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Expat Diaries: Margaux Aubry, Naughty Piglets

Valentine Benoist By Valentine Benoist, Editor 25.01.2021
Naughty Piglet

Get a glimpse of what it’s like to start a new life in the UK through our Expat Diaries series. Natural wine buff Margaux Aubry moved from Lyon to London twelve years ago. She is behind the much-loved Naughty Piglets family and drinks import business Unfiltered Wines.

Tell us a bit about your upbringing in France

I grew up in Lyon, in a family where good food and good wine have always been very important. My mum is super proud to say I was able to name every single cheese on the platter at five years old! On Sunday mornings, I would go to les Halles (covered market, Ed.) with my dad for oysters and a glass of white. It does sound like a French cliché, but it’s entirely true!

Tell us about your first visit to London

It was fifteen years ago, for my first business school internship. I worked in a shipping company, nothing to do with food and wine! I just fell head over heels for this city: the energy, the vastness and human scale all at once, the melting pot… the London vibe! I lived in a hostel in Notting Hill for three months and had the time of my life. I came back to Lyon telling myself that if I didn’t want to stay in France at the end of my studies, I would go back to London and it’s exactly what happened!

What inspired you to move to London?

After interning in an advertising agency in Paris, it really put me off this kind of job. So I finished my internship, graduated my masters in finance and management in Lyon and left straight for London. To me there was no hesitating — the destination was obvious.

Libres!
  • ©Dan Atkins

    Was it hard at first?

    Living in a houseshare with party animals, it could get a bit complicated to find a balance sometimes. But the rest — work, meeting people – went smoothly. Language-wise, I had been studying in English so it wasn’t too much of an issue, even though it could get frustrating not being able to express exactly how I felt.

    How did you start working in hospitality 

    Joe always wanted to have his own restaurant. As for me, I had always claimed that I would run my own business before turning 30. I was 24, it was time to get things going! We both went to work at Karpo in King’s Cross. It was the perfect opportunity to gain some experience together as a restaurant manager and head chef duo, and see if we would be good at it before opening our own place.

    It had always been a keen interest, but I never thought it could be more than that. I had some experience working on private beaches in Saint-Tropez, but that was about it. When I arrived in London in 2009, I replied to job offers and ended up doing two trial shifts in fine-dining restaurants by chance. I started working at Trinity (Michelin-starred restaurant in Clapham, Ed.), where I met Joe (Sharratt, chef and co-founder of Naughty Piglets, Ed.) who was head chef there.

    What do you love the most about hospitality?

    Also during service, you have to be 100% in, you can’t think about anything else. There are a million things to think about and prioritise, you need to take everything in… It’s an amazing self-discipline.

    How did you make a community for yourself?

    Through work! People I would work side by side everyday, but also wine suppliers. Many of my long-standing friends here work in the wine trade.

    How were you introduced to wine?

    I knew a bit about Beaujolais of course (wine region close to Lyon, Ed.), but I learnt the wine basics at Trinity. It’s when I joined Terroirs (wine bar and restaurant in Covent Garden, Ed.) as bar manager that I lost my heart to natural wine. When I first tried a glass, I was speechless. It gave me goosebumps! That’s where I trained my palate, practicing more than studying.  

    Tell us a bit about your approach to wine

    I’m not very pragmatic. It’s been a while now, so I have many winemaker friends it’s all about feelings and emotions! At Naughty Piglets, the wine list is more my own baby, whereas at The Other, it’s a more collaborative approach: anyone from the team can put a wine on the list.

    Also, we have decided to go paperless! In this Covid situation, we would have had to print single-use wine lists everyday, so no more printing! It’s also a way of bringing back conversation at the heart of hospitality, which should always be the case: having a proper chat with your guests, discussing what mood they’re in, what is their price point… Listening and making them feel comfortable, that’s key. It’s the best way for them to discover new things and have a full experience.

    What’s your favourite wine region?

    Jura for white wines, that’s for sure I have a soft spot for oxidative wines. I’m always partial to a glass of vin jaune and a slice of Comté cheese.


     

    Naughty pig
  • ©Dan Atkins

    How were you inspired to open your own restaurant?

    Joe always wanted to have his own restaurant. As for me, I had always claimed that I would run my own business before turning 30. I was 24, it was time to get things going! We both went to work at Karpo in King’s Cross. It was the perfect opportunity to gain some experience together as a restaurant manager and head chef duo, and see if we would be good at it before opening our own place.

    Tell us about the process

    Sometime later, in 2014, we found this place in Brixton. Joe didn’t even want to have a look at it in the first place! It was a filthy chicken shop, but it was snug like we wanted and the premium was affordable, so we had some room to manoeuvre and build our dream space.

    We wanted a bar around an open kitchen so guests could see everything, a simple, friendly atmosphere minimalist yet warm, with wood. Where to put the plugs, imagining all the details… We had to learn everything by doing! The most difficult parts were putting everything on paper and working on the forecast. We spent a few sleepless nights on that one.

    How did the opening go?

    A week before the official opening, we organised free drinks for the neighbours. Someone calls and it’s Jay Rayner (restaurant critic for The Observer, Ed.) on the line, who lives nearby and wanted to pop in! So he came around that evening with his wife. We hadn’t planned on serving any food except a few olives and snacks just natural wines, which he hates.

    And that’s where it all began for us, he tasted all the wines and tweeted “thank you to Margaux at Naughty Piglets who gave me the first natural wine I like”. It created a buzz, Fay Maschler (restaurant critic for The Evening Standard, Ed.) came along, and we were lucky enough to have great reviews within the first months. There was also a real need for a good local place here in Brixton. We’re lucky that around 70% of our guests are regulars.

    How did The Other Naughty Piglet come along?

    Andrew Lloyd Weber (composer and musical theatre figure, Ed.)’s son lived nearby and came often. He had dinner with his dad one evening, who loved it. He had just bought The Other Palace theatre in Victoria, and he wanted us to take over the first floor restaurant.

    It was very different from our small neighbourhood spot here, but it was the opportunity of a lifetime so we went ahead and opened in 2017. A natural wine list, sharing plates, no burgers nor pizzas… It was a great decision, but also a great challenge to bring our style to a theatre crowd.

    Tell us about Unfiltered Wines, your import business

    It’s really a hobby of mine, I only import three guys who make amazing things. I bring in ten pallets a year, sell them to restaurants and bars, throw a few tastings and that’s it. It started with cider and Brasserie des Voirons beer from Haute-Savoie in 2018. Now I’ve kept this incredible craft beer and focus on natural wine (Farid Yahimi’s Sons of Wine from Alsace, Sonshine vins by Lisanne van Son in Montlouis-sur-Loire) and these incredible craft beers that include specials in collaboration with amazing winemakers.

     

    Piglets bar
  • ©Dan Atkins

    What do you love most about life in London?

    The same things as twelve years ago! The dynamics, the open-mindedness, the melting pot. It’s like traveling non-stop, you meet so many people from different cultures and backgrounds.

    What’s your favourite area?

    My first Notting Hill experience aside, I’ve always lived South of the river Battersea, Clapham Junction… I wouldn't see myself living anywhere else in the city. It’s lively, authentic and unaffected, there’s a great energy here it’s life to the fullest. I love going East but I’m always happy to come back South. Now I live ten minutes away from the restaurant, it’s the best!

    What do you miss most about France?

    I never thought I’d be saying this one day, but French people! French culture, French produce, buying a baguette that never makes it home in one piece, going to the market… I miss all the clichés. I’d like to go back to France in a few years, it’s been at the back of my mind for a little while.

    What piece of advice would you give to someone considering opening a business in London?

    Stick to your guts!
     

    Naughty Piglets
    28 Brixton Water Lane,
    London SW2 1PE

    The Other Naughty Piglet
    The Other Palace
    12 Palace Street,
    London SW1E 5JA

     

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