The artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is cooking phenomenal food at his new London restaurant.
Once an obsessions starts in me, it’s hard to stop,” says Dominic Dromgoole, the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. He could be describing his lifelong fascination with the 16th-century playwright—as he says, “Shakespeare has been for me what religion is for other people, a sounding board to bounce everything off of.” But in fact, the obsession he’s talking about is his gutsy new East London restaurant, Maeve’s Kitchen. “On my way to work one day I spotted an old pub for sale on East Lower Clapton Road that sparked an idea,” he recalls. “By the time I got to my office I had already designed the napkins and the menus.”
Maeve’s Kitchen feels almost like a theater set inspired by Dominic’s childhood. He was raised by bohemian parents on a 15th-century farm in Somerset. The look of the restaurant was created by Punchdrunk, the experimental theater company that debuted the interactive Sleep No More in New York City—there are worn wood floors, vintage farm tables decorated with flowers picked from the tiny garden out back and walls with a patina that looks decades old. Everything is carefully arranged into what Dominic calls a “happy chaos.”
“It’s not like going to a restaurant at all,” says his sister, BBC editor Jessica Dromgoole. “At least not for me. It’s a manifestation of Dominic’s memories and the love of his family.”
Maeve’s Kitchen is a hangout for Dominic’s actor friends and his wife and three daughters, who live just down the road. It’s also an homage to one of his parents’ closest friends, the Irish novelist Maeve Binchy. Binchy and her husband, Gordon Snell, a BBC writer and presenter, were ever-present at the Dromgoole farmhouse. Since the couple met late in life and never had children, they treated Dominic, Jessica and their brother as their own.
Binchy, who wrote Circle of Friends and more than two dozen other books, “was the most prodigious life force and an incredible talker,” says Dominic. “Someone once said you couldn’t hear an intake of breath when she spoke. She was always brilliant and witty and inclusive. She was the voice of women in Ireland in a time when women were not expected to speak.”
When Binchy died two years ago, she left some money to Dominic—just about enough to invest in a small apartment that he could rent out. “I went online looking for flats, but then I thought, How boring is that? Of course, it’s eminently more sensible than starting a restaurant,” he says wryly.
The simplicity of the menu at Maeve’s Kitchen, focused on “stews and brews,” is a nod to his benefactor. Jessica recalls that Binchy was an enthusiastic cook when she had the time—a chicken, olive and tomato casserole was one of her signature dishes—but “she didn’t want to be stuck for too long in the kitchen. It was a political issue for her. She had a few recipes that involved throwing things into a pot and putting the pot into the oven, and then rejoining the conversation as quickly as possible.”
Interesting conversation is exactly what Maeve’s Kitchen was designed for. Recently, Dominic led a breakfast meeting there with his colleagues from the Globe to discuss their ambitious plans to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. Dominic had decided to send a troupe of 12 actors from the Globe to perform Hamlet in every country in the world. “It will take them two years,” he says. “They’ll end up performing everywhere from the UN in Manhattan to a cathedral in Mexico that was built a year before Hamlet was written.”
“Mid-November will be a killer week for Hamlet,” adds Malú Ansaldo, who booked the Central and South American legs of the tour. “We start in Bolivia and then head to Chile, where we perform in a city and a desert in one day, and then on to Buenos Aires.”
While Dominic led the meeting over poached eggs on toast and generous cups of coffee, Brazilian chef Fernanda Milanezi was downstairs chopping sage and garlic to add to a creamy pork-and-cider stew, one of four stews on that day’s menu. Also on the stove was a smoky eggplant-and-lentil stew, which the chef serves drizzled with tangy pomegranate molasses and sprinkled with mint and walnuts. Come the weekend, the signature stews and breakfasts combine into one awe-inspiring Brunch Stew, basically the heart-stopping traditional full English breakfast (beans, bacon, sausage and eggs) served in a bowl.
“That’s one thing we Brits have in common,” says Dominic. “We all have a favorite stew and a traditional family recipe.” Hanging on the wall behind him was a large black-and-white photograph. It’s the only visual reminder of Binchy in the entire space, but it is impossible to tell that she is in the picture; the novelist is sitting with the Dromgoole family at their Somerset farm, but her back is to the viewer.
“She wouldn’t have wanted to be a looming presence,” Dominic later explains. “The image is very fitting. Maeve was always a great one for eating out and listening in on people’s conversations. She was always keeping an eye on the many narratives that can animate a restaurant—families celebrating or arguing, young lovers excited, old lovers jaded—both to amuse herself and for their potential in print.” He smiles. “We used to call it ‘Maevesdropping.’ ” Maeve’s Kitchen, 181 Lower Clapton Rd., London E5 8EQ; maeveskitchen.com.