If you haven’t tried them before, gougères are wonderful fluffy, cheesy choux pastries that you serve as appetisers.
Frederick’s restaurant has been trading since 1969!
50 years is quite a landmark birthday to achieve when you see the competition, the economy and the different trends throughout the years.
Many restaurants close and new ones pop up but family-run Frederick’s can proudly say that they have shined through the end of the swinging sixties, the yuppy decadent eighties and the naughty nineties, and weathered well through recessions and periods of uncertainty the likes of which we are experiencing with Brexit today.
Frederick’s is an institution in Islington – a firm fixture in Camden Passage.
We chat with Matt Segal, the third generation running Frederick’s, a loyal customer and friend of Champagnes and Châteaux and a committed and active member of the Islington community.
How old were you when you had your first meal at Frederick’s?
Coming here was always a treat. I remember coming when I was 8 or 9, my brothers and I all had our Bar Mitzvah here, and next January my son Noah who is 13 will be celebrating his here too.
Why do you think where some restaurants have closed up due to competition, the economy, the changes in people dining out, Fredericks have grown and are celebrating 50 years? What’s your winning-formula?
I have to give credit to the team for our success. It is an outstanding team and some of my staff have been with me for more than 10 years – it is a rarity these days.
Also we stuck to one single venue and we didn’t over extend. Our heart is in this restaurant and Islington. Frederick’s is a big hub for Islington. We are very much part of the local community. I am the governor of the local school. We are engaged with the local theatres, Almeida, Sadler’s Wells and little Angel. We are also involved with local charities such as Islington Giving.
In 50 years since you have opened, the market has changed, what’s the biggest competition and challenge?
I would say that home is the biggest competition. As well as all of the special occasion reservations a lot of people make a last minute decision shall we go to Frederick’s or stay and eat in.
In this area, the development of Kings Cross has had some impact. Shoreditch and Hoxton as well. These places never used to be popular. 15 years ago you wouldn’t have chosen to go there to dine out.
People don’t lunch as much as they used to. There is a squeeze on time, on money and on drinks. Lunches used to last all afternoon with no limit on wine. We do well on Friday lunches but in the old days when you will get people having lunch from 1.30pm to 4.30pm, now they go at around 3 – I think it’s nice for everyone to get home and see their family.
You have always known Frederick’s restaurant, from an early age. The restaurant has obviously changed in 50 years but, according to you, what has changed the most?
We have tried to keep the style of the restaurant contemporary while remaining classic. We have never rebranded. We try to notice things that could improve and always look at making things better. The club Room was a big brand new space for us. It is a very popular space for our events.
Islington was not what it is now. There used to be a handful of restaurants available. Upper Street has now settled itself into fast casual.
Do you have regulars who have visited since 1969? Do their children and grand-children visit?
Absolutely, plenty of our regulars are loyal customers who came here 30, 40 and even 50 years ago. I love it when they bring their kids call them multi-generation tables. We have people who got married here and come back for their wedding anniversaries, we have 70th birthday parties, we host a lot of big parties and celebrations. It feels like a family.
What did you do before you joined Fredericks?
I was in finance for 5 years. I enjoyed it but I knew I would always join the family business. I joined 15 years ago.
Have you always dreamt of having your own restaurant or was it something that came over time?
I have always loved restaurants from an early age. Everything is pure unfiltered fun in a space that is created for socialising. In the old days when you didn’t have a mobile phone, your time at a restaurant was uninterrupted and probably a different experience.
Is your client base mainly locals?
It is super broad, and weekends in particular – but for lunches it is remarkably local – people as a rule don’t want to travel too far for lunch.
When you create your seasonal menus, who gets involved in the process?
My chef, sous-chefs and I all get involved. It’s a team decision
And for the wine list?
I speak with my Sommelier team when we look at our wine list as they need to be well represented, but I usually personally enjoy any wine that gets on the list.
Great wine list – Is it difficult to manage such a big list?
I treat our wine list like a garden. You don’t have to be gardening all the time but it needs regular attention. I think our list has a good structure. I think about what our customers want to drink and pay. Obviously we need the usual suspects like Chablis but we try to be diverse and have wines such a Grüner Veltliner and Portuguese. We don’t have outrageously expensive wines on the list.
I want people to choose the wines they want to drink quickly and enjoy the experience. I always think about the wine chooser’s partner. I don’t want the partner to sit there waiting for the wine to be chosen.
Do you see a big pull when you do seasonal offers or special menus – like your 50th Birthday menu this November?
The 50th menu is working well for us as November is usually quite a flat month. It gives us a good push towards Christmas. We do Valentine’s, Mothers and father’s day menus.
You have a great lounge area in the bar…. Do you get many customers coming for a cocktail or a glass of wine after work but not necessarily dining in the restaurant?
Absolutely, the bar lounge is a soft launch into the restaurant. We get a younger clientele at the bar. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are heaving at the bar. It’s a great space to unwind. We also get lunchtime regulars at the bar.
Frederick’s is a great place to host a wedding -Is Summer still the main season for weddings at Fredericks or do you get busy during other the other seasons? There is such a big trend for Winter weddings, especially around Christmas
Yes weddings come in all sorts of shapes and sizes; we have tables for 6 but also full hires for 140 and everything in between given the private dining rooms we have available. And each week we tend to do at least a couple of weddings.. Our garden is pretty well-known so customers love the idea of the outside space which makes the Summer popular.
You have a big team to manage. How do you make it run so smoothly?
I look after my staff – all 60 of them – and they look after our 1,000 customers a week. I want my team to be doing a great job so I make sure I look after them by being kind, generous and thoughtful. Some of my staff has been here more than 10 years; it shows that you get the best out of people by looking after them.
You are the third generation running Frederick’s, your children are still very young but do you think they will carry on with the tradition?
Absolutely, they love coming here, it is a family business and they are already involved. My daughter Ceci made cookies for the restaurant. She also really likes being on reception. My son Noah has worked with Youssef, my restaurant Manager.
What was your favourite meal as a child at Frederick’s?
It was steak and chips with peppercorn sauce and it was delicious! And Crêpes Suzettes! We don’t do them anymore but I remember eating them. They were a popular choice.
You changed your House Champagne to Thiénot in 2015. Were you attracted by Thiénot because it is a family business like yours?
Yes but also I love the quality of the champagne and the positioning of the house. Contemporary and classic, like Frederick’s. Thienot is not everywhere but not nowhere. Thiénot has been very popular with the regulars.
And finally, what is the most popular dish at Frederick’s?
Salt & pepper squid is our biggest seller