Melrose and Morgan: the grocer’s shop selling ‘Prada for the larder’

Ian James and Nick Selby at their grocer's shop Melrose and Morgan in Hampstead

Ian James and Nick Selby at their grocer's shop Melrose and Morgan in Hampstead - Credit: Archant

Over a truly great cappucino in his Hampstead food emporium, Nick Selby is telling me how when he and his partner Ian James opened Melrose and Morgan a decade ago, they debated whether to install a coffee machine.

gin cured salmon

gin cured salmon - Credit: Archant

Ian won the argument, and customers were soon queuing out of the door of the Primrose Hill store for coffee made with beans from a London-based roaster.

Selby, humorous, engaging and passionate about food, admits: “It was phenomenal. We’d never done retail before and it was a steep learning curve. We used to close on Mondays and for two weeks in August!

“Since we opened there’s been a coffee revolution, it’s become our calling card to new customers. North Londoners are quite savvy about coffee and judge us on the quality of ours.”

As devotees of the independent stalls at Borough Market, the couple had wanted to reinvent the old-fashioned grocer for modern times, stocking home-made ready meals for the cash-rich/time-poor and impeccably sourced goods in attractive surroundings.

coffee and sour cherry trifles

coffee and sour cherry trifles - Credit: Archant


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Provenance

“In the last decade, provenance has gathered momentum, with people concerned about where their food is coming from and whether it’s in season,” says Selby.

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Sweetly named after their respective mothers, the shop with its distinctive red-letter branding has grown into an institution, renowned for great-tasting artisan and home-made products from pickles, jams and salads to soups and cakes.

Having expanded from five to 35 staff, it operates across three premises – a kitchen in Chalk Farm, plus two shop/deli/cafés in Primrose Hill and Hampstead.

With a burgeoning online operation, Nick and Ian have continued to innovate, with summer picnic hampers packed in branded canvas bags and their bestselling Christmas in a bag that takes the donkey work out of xmas dinner while allowing the cook his or her big turkey moment.

“We’ve invested physically, spiritually and financially, but fulfilment comes from positive feedback from our loyal customers We’ve always talked to them about food, listened to and learned from them,” says Selby, who has marked a shift from buying ready meals to ingredients-led shopping.

This helped inspire their latest venture, Good Food For Your Table (Salt Yard Books, £25), a mould-breaking ingredients guide.

“When we first started, no one wanted to cook, but the balance is shifting, people are starting to cook at home and we are selling more ingredients.

“It’s not a recipe or a cookbook, more a compendium – light, fun, information-rich and beautifully illustrated for the person who has a good grip on cooking and wants to take their knowledge and stocking their larder to the next level.”

We are all in danger – out of under-confidence or ignorance – of sticking to a limited repertoire of dishes and ingredients, says Selby, who hopes the book’s tone is more instructive and inspirational than bossy and patronising.

It’s aimed at opening up their ideas, pushing them to try something new, adding buying knowledge and giving the confidence “not to be afraid of asking grocers, butchers and fishmongers to help them expand their repertoires”.

Under chapter headings such as Bread, Eggs, Chocolate or Grains, the book details how to source, how to store and what and when to buy, with three recipes per chapter.

How cheese is made, a guide to different coffees, a seasonal fish chart, how to make porridge, brine meat or make chicken stock are all included between the white, red-lettered pages.

Trends

“Everything has its season. If you are eating well, you are eating in season and feeding your appetite. Your diet switches from salads in summer to roasted celeriac, beets and parsnips in autumn. It makes perfect sense,” says Selby who believes future food trends will shift away from meat towards grains, beans and pulses: “Thanks to Yotam, veg and grains are the new heroes of the dish.”

Veganism, going free from wheat or dairy and appreciating “there’s a price to be paid for eating well” are among our shifting food habits.

“The sourdough revolution is one change. People will pay for it understanding why it costs more because of the three-day leavening process.”

It’s an issue regular customer Alan Bennett takes up in the book’s foreword. Admitting he’s “addicted” to Melrose and Morgan’s delicious food, he gripes: “It’s sometimes a bit pricey. Melrose and Mortgage is one joke (not mine) and Prada for the Larder is another.

“But jokes at least mean the shop is now an institution. I hope so.”

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