Meet The Member: Serving up their soul food fusion, it’s Bando Belly…

Lockdown might have stopped some of our plans, but there’s a hive of activity going on behind closed doors here at Peckham Levels! 

In our street food market on Level 6, we’ve got some exciting new faces. Introducing the first of our new food traders, Bando Belly. Founded by Alex and Naz, both of whom have deep roots in Peckham, they will be serving up their own unique (and delicious) take on soul food from their vibrant kitchen here at Peckham Levels… 

Please introduce yourselves!

Alex: I’m Alex – originally from Birmingham I moved to South East London in 2013 and have been here on and off ever since! Actually, my first ever job in London was up on the roof at Frank’s. I started my brand Wavey Ice in 2014 and have been working solidly on that for the last seven years. I’ve always been heavily involved with food and have been itching for my own spot for a long time. Following a successful year with Wavey Ice I teamed up with an old friend and former co-worker Naz to make the dream a reality!

Naz: I’m Naz – born and raised in South East London. I am a Chef of eight years, and have catered at all levels from street food to my family restaurant (that was in Peckham). I love food and travel and have currently visited 23 countries searching for new inspiration to take home and create amazing inspired dishes. 

How did the Bando Belly journey begin?

Bando Belly began after we spotted a gap in the market for restaurant-quality soul food style food, which could be made readily available across the capital. 

During lockdown we saw a lot of home cooks doing their thing and realised that with our experience and expertise we could step things up a notch and offer something unique to the local area and even further afield. We began working on our recipes back in August from Alex’s flat and quickly realised that we had something special! We wanted to promote our ‘hustle hard’ ethos and prove that it’s possible to thrive in a city as tough as London even during lockdown times. With a lot of hard work and perseverance we’ve already managed to build a solid brand which we are so proud of and the menu is looking and tasting great!

On that note, where does your passion for food come from? 

Alex: Growing up in a mixed English and Sri Lankan family, food was always a big deal and I was never averse to trying flavours from different parts of the world. I remember the cupboard at my Grandad’s house always being full of weird ingredients like dried shrimp and jaggery. Stuff like that always fascinated me. As a kid I was always cooking for my brothers after school and I’d spend my Saturday mornings watching Rick Stein talk about seafood on the TV! Birmingham’s food offering was a bit limited growing up – there was and still is a good Chinese quarter and obviously you could get a banging curry, but there was never much else until more recently. It wasn’t until I moved to London that I really realised what was on offer on our doorstep and was excited by this new world of young restaurant owners and chefs. I knew I needed to get a slice of it!

Naz: My passion for food comes from my Nene (Grandma), she showed me how to put love into food. I’d watch her cook delicious Turkish-Cypriot meals from scratch and the neighbours from her estate would come round and be amazed at what she could do with some lentils and a lemon. My heritage plays a huge part in my romance with food, Turkish Cypriot and Jamaican food and culture are colourful and bold, and that is reflected in my personality and my food. When I started working in fast food as a teen, I realised I loved the kitchen environment and wanted to take it further. I began travelling to eat, paying attention not only to the food but the whole process from how it was being made and served, to the produce used. Now I am in a position where I can bring all my passion and knowledge to the table!

Tell us more about your connections to South London and Peckham…

Alex: I moved to South East London from Birmingham on a whim back in 2013 without really knowing anything about the area. My mum and Grandparents were from Croydon so I was familiar with South London to some extent, but Peckham was a whole new world. I landed my first job at Frank’s while I was living in an old guardian property at the top of the Rye which is where I started my boozy ice pop brand – Wavey Ice. 

I met Naz, Bando Belly Co-founder, after walking into her family restaurant Kitchen 54 on Queen’s Road, Peckham and asking for a job back in 2016. We’ve stayed friends ever since. After a tough few years of grafting, I moved back to Birmingham for a couple of years to rethink my plans and come back harder. In 2018 I moved back to the area with the goal of giving it another shot. I landed a Social Media job at Ministry of Sound club, which allowed me to earn enough to keep working on my side hustles. After being made redundant during lockdown I went full time with Wavey Ice and smashed it – doing more sales over Summer 2020 than ever before. Off the back of a successful summer, Naz and I were able to kickstart the food business that we’d chatted about doing for so long and now we’re in a great position to create something really special and give back to the community which inspires us.

Naz: South East London is my home. I was born in Lewisham Hospital and raised between Brockley and Peckham. At a young age, I was voted the ‘deputy young mayor of Lewisham’ and got to be an ambassador for young people in the borough – I was so proud of Lewisham (or blue borough as me and my friends used to call it!) 

My parents grew up in Southwark, my Mum on Montpelier Road where we had a family home until 2014 and my dad in East Street. I’ve spent so many years of my life in Peckham, I hated trawling behind my Mum or Nene as they would buy meat and fish from Rye Lane on Saturday mornings. But I would love when my dad would bring me to the Peckham Town Centre car park boot fair on Sunday mornings for vinyl records and whatever else I wanted! I used to come down to the cinema (Peckhamplex) with friends as a teen as it was the only affordable cinema for us. My Mum and I opened a restaurant called Kitchen 54 on Queen’s Road between 2014-2017, where we really became part of the local community. I have and will always be a proud South Londoner. My connection to Peckham is deep rooted, and I love it – it has a unique energy and vibe that cannot be replicated. 

Peckham to me represents the beautiful chaotic melting pot that London is.

Why did you choose Peckham Levels as the first home for Bando Belly?

The initial plan was to operate from home, but we quickly realised that this would not be a good idea! After researching dark kitchens in the local area, we saw that Peckham Levels were advertising units and decided to get in touch. It made sense for us to be in Peckham as we already had roots here. It’s actually worked out really perfectly with Peckham Levels – and they’ve been so supportive and flexible with helping us get established. We’re excited to be part of the wider levels community and already it’s been great to chat with some of the Members and existing traders! 

Give us a taste of what customers can expect from Bando Belly’s food… 

London is the world’s biggest melting pot, and living in the capital means that fusion is everywhere – from the food, to the music, to the people. How many places in the world would an English, Turkish and Indian man all know the appropriate response to wagwan?! At Bando Belly, we are taking that exact energy and putting it on a plate with a menu that highlights a diverse selection of flavours from all around the globe to reimagine London’s soul food.

Time to make our mouths water! What should people be ordering from the Bando Belly menu? 

Alex: My favourite dish on the menu has gotta be the lamb ribs! I was literally thinking about how we’re gonna do them for about two months before we started experimenting with recipes. Slow roasted lamb ribs in a sticky honey and fish sauce coating, smacked cucumbers with garlic, fish sauce and sesame, fresh red chilli, fresh mint, coriander, pickled pink shallots and crispy onions… It bangs! Lamb ribs have a crazy flavour which comes from the high fat content – they’re so delicious. If I had to pick another dish, I’d choose our Buffalo burger but that’s a whole different story…

Naz: Right now I’m loving the bara tacos, they are quickly becoming my signature dish. They are inspired by doubles from Trinidad, a popular street food made with curried chickpeas and yeasted flatbreads called bara served with a variety of sauces and chutneys. We’ve perfected our bara taco shell to be bubbly, crispy and chewy. We have a spicy vegan curried chickpea, but we have also stuffed ours with other things like the Baja inspired prawn filling or rich pulled lamb. They all come with fragrant fresh toppings and sauces like our mango salsa or green sauce (think Thai pesto). I actually can’t decide which one I like the most right now but I think you’ll have to try them and make your own choice!

You’re making us hungry! How can we order food from Bando Belly?

We’ll be on Deliveroo from this Friday, January 15th. Check out the menu and order here once we’re live. 

Or you can order via Instagram for collection from Peckham Levels. Head to our instagram @bandobelly. We’ll also be taking pre-orders via Instagram, so you can order in advance and we can give you a delivery slot for whenever you like!

Show Bando Belly some love and order yourself a soul food feast…