Words & Photography Kirk Truman
“Cooking was a part of my upbringing, and part of my family. So really, going into a kitchen felt quite natural to me…”
If you visit Granary Square, just over the Regent’s Canal from King’s Cross station, you will come across The Lighterman, a very modern venue for eating and drinking. The name was inspired by the neighbourhood’s industrial past, when Victoria Lightermen worked on flat-bottomed barges known as “Lighters”, on the canals and rivers of London. Located on Regent’s Canal, The Lighterman looks over Granary Square and offers stunning views across the canal and towards King’s Cross. I talked to chef Tom Kelleher, who tells me the story of The Lighterman and his role in commanding this fast-paced dining environment.
There’s something about The Lighterman that gives it the feel of a 21st century European villa. Perhaps it’s the way the glass-encased space allows the light to stream through it, a rarity almost anywhere in London. Whether at the height of summer or the middle of autumn, the views from The Lighterman’s wraparound terraces are unparalleled. Comprising a pub, a dining room and a bar, The Lighterman opened its doors in summer 2016 and has become a prominent fixture in the area. Founders Open House have allowed their openings (The Lighterman, Percy & Founders and The Larder) to evolve naturally as local restaurants, bars and hangouts in the neighbourhoods in which they are based. Percy & Founders, for example, is in an equally appealing location, located less than five minutes from Oxford Street; it offers a carefully crafted addition to Fitzroy Place with a beautiful outdoor terrace that is a welcome haven from the busy streets of Central London. Its dining room is situated adjacent to the recently restored Fitzrovia Chapel, with views of the surrounding square.
Since its opening, The Lighterman has become the pub and dining room of King’s Cross, offering all-day food and drinks from morning coffee and breakfast to lunch, dinner and evening drinks. Food is fresh and seasonal, with much of the menu sourced locally or from the very best of British suppliers: meat makes its way down from the Lake District, and fish comes from the Maldon-based speciality smokehouse Lambton & Jackson.
The Lighterman has continued to evolve its menus and extend its private hire opportunities. Since joining Open House in January this year, chef Tom Kelleher has been dividing his time between The Lighterman, and Fitzrovia’s Percy & Founders. “It has given me the opportunity to constantly challenge myself and help to curate the menu offerings of both sites,” he says. Tom first found his way into the kitchen as a youngster growing up in Portsmouth, and names his mother as his key inspiration. “I was one of many children, and my mum was always cooking. She had a very nifty approach to it. Cooking was a part of my upbringing, and part of my family. So really, going into a kitchen felt quite natural to me – I felt part of a team, I guess. I definitely feel more comfortable in a kitchen environment than anywhere else!” he laughs.
With 19 chefs spread over two kitchens, The Lighterman is Open House’s busiest location. All food is fresh and produced on site, just as it is at Percy & Founders. “At Percy & Founders, the space is divided between being an informal bar and a restaurant environment, whereas at The Lighterman, each of the three floors offers something different to the customer,” Tom explains. “This is split between a canal-side bar on the lower ground, a more brasserie feel approach on the ground floor, and a restaurant up on the first floor.” Tom helps lead The Lighterman and Percy & Founders through the seasons, curating the menu offerings and building the teams; and in the end, it’s team spirit that ensures the success of the whole venture. After all, Tom’s key influence in the kitchen has always been family.