punnet after they’re picked,” Murray says. He adds that the system is tricky to operate but easy to build — so he’s hoping to use surrounding empty office space to farm more, and is wondering about vertically farming a vineyard. “Things like this, like the 3D-printed stuff, it adds labour, it adds work. But it’s 100 per cent worth it, to be doing interesting, cool things,” says Murray. Not every idea made the cut — “we were seriously considering a crayfish tank,” he says, “but turns out it’s illegal.”

A scallop flatbread (Roe Restaurant)
A scallop flatbread (Roe Restaurant)

Strawberries and garnishes aside, the drive of the place is in its meat and fish, and will be looked after by Cornish head chef Jon Bowring, who spent a decade at Dinner by Heston. “We were thinking — ‘How do we like to eat?’” says Croft. “Which is sharing style, grilled meats, grilled fish, flames, open grills, mangal-style. So skewers and flatbreads became the heart of the concept.” Lesser-known cuts and fish are championed. Cuttlefish and wrasse are both popular with the pair.

So, unusually, is shark. The restaurant will serve tope, otherwise called school shark. “Obviously, there are a s*** load of species of shark that are just everywhere in UK waters, but because of shark fin soup and things like that, people are really, really...” Murray pauses. “I mean, I’m not sure I should be talking about this. We had to remove a YouTube video because we were like, we’re eating shark. But it’s everywhere. And at the end of the day, fishermen capture it as a by-product — when they capture bass, they’re capturing tope, so you can use it as a line-caught, day boat fish. And it’s stunning, it’s beautiful.”

Some of what Roe is doing is trying to encourage diners to try new things. Elsewhere, much of the butchery is done in house, and the team will prepare the restaurant’s own charcuterie. Venison will feature. Diners should expect to pay “about £50-70 a head”, says Robson. “About the same as Fallow. But there’ll be an express menu too.”

The three have it all going for them. There’s the success of Fallow, the enormous space in which to experiment, and the huge numbers on social, which they happily admit help drive a crowd. “People like being able to relate. They come in and they’re talking to the team, like ‘Hi AJ, hi Steve’,” Croft says. “The butcher got recognised in the gym!” cackles Murray.

They must, then, think Roe is going to be a ready-made hit? Not so, says Croft. “Personally, I can’t speak for these two, I think I was overconfident from Fallow. I mean, I wrote the Roe menu over a year ago, signed off the dishes six months ago, and it was like, ‘Yup, we’re ready to go.’ And these last four weeks of softs, it’s suddenly put me in my place, and it’s been like, sh*** we’ve got a f****** lot of work to do.”

Robson nods. “It’s been emotionally involving,” he says. “But we’ve signed a 20-year lease. We’re not going anywhere.”

Open April 22, 5 Park Drive, E14 9GG;