Matt Segal: Frederick’s manager

9 Jul

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  Where does your family always meet in Islington? As a child Matt Segal loved to go to his great uncle’s restaurant, Frederick’s in Camden Passage, for treats and family get-togethers. Now he’s the third generation Segal running this chic Islington venue and his children love coming here.  Interview by Nicola Baird

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Matt Segal, manager of Frederick’s: “I’m proud so many people do feel at home here.”

“Frederick’s job is to make people happy,” says London-born Matt Segal who remembers how “it was always a treat to go to Uncle Louis’,” – the great uncle who began Frederick’s in 1969.

“When Frederick’s first opened at the top of Camden Passage, the area wasn’t too salubrious, so it quickly became known as one of Islington’s best restaurants – at the time there were very few restaurants in London outside hotels. The menu was in French, duck a l’orange was the dish the diners wanted and the seating was on banquettes.”

Things Matt Segal loves about Islington

  • I love Islington’s diversity. You see it at the restaurant, at my children’s school and our local park, Whittington.
  • I have lunch at Frederick’s often and really enjoy it. I do pop to Ottolenghi’s on Upper Street sometimes. Meals are very important. I’m on my phone a lot looking at messages and email, but at home we’re strict about not using phones at meal times.
  • I thoroughly enjoy cooking, but I’ve always loved long meals and the conversations you can have at a restaurant, and that feeling of being looked after – it’s 1.5 – 2 hours of family and friend time with no clearing up.
  • A restaurant kitchen is one step away from the army – you’ve got to do what you’re told. In our team of 16 chefs you actually need quite a few cooks who follow instructions. To twist the saying ‘Its really too many chefs that spoil the broth’.”

Family feel
Frederick’s has retained its food crown – shared perhaps with Moro in Exmouth Market – but now it oozes chic too.

“It was somebody’s house and as you walk through the door you feel relaxed, it should make you exhale, ‘this is nice’. I like the way it’s a space that has evolved,” says Matt who took the day-to-day managing role on in 2002 although Lou’s son Nick (Matt’s cousin) is still very much involved.

Matt Segal: “G&T was our biggest aperitif, followed by a glass of champagne. Now people are less likely to ask for gin and when they do its by brand name, and “Prosecco or Champagne and cocktails are becoming more important.”

Drink at the bar, your table or in the Club Room (see above). Matt Segal: “G&T was our biggest aperitif, followed by a glass of champagne. Now people are less likely to ask for gin and when they do its by brand name, and “Prosecco or Champagne and cocktails are becoming more important.”

Matt didn’t expect to work in the family business – he studied Spanish and Italian at Bristol University though quips “my English is better”.  He then worked in finance in the City for six years until he was ready for change. “I enjoyed myself, but didn’t like the look of my boss’s job. I was looking at setting up a business but then Frederick’s was short of a manager, so I came here and I haven’t moved.”

That was 12 years ago and Matt, just 40, seems settled. “I grew up in NW3 so I’m a Spurs boy which isn’t particularly useful when there’s a sea of Arsenal supporters and a few French waiters. At least I make them happy…” he adds with footie fan wit.   He’s also moved to Archway with his wife, and their two children are at Yerbury Primary School.

“There’s always something going on at Frederick’s,” Matt explains looking over the peaceful lawned garden where Uncle Lou planted two Himalayan birch trees, which have startlingly bright white bark. “I look after our 50 staff, the building and all the suppliers – that lets the staff look after our 1,000 customers each week.”

So what is the magic of Frederick’s?
It’s a place people go to celebrate birthdays, weddings, civil partnerships – any of life’s milestones that need space for up to 150 guests.  the restaurant is open Monday – Saturday and there are private parties on Sundays.

“We do a very broad menu and are very welcoming so we appeal to all,” reckons Matt. “Our job is to make the setting right with the right atmosphere – the food, wine, friendly service, art and price. Although there’s an element of theatre on the floor we don’t want too much drama in the kitchen,” he adds with a smile.

“My uncle’s friends still come in aged 95, and we get new born babies too. It’s Islington! There was a 90th birthday party at the weekend so I brought my son Noah, who is seven and a half, in, as he wanted to say happy birthday. My son did it well too, with a proper handshake with eye contact!”

“We have a lot of very loyal locals, and very loyal less-local people from all over,” says Matt.

In 1789 this was the site of the Gun pub. It was rebuilt in 1834 (when the address was 18 Pierpoint Row) and renamed the Duke of Sussex in honour of George III's sixth son, Prince Augustus Frederic (1773-1845) from whom Frederick's takes its name. You can still see the original staircase and two murals on the external brickwork.

In 1789 this was the site of the Gun pub. It was rebuilt in 1834 (when the address was 18 Pierpoint Row) and renamed the Duke of Sussex in honour of George III’s sixth son, Prince Augustus Frederic (1773-1845) from whom Frederick’s takes its name. You can still see the original staircase and two murals on the external brickwork.

Times they are a’changing
“If we’d kept the banquette seating and serving the duck a l’orange we wouldn’t be here,” reckons Matt whose changes have included opening a new club room as suitable for business meetings as parties, which is lined with black and white photos of music legends by Jill Furmanovsky.  “People do order their favourite dishes repeatedly, and eventually they get tired of it, so it is up to us to keep the menu fresh, and the customers enticed although the old favourite Champignon Frederick’s (breaded mushroom with aloli – a garlic sauce) is on the menu from time to time, and Salt & Pepper Squid is difficult to take off without an uproar.

In many ways Frederick’s is the same as it ever was – a family run, friendly place for delicious food. Business is still done over lunch, but nowadays quinoa is on the menu, and the time spent eating is faster. Modern diners want to know more about the provenance of what’s on the menu or wine list, party hosts need to be able to bring an iPod and vet the cloakroom facilities, while restaurant red tape requires considerable time to ensure compliance. But everything remains true to the spirit of the Frederick’s which Matt found such a treat to visit when he was his young son’s age. “I’m proud so many people do feel at home here,” says Matt – and with that is called to the bar to help organise another busy week in this Islington institution.

Over to you
Would you like to nominate someone to be interviewed? Or would you like to write a guest post for this blog? if the answer is yes for either please email nicolabaird.green@gmail.com

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right), @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

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One Response to “Matt Segal: Frederick’s manager”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. David Gibson: Islington Society | Islington Faces Blog - October 21, 2015

    […] “I often go to Frederick’s, in Camden Passage, not only to enjoy the wonderful food but also because I’m a member of the Angel Town Centre board which meets there. In the 1970s the Angel was the most awful place. It was very run down. Now look at it! Campaigning by the Islington Society has helped preserve the best features and we are working to improve the places that are, shall we say not so good, such as the Bank of Scotland eyesore on the Angel tube side of Islington High Street.”  See Islington Faces interview with Frederick’s manager, Matt Segal, here. […]

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