Forget Burger & Lobster. Forget Bubbledogs. Forget Five Guys. The latest small-menu concept restaurant has opened in Tottenham, specialising in – yes, you’ve guessed it – toasted sandwiches and prosecco.
The café-bar N17! is the brainchild of Zimbabwe-born Tapiwa Mutesva, who grew up in Tottenham and returned to live in the area two years ago.
A jokey conversation with his cousin one evening about opening a restaurant lit a spark in Tapiwa. He started researching the idea in earnest, eventually quitting his job in the City to put his ambition into action.
Although Tapiwa has temporarily moved to Greenwich, his passion for the area he grew up in is clear: “I was very frustrated with Tottenham. The riots saved Tottenham but people inside the borough didn’t take advantage of the opportunities, so people from outside have come in and taken them.”
The concept has evolved significantly from Tapiwa’s original idea of a Zimbabwe barbeque restaurant. After endless research and guidance from several business mentors, the result is a simple, family-friendly and laid-back bar.
“You have The Elmhurst, The Antwerp Arms, The Beehive and Styx all doing nice stuff but I felt they all catered mainly to men. I wanted to cater to the female market.”
N17! is, of course, situated in north Tottenham, in the former pet shop on the High Road. The location itself helped Tapiwa to shape his Toasties and Prosecco idea.
“I walked up and down the street and realised there was a gym, a number of business centres, banks, estate agents and accountancy firms. I realised I could split the business to almost cater to different people at certain times of the day.”
What the concept means is that Tapiwa’s prices are very competitive. A bottle of prosecco is a reasonable £20, and also comes by the glass or flavoured. Toasted sandwiches start from £3.50 for a ‘Big K’ (brie and guava) and top out at just £5 for the most expensive: salt beef with cheese, confit de figues, foie gras and peppers.
“I chose salt beef because this was traditionally a Jewish area. I chose foie gras because I wanted to show that Tottenham is not elitist. The ‘Hottie’ has avocado because it’s really on trend and I wanted to play to the taste of the moment,” explains Tapiwa.
The bestseller so far has been the rum slushies. “That was me trying to be funny,” he admits. “It’s good to have a little bit of a gimmick to bring people in, though.”
Kids are also welcome but, once it’s bedtime, Tapiwa intends to crank the music up and create a ‘Shabina’ atmosphere, a Zimbabwe term for shindig or party.
“It is not about profiteering for me. I want to create a community-based business, where everyone can have fun. It’s a local business which means it should be about cheap prices. As long as I can pay the rent and rates then I am happy.”
Budget constraints meant that Tapiwa had to get super-creative with the interior too. He had the bar built from old scaffold boards and is investigating installing a prosecco tap. Some of his personal art collection hangs on the walls, ranging from pencil sketches to comic strips, anthropological drawings and an old map of Haringey.
A friend of Tapiwa’s has also painted some murals, while the eclectic mix of pendant lights, glasses and tea cups were all sourced from local charity shops.
“Kith & Kids on the High Road were particularly good to me,” says Tapiwa. “I set myself a rule that anything I bought had to be under £10 because my budgets were so tight.”
By far the best thing about this bar is Tapiwa himself. He couldn’t be more welcoming or enthusiastic. Go for the company, the punch, the prices and the passion.
Words and photos: Jessica Brown