Big Jo: rise of a ‘regenerative bakery’
Buzzy all-day bakery and restaurant in Hornsey Road has traded through the pandemic
10 June, 2021 — By Tom Moggach
Big Jo in Hornsey Road
EVERY high street has its scars from Covid, with empty shops and boarded-up restaurants. But the city is slowly reinventing itself, with old leases torn-up and new deals being struck.
This phenomenon is nothing new to the owners of Big Jo, an all-day bakery and restaurant in Hornsey Road. They have been at it for years: eyeing up unlikely real estate, wangling over change of use, then rolling out fab new places to eat.
First it was a mechanic’s garage in Canonbury, now trading as Primeur; next a launderette in Drayton Park, reborn as Westerns Laundry. Then Jolene, their first bakery space.
Big Jo occupies a large site next to an Ethiopian restaurant. The front half was an old refrigeration and air conditioning shop; behind, a defunct commercial bakery.
This new venture traded through the pandemic, offering top-notch breads, sandwiches and pastries to locked-down locals.
They call it a “regenerative bakery”, with an admirable focus on sourcing heritage grains from farmers with an enlightened approach to soil life and land management.
We visited for dinner, nabbing high stools at the counter where we could watch the chefs at work.
It’s a clever, seductive space that adapts effortlessly to each phase of the day. On the street, there are a few choice tables beneath vast fabric folds of yellow awning.
Inside, a large domed pizza oven dominates the open-plan kitchen; there’s a coffee counter on the right, the shelves decorated with pot plants, a crucifix and sheaves of wheat. Out the back is the bakery, with its own grain silos, micro mills and deck ovens.
The quality of food at Big Jo is beyond question. This team nailed it a long time ago in their various sites, with short and sharp menus brimming with things you want to eat and drink.
The gas-fired pizza oven is at the heart of this operation. Roaring hot, it’s also used to heat and roast prime ingredients in a matter of seconds.
There’s asparagus with a dollop of ajo blanco; fresh squid given a quick blast to curl the flesh then served with shaved fennel and chicory.
We stuck with the pizza, which is cooked ahead of time in large rectangles then served by the slice. There’s a potato pizza, slathered in a heavenly sauce of cream and gorgonzola. A sausage pizza gets an extra lick of fresh tomato with a mule’s kick of chilli.
They are a pleasure to eat – but portions are small – £7 gets you one modest rectangle of pizza, which feels a couple of quid too high.
Compare this to Franco Manco, for example, the pizza chain with a similar passion for quality ingredients. Here a whole Margherita costs just £6.80.
This is my only quibble with this group’s restaurants. The atmosphere is always buzzy; the food sublime. But I query their cheeky mark-ups, which leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
318–326 Hornsey Road, N7
020 3915 6760