A freezing winter morning in Hackney. The city was fast asleep, but in some places, life was normal and lively. At New Spitalfields Market, one guy was rushing with cases of tomatoes on his shoulder and a bag of carrot in his right hand. Near the foyer of the car park, he tread on a solitary cabbage that had fallen off the trolley in front. Imagine what happened next. He fell flat on the concrete surface, his face smashed into a bed of crushed tomatoes.
His face pasted with fragments of tomato lightly flavoured with hot blood and cold tears, he gingerly stood up and began putting the unhurt tomatoes back into the box. Many people passed by smiling, but offered no help. This was a personal experience decades back, none of the staff or customers know this and it never affected the way the dishes were prepared.
An hour past midnight, after closing bells have reverberated in bars and restaurants, as silence strikes and unfolds like darkness, it’s the turn of the huge convergence of rats to play jigsaw and run around the streets. To push these intruders back into their hideouts to the first sounds of life, comes a caravan of trucks and delivery drivers to prepare the city for the next day.
Aftab Sher, our vegetable supplier, arrives early at the market, parking his van next to the north gate opposite Dino’s Café, so he could pick up a cup of steaming tea. Sipping tea he would watch trucks bringing goods from Europe and enter all the way into market stalls.
In absolute fascination Aftab gazed at the drivers. “I would love to drive one of these and distribute all over Europe on my own,” he said once. As he finished his tea, the trucks pulled back and the market was dressed up, remarkably fresh and colourful. Smiling, Aftab entered to make his purchase, and over the next hour he bought and carried many bags of onions and boxes full of vegetables.
Next he arrived in Charlotte Street. As he waited for our staff, he spotted a Ratatouille inspired rat jump from Andrew Jose’s Saloon bin into ours and then fly across into bags of Café Nero. That was the end of rat hours and beginning of delivery time in town, every street was alive with all kinds of goods arriving at clubs, restaurants and shops. A colossal community of hard working people in sweaty t-shirts bring in everything we need and they take over our city for the next few hours.
Once I remember our man for wine delivery started his job at 7 in the morning, loading hundreds of cases on his own, driving through choc-a-block traffic in peak hour, delivering to us as his third stop. He came down 12 steps into our kitchen carrying two cases each time, completed 20 cases, then came upstairs to get his delivery note signed. He was told it was the wrong entrance to the wine cellar and asked to lift all those cases to the other side of the building. I entered hearing a loud argument, derogatory remarks and a fuming driver in a flaming dispute with the staff.
His temper changed totally when I offered him a drink, patted his back and asked how he was feeling about the job. It was poignant as he started talking about work and sometimes how customers treat drivers. Every morning they help us fill empty shelves and kitchens stores without fail, sometimes they are remembered only when they miss one order, our response may upset them especially when we verbalise things without even knowing the reason.
Aftab slowly drove his empty van home while groups of origami birds glided off from outside tables of Roka next door and reached the branch of the tree above.AN amused Aftab laughed and sang an Urdu poem loud as if no one was listening! He’s our hope, folks please look after our delivery boys in the city.
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain