Home East London Fashion’s Favorite London Canteen – The New York Times

Fashion’s Favorite London Canteen – The New York Times


LONDON — A few days before her London Fashion Week show, Simone Rocha, a designer of fantastical and romantic women’s wear, was at Café Cecilia, a stark white restaurant next to a canal and Victorian gasworks in the East London borough of Hackney. She was taking a quick break with her husband, the cinematographer Eoin McLoughlin, and her parents, John and Odette Rocha.

“I’m here a couple of times a week,” said Ms. Rocha, 35, whose clothes are worn by Kate Middleton and was name-checked by Lorde on her last album. “My studio is nearby, along the canal in De Beauvoir, and our daughter Valentine goes to school 15 minutes away, so I can pick her up and come here for a toastie.”

Her loyalty is understandable, given that Café Cecilia is something of a Rocha family project. Founded by Max Rocha, Ms. Rocha’s younger brother, the restaurant was decorated by Ms. Rocha’s father and has been adorned with artworks by family, friends and Francis Bacon.

The waiters are dressed by Ms. Rocha, who has, effectively, embarked on men’s wear for the first time via the staff uniforms — minimalist short-sleeved shirts and pants in dark navy — while the manager, Kate Towers, wears voluminous black lace-trimmed Simone Rocha looks. Café Cecilia has become the family’s regular Sunday lunch canteen, and is also popular in the London art and fashion world.

“When you come here, it’s like you’re walking into our family home,” said Max Rocha, 30. “Everything is very us, from the wood flooring, which my dad has always had in his shops, to the uniforms created by Simone and my mum. There’s also a painting on the wall by my 6-year-old niece.”

Dickon Bowden, the vice president of the hip retailer Dover Street Market, is a regular. “It’s intimate and familiar, yet feels like you have gone somewhere truly special that’s still a bit of a secret,” he said. John Skelton, a men’s wear designer known for his folklore-inspired artisanal tailoring, likes to stop by for a bacon sandwich in the morning on the way to his studio a few doors down. Ruth Hogben, a fashion filmmaker known for her trippy, tessellated work with Dior, Lady Gaga, Alexander McQueen and Gareth Pugh, picks “whatever’s healthiest” from the menu.

Tim Walker, a photographer who shoots for Vogue, is also a regular. “It’s not often that you can marry simplicity with memorability,” he said.

Café Cecilia is the latest chapter in a particularly stylish family saga set between Ireland and England. John Rocha was a perennial at London Fashion Week from 1985 until he closed his flagship store in 2015. Early in his career he was the cool Hong Kong-born boy from Dublin, putting Sinead O’Connor as well as Christy Turlington on his catwalk and vacationing in St. Tropez with Bono.

He stopped showing on catwalks in 2014, but unlike many who have rolled the dice on the baize of London Fashion Week, Mr. Rocha came out of the game independent and successful.

Until 2018 he was part of the Designers at Debenhams roster, alongside Jasper Conran and Julien Macdonald, designing home furnishings. Mr. Rocha also has had his own range of designs produced by Waterford crystal since 1997; was awarded the C.B.E. in 2002; and in 2010 was one of six Irish fashion designers honored with a postage stamp in his adopted country.

His family has always been part of his business — Simone Rocha went to her father’s first show when she was 3 months old, and decades later Max Rocha would create their soundtracks — and now, Mr. Rocha said, it was time for him to support them. (While his children have lived in London for some time, John and Odette Rocha relocated from Dublin in 2018.)

Max Rocha, who left a career in music management to become a restaurateur, is an alumnus of St John, another white-walled modernist restaurant beloved of the London art and fashion community. Mr. Rocha might serve a simple pie, filled with pig’s head and potato, or a pork and apricot terrine or mussels in cider. Almost everything is created in collaboration with his mother, Odette.

“I’ve always loved to cook,” Odette Rocha said. “We spend a lot of time talking about produce and recipes.”

The common thread running through the art, family and food is Dublin provenance. “The Guinness bread is the staple of the menu,” Max Rocha said. “It’s served on its own, and also blitzed up and roasted with sugar to go into the ice cream.”

Mr. Rocha has been careful to ease himself into his life as a restaurateur. He is open about previously having anxiety issues and episodes of depression, and he doesn’t want to burn out; as a result, the restaurant is open for dinner only on Friday and Saturday (it serves breakfast and lunch Wednesday through Sunday). One night off last month he decided to stream “Boiling Point,” a recent movie that details in real time a fictional chef spiraling out at his East London restaurant, but “I turned it off after 15 minutes and put a cartoon on instead,” Mr. Rocha said.

The whole family comes to Café Cecilia for weekly Sunday lunch catch-ups. Most recently, they celebrated Simone Rocha’s daughter’s birthday in the space, and Ms. Rocha had her creative team’s Christmas party there. And there’s always at least one Rocha in the house, even if he is hiding away in the kitchen. Still, the member of the Rocha family for whom Café Cecilia is named cannot eat there.

Cecilia was John Rocha’s late mother. “Mum had a ‘charity fund’ with her mahjong group in Hong Kong,” he said.

“Every year a worthy applicant got the funds to help them achieve their goals. I was the lucky 17-year-old lad who got the money for the ticket to London. Max chose the name, as he felt without my mum, none of us would be here.”