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The spice of life

Words by Dan Warden

How a hub of converted shipping containers is blazing a trail of excellence in the culinary landscape of north Cornwall.

The brainchild of entrepreneurs, April and Geordi Watson, Saltbox in Wadebridge brings together a collection of street food vendors each as unique as the last, providing the kind of ‘pop-up’ experience you might expect to find at Glastonbury, or on jet-setting travels to Spain, Italy, Mexico or Australia. Since opening, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s proven incredibly popular.

This is but the latest in a string of ventures under the captaincy of owners April and Geordi, who have already enjoyed resounding success in the interiors business both here and Australia, namely at the helm of the Cornwall Rug Company and, more recently, the Carpet Trader. Food and carpets is a strange pairing, but it’s also indicative of the common theme that each of their projects share, which is the inspiration they draw from the experiences of time spent living and travelling abroad. “Having travelled and lived in different countries around the world, food has become somewhat of a passion,” explains April. Particularly with street food, she says, more and more value has been awarded to this style of dining, with mobile businesses drawing inspiration from their own travels. “With this in mind, we wanted to create a static venue that allowed artisan chefs to commit to a space and provide a variety of cuisines under one roof.”

Each trader is accepted for their passion and authenticity. Also, their individuality. The wood-clad venue itself, located just moments from the Camel Estuary, has been designed over two floors. A sunny terrace to the first offers plenty of seating, with open-fronted kitchens providing a window into the world of the chefs preparing your food. The design itself is modular, as April explains: “Our love of modular buildings inspired the use of shipping containers as ‘building blocks’. They are extremely versatile, in fact in countries like Australia, New Zealand and the States they have inspired many to realise their ‘tiny home’ dream, and at a fraction of the cost of traditional building methods.

“The design for the venue had to be relaxed, family friendly and immersive,” she continues. “Now, when you sit on the upper deck, you feel as though you’re somewhere else; it has a very ‘Australian’ feel, which we love!” It’s clearly popular too, and April explains that the crowd the venue draws varies from family groups, to youngsters after a surf or skate, and even celebrity chefs. “Even 80th birthday parties – there really isn’t one specific group that Saltbox appeals to. I think this is the reason it is so successful – it can be enjoyed by all ages and there’s literally something for everyone to enjoy.”

No wonder then, that the Saltbox has quickly become one of the most popular venues in north Cornwall. Its eclectic style, with the ambience of casual dining, gives anyone and everyone the opportunity to relax and enjoy time together. “Plus,” says April, “the cocktails there are fantastic!”

So, what about the vendors themselves? “Each business at the Saltbox has a unique cuisine which they have perfected, and they each have a great reputation, which means that whether you choose a wood-fired pizza, traditional chicken street food curry, fish tacos or tapas, you’re in for the kind of treat you’ll only ever get from someone who’s been preparing that style of food for years. They know their craft, they’re passionate, and always creative about everything they do.” In short, says April: “They’re artists!”

As you approach the doors of Saltbox, you may well recognise one of the names on the door – Craftworks Kitchen. Mick, who co-founded Craftworks with business partner, Danny, explains that from day one, back in 2015: “We wanted to create vibrant flavours which people would love and keep on wanting more.” Starting with burgers, burritos, tacos, salads and dirty fries – which, due to popular demand, are still core to today’s Craftworks menu – what’s kept the business moving forward is the creation of new dishes. On their residence at Saltbox, Mick explains: “From 2015, after buying the old Hubbox site on Truro’s Lemon Quay, we fell in love with containers, so joining Saltbox was the natural progression – more containers stacked on top of each other, creating a small piece of Shoreditch by the coast. Our other locations in Padstow and Newquay have been built from containers, too.

“But Saltbox is so unique to the north coast – there’s nothing like it elsewhere in Cornwall,” he continues. “People love it and, while it’s still flying under the radar for many, it proved to be very popular last summer.” He reflects that casual dining has grown in popularity so much over the past three or four years: “People want to spend quality time with friends and family with good food and drink, which is why I think Saltbox totally stands out from the crowd. The vibe there suits people who just want to meet up and grab food from any outlet.”

As you might expect, the early days of a venture like Saltbox inevitably comes with its teething problems. “But in general,” says Mick, “we all work side by side very well. I think the food selection is excellent and gives all of the customers plenty of choice, and I can see it working with other traders too, be it barbers, clothing brands, and of course other food outlets, too.”

Anthony Waller, who, with his partner Christina, owns and runs The Salt Bar, agrees. “We all seem to get on very well at Saltbox. It’s hard work, there’s no doubt, but everyone brings something unique to the site. We love the ethos here – Christina and I were loyal customers from opening day. It’s a high-quality offering but in a very relaxed and fun atmosphere, so we jumped at the chance to be a part of it!”

“It’s fairly unique to Cornwall,” says Anthony. “It offers really high-quality, tasty street food from different businesses, which I think is very attractive to locals and visitors alike. We seem to appeal to all age groups, and the families who visit love the variety. The foodies come because the standard is very high, and The Salt Bar’s range of local beers, spirits and exceptional wine really complements the food.”

Others on the site include Spiceseauk – founded by Sea Sodie, the grandchild of a midwife from the Himalayas, who produces a menu designed around the core principles of Ayurvedic cooking. Incorporating the six Ayurvedic ‘tastes’ across a menu designed to promote harmony in the gut, Sea’s approach to food is proof that healthy, balanced cuisine can also be absolutely delicious.

Woody’s Pizza, meanwhile, is made using traditional methods and techniques, with fresh dough made daily and proved overnight, before being topped with the best-quality local and Italian ingredients. Zdenko, who arrived from Croatia in the 90s, has something of a self-confessed obsession with pizza. Like the masters of the traditional Neapolitan style, he knows that you have to understand the craft of baking and build years of skill and experience to create the perfect crust every time. Over the years, Zdenko has cut his teeth working in other pop-ups, immersed in the street food scene, and now, with a fantastic new menu and a permanent home at Saltbox, he is surpassing the expectations of even the most discerning pizzaiolos.

For something a little more ‘communal’, Graze Tapas celebrates a passion for Aussie-tapas fusion, delivering unique, Mediterranean style small plate dishes, with an Australian barbeque twist. Head Chef and founder, Steve Randall, spent many years in Australia, his skills heavily influenced by famous Australian restaurateurs Bill Grainger and Ross Dobson. Adapting the recipes and techniques learned on the far side of the world into his own unique style of tapas, the menu also draws on many visits to the Mediterranean, and with excellent results.

Put simply, Saltbox is a culinary triumph, providing a tempting, casual alternative to north Cornwall’s traditional restaurant scene. “We are very proud of what we have created,” says April, and rightly so. Based on the founding principles of ‘something for everyone’, with the laid-back, sun-soaked vibes of Australia, Saltbox serves as proof that variety is truly the spice of life.


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