Chef & Papadeli owner – a little background.
Watch a short film about the deli here
Simon MacDonnell had a dream of being a chef when I met him in Barcelona some twenty years ago now. He was teaching English to Spanish students and was very excited about Spanish produce & ingredients. He told me he’d like to open a restaurant one day as he loved food so much it would be his dream come true to work with food as a job.
He was my flatmate then and whilst we (the lazy layabout flatmates) were getting by on eating out quite a lot of the time, he was creating imaginative, beautiful dishes using some pretty daring (for us!) ingredients from the local markets. His passion for food was undeniable.
London & Leith’s, gastro pubs & chefs
Fast forward just over 10 years and he left his teaching job in London and risked it all to train at Leith’s School of Food and Wine. He was lucky enough to experience the kitchens of many wonderful restaurants during that time including Harvey Nichols’ famous fifth floor, Rick Stein’s in Padstow, Alastair Little’s, The Sugar Club before accepting a job at the then cutting edge Engineer gastro pub in Primrose Hill. It was a great time for gastro pubs and clientele included Kate Winslet, Oasis, Raymond Blanc, Harold Pinter. Menus were exciting and new – it was such a step away from the traditional pub fayre. Here Simon met chefs from all over the world – Patcheree, a brilliant Thai chef who still comes down to Papadeli to run Thai cookery classes and others from Brazil, Sierra Leone, France and Italy.
His five years in London found him eating in so many restaurants – from The River Cafe to Pane e Vino on Kentish Town Road, which served Sardinian food that couldn’t be beaten. He spent most of his earnings on food – enjoying the Camden Square local bistro, Lord Stanley pub not to mention the host of newbies on Upper Street in Islington and other gastro pubs like the Eagle and the Anglesea Arms.
Itching to open his own place, he decided to move back to where he grew up – Bristol and see where it would take him.
He persuaded Barney Haughton chef-owner of the unforgettable Rocinantes and later Quartier Vert to give him a job. Here he met some of Bristol’s best chefs and learned an incredible amount from Barney about the importance of being authentic with food. Rocinantes and Quartier Vert really shaped and influenced the Bristol food scene, and it could be said that the richness of choice and type of restaurants around now wouldn’t be here without that great establishment.
Papa & his deli
Tomos, his first son was born in 2001 and his dreams of owning a restaurant shifted a little. He wanted to see Tom and realised the hours of a restaurant would not work for him. There were few delis in Bristol then and when we saw a property vacant on Alma Road, we jumped on it and hoped it could work as a local deli. Simon wanted to continue cooking, and so set up a takeaway food counter, which enabled him to work sensible (ish!) hours and still make good food. He was known as Papa at Quartier Vert, having just become one, and when discussing his deli plans, his mate Mark who became Papadeli’s first manager, said “why not call it Papadeli!”
Cafe & another baby
His dreams of having a restaurant came true in the form of an upstairs cafe (still only open during the day as it opened in 2003 when his second son, Sam was born). No dishwasher and no upstairs kitchen meant dishes were all made in the back of the deli and run upstairs by the wonderful Kelly. People loved it and he was happy.
Catering & cookery classes
Since then, he’s added a kitchen and built a whole new top floor which provides space for a catering kitchen and cookery school. Papa has gone back to his teaching roots, and is managing to combine his two loves, teaching and food.
I think it’s true to say that his enthusiasm shows through this now much larger business. Papadeli has a genuinely fine reputation in Bristol for consistently good food – whether it’s the delicious treats in the deli or canapes at an event – many people have heard of Papadeli and most have good things to say about it.
As his wife, I can say he still gets excited about food – he still cooks at home and spends hours planning dinner parties. He adores eating out (not to criticise or be fussy) but just because he genuinely loves the experience.
He maintains a low profile – and keeps his head down, doing his best to make sure Papadeli is always a great local food business. He is lucky to have wonderful staff who feel the same as him about food and because (I think) he’s a lovely boss, they tend to stay. He sees himself as lucky to be surrounded by superb food, lovely people, living in his favourite city with his family and friends. I’m with him on that.
Things keep on changing at Papadeli and our wish to grow the catering side of the business is being realised with lots of orders coming from Bristol businesses and individuals for all sorts of events from launches to weddings. We outgrew the top floor catering kitchen and made the difficult decision of closing the cafe so that we could use the space as an office and prep area for all the daily catering orders.
The deli continues to be busy, and our new manager, Pete, is taking it from strength to strength.
Watch this space for more Papadeli news!
To know more about our policies & company ethos, please click on Papadeli background