Film executive turned gastronomy aficionado, Swedish-native Maria Tamander stepped into a rather different career path when taking on the role as landlord of an old and largely forgotten pub in the heart of Paddington. The 168-year-old establishment needed some love, and it was Maria who went through financing, renovating and restoring the Grade-II listed building into an elegant and contemporary masterpiece which grew to become a local hotspot. Placing importance on the aspect that a pub is a place which brings a community together with food, as well as the design and atmosphere, Maria dished how the initial idea came about, the biggest challenge and reward of the project, and how the neighbourhood inspired her.
How did you initially stumble upon The Cleveland Arms? What state was the pub in when you first came across it?
I can’t believe it was almost six years ago already when I began to look for a new project around the time that my two daughters began their new school in Marble Arch. I stumbled across an estate agency where I expressed my interest in a new project, and that was when I was introduced to the very old, run-down pub. At the time, the pub was nothing special, serving a few beers on tap, boxed wine and microwave meals, but I saw the potential there was to turn the space into something special.
Did you have any experience in the gastronomy sector before taking on the project? If so, what experience was it?
My grandparents had a few restaurant and bakery businesses which was a big part of my life growing up, so food was really at the centre of everything that I did from a young age. My degrees in marketing and management did help along the way but even that was financed by working in the restaurant industry. Also, working as a producer in a production company, the entire framework of the industry involves bringing together a group of creative people to create something, and that goes for the world of gastronomy as well.
Did the importance of independent and local businesses in the area influence your desire to take on the challenge to reinvent The Cleveland Arms?
Initially, a lot of the neighbours and the local area was very against us moving in and redesigning the pub. There were petitions involved to not have us in the area, but I don’t think that’s uncommon in the restaurant business. The community around a pub is a vital part of understanding your customer – things such as the type of drinks on offer, the price point, understanding the dynamics of the area and so on all had to be considered when thinking about the redesign. We’ve grown to become very much accepted and loved in the area and have our regulars, which is a fantastic feeling.
How were you able to preserve some original features of the building in its remodelling process?
There were very few original features within the Grade-II listed building which we were able to keep. I hired a planning historian to help understand the space and preserve what was possible, but it was clear from the onset that most of the interiors had to be completely redone.
What was the biggest challenge and biggest reward when redesigning the pub?
The entire planning permission process was definitely a challenge as it took a year and a half from taking over the pub. That being said, the biggest reward is not only the learning curve that comes with taking on a new business, but also the appreciation and love from our guests every day. One of my most proud moments had to be in November 2019 when The Cleveland Arms was featured on the front cover of The Times and was the only pub in London listed in the ’20 cosy town and country pubs: blazing fires and great grub for a winter getaway’ feature.
Describe The Cleveland Arms in one sentence.
It’s a home away from home.
How does the menu resonate with the atmosphere you were aiming to achieve?
Our menu aims to bring appreciation back to simple food. Our seasonal menu varies weekly, with a few staples, to introduce our guests to new flavours and appreciate seasonal ingredients. We try to implement sustainable measures wherever possible as we consider it to be a very important project, and so using local and seasonal produce is much more eco-friendly than importing produce. Our kitchen in the pub is also quite small, so we prefer to offer a few dishes which are prepared to perfection.
What is your favourite Notting Hill spot to hang out at?
That would have to be at my home with my partner, two daughters and dog. Having grown up travelling frequently, I was very happy to finally have a place to really call my home when I moved to London almost twenty years ago. There’s something comforting about being able to invite friends and family to your home and hosting them.