2015 has been a great year for restaurants, with over 230 new openings in London alone. Among the newcomers is Wahleeah, a neighbourhood restaurant in Fulham that’s already impressing the locals. We caught up with owner and head chef, Dave Ahern, who worked as a management consultant before pursuing his passion for cooking at The Ship and successful residencies like Burger Breakout.
So Dave, there’s a strong focus on great beer at Wahleeah – what inspired the concept?
I guess the concept grew from my belief that neighbourhood restaurants should never have to be a compromise, no one should have to choose between going somewhere good to eat or somewhere local. I looked at the amazing neighbourhood restaurants in Brooklyn and how they were constantly pushing the boundaries of what a neighbourhood restaurant could produce and felt that London should have a restaurant that was willing to take that kind of restaurant too.
Cooking with beer has long been a passion of mine, I believe that in most countries people’s taste in food developed alongside a taste for beer. Beer has long been the drink of the working classes and they are the ones who shape a country’s cuisine. Cooking with beer presents a much greater technical challenge that cooking with wine but it allows you to develop far more interesting dishes as you can isolate the different flavours within the beer. We do however offer a small wine list for those who refuse to let go of the grape.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu? Anything we should definitely order?
It seems very hackneyed to say it but I like every dish on the menu. Everything is made from scratch here, and I mean everything. We make the salt and pepper that goes on the tables, we make our own cheeses, smoke and cure all our own meat and fish, make our own flour, all our own stocks and sauces so it is natural that I’m proud of everything on the menu.
If I was to make any suggestion it would be to try the matched beer pairing on a dish, Phil Harding of Boutique Bar Brands helped us put the pairings together and they really do elevate the food.
Tell us about the Monday Night Takeovers – what can we look forward to?
I love seeing other people cook and doing guest chef nights is a great way to get to spend time in a kitchen with other chefs that I admire and rock out on a service with them.
Our first chef is Grant Hawthorne who will be doing a Taste of The Cape on the 9th of November, showcasing the best in South African cuisine from his homeland of Cape Town. Grant is probably best known for his African Volcano Peri Peri sauces and his stall at Maltby Street market but he is an award winning and exceptionally accomplished chef who has been a huge influence on me in my time in a kitchen.
Bringing back Burger Breakout on the 16th of November was a must, I know I am biased but no other burger joint shook up the scene like we did. Operating out of a tiny kitchen with a ramshackle brigade and patched up equipment we just refused to believe that burgers had limits, that you couldn’t take the very best ingredients, classical flavour combinations and a high end approach and spin the whole thing into an amazing burger. It is also the first kitchen my sous chef Dave Paton worked with me in so both of us can’t wait to dust off the old burger flippers one more time.
Did you consider other locations before deciding on Fulham?
We looked at a lot of sites all over London, we were focused on a neighbourhood restaurant though so we discounted a lot of central locations in favour of finding the right location. I think London has some really great neighbourhoods but a lot of them are poorly served for good places to eat and drink. When we walked into the site that became Wahleeah I just knew we could do something very special here.
When you have time to travel, where’s your favourite foodie destination?
New York! No question for me, there is an energy to the food scene there that is almost palpable. Expectations of diners are extremely high and chefs have to be on their game on every service. I have a very deep desire to cook in NYC and hope to realise it next year.