We sat down with Matt Emmerson and Ben Marks, the duo behind popular Newington Green restaurant, Perilla. Known for the quality of its ingredients, an ever-evolving dynamic menu as well as its warm and friendly atmosphere, we learn about what makes Perilla unique and how the bespoke YMC staff uniforms came to fruition.

How did you two meet?
ME – We went to school together. Ben was the year below me but my brother was good friends with his sister so we’ve known each other since we were young.

When did you start talking about starting your own place?
ME – We first had the idea of Perilla back in 2015/2016. We wanted to do pop-ups in unused venues to begin with. Once we’d done a few of those, the reality of staging these events for short periods of time became apparent.
BM – The idea of a permanent restaurant developed relatively quickly. We found a site we loved and asked if there was the potential of hosting a pop-up there. It turned out that the owner of the space, which at the time was a kids café, was keen to hand over permanently. So we went from there.

How do you define ‘anti-fine dining’?
ME – Each to their own, but for us there’s no reason that tasting menus should be reserved for super formal dining rooms. That’s not what it’s really about.
BM – I would define anti-fine dining as top quality food and service in a lively but informal setting.

How do you share big decisions between you?
ME – We’re close friends, so normally we just talk it out. We tend to see fairly eye to eye on most issues.
BM – It’s usually quite clear whose domain the decision falls within. I massively respect Matt’s opinion and the job that he does, which makes decision-making easier.

What inspired the look of Perilla?  
ME – We really worked with what the building gave us. We stumbled upon the site by chance and fell in love with the windows. We opened the restaurant on a shoestring budget, which informed the design. Mostly it was a case of beg, borrow and steal.
We chose to build on the space’s natural characteristics, stripping away elements rather than adding new things. We found original terrazzo floors buried beneath the existing floors, which scrubbed up nicely, then exposed the brickwork and the ceiling joists to let the bare bones of the building lead the project. Lots of the decisions were pretty instinctual and immediate.
What are your favourite places to eat in London?
ME – For me it has to be the Turkish food (mostly based on Green Lanes) from traditional places like Ustan to Diyarbakir Kitchens with a special mention for Mangal 2 in Dalston, who are doing some amazing things! I’m also a big fan of Brat and Brawn.
BM – Without doubt Mangal 2. Also Xian Impressions, Brat and Allegra.

What did you get up to whilst the restaurant was closed for lockdown?
ME – We did some renovation work on the restaurant, replacing our old tables with new ones and incorporating draws for guests’ cutlery and menus. We felt this would allow for a better experience for both staff and guests.
BM – We also did ‘finish-at-home’ boxes, with simple dishes. I hated every second of it.

Perilla is known for a warm, friendly atmosphere. What do you attribute that to?
BM – I think most importantly it’s that our staff are happy to be there, which translates to the guests’ experience. It’s so important to us that guests feel welcomed and comfortable here.
Why the focus on ‘humble’ ingredients?
ME – We really focus on the quality of our ingredients, working with them in the peak of their season rather than always just opting for the most ‘premium’ cuts. This allows us to work with farmers that would otherwise be too expensive at our price point, and means that our menu is always changing.
BM – We want the food here to be unique but approachable. Undeniably delicious and interesting, without being intimidating.

How would you describe the neighbourhood of Newington Green?
ME – A really tight knit community. Lots of the older shops have been here for 20 plus years. A lot has changed since we opened 5 years ago, but the local characters have stuck around. They are really what make Newington Green the community it is.

YMC has just designed your new staff uniforms. How did that collaboration take shape?
ME – Ben and I are both massive fans of YMC, as Jimmy may have noticed when we accidentally turned up in matching YMC jackets for one of our first meetings! We felt that as a brand with a focus on practical workwear, we were aligned in our focus on quality, simplicity and practicality.