He loves an Old Fashioned. He believes gummy bears are a human right. He channels Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde into his food and drink. Swedish-born DJ-turned-foodie, and founder of our new social space and eatery Fuel, Dean Radak tells us why curating shouldn’t be confined to gallery walls.

Dean Radak, in his element
Dean Radak, in his element

Having worked in some of the coolest bars, restaurants and clubs in Europe, Dean Radak, founder of Fuel—the café, bar and social space attached to our brand new art space—knows a thing or two about food and drink. We asked the man behind Elephant West’s Fuel what he has in store for the new venture.

Tell us about your experience prior to opening Fuel.

I started out as a DJ at the age of sixteen in my birth town of Malmö, Sweden. Some years later I relocated to Barcelona where I was introduced to the city’s ever-vibrant night scene and ended up doing PR for clubs such as La Terrazza, Club Fellini and Razzmatazz. Then in London I worked in gastro pubs before being tasked with managing an amazingly cool cocktail bar in the Camden/Kentish Town area.

You’re Elephant West’s food and beverage “curator”. Why is that word appropriate here?

I guess titles are just that, defining words profiling a person to the public. Until recently, when you heard the word “curator” you would naturally think of art. But nowadays it’s a term that comes up in all sorts of contexts. I choose the most suitable brands of food and beverage for a given environment—a curator.

“It’s more than a café, more than a bar, but not a club either. We’re a social club with an amplified vibe”

When you taste a product—coffee, beer, gummy bears—how do you know when you’ve found something worth sharing with your customers?

Quite simply, I forget the fact that I’m running a business so that I can put myself in the customer’s shoes and ask: what do I as a consumer want? It all comes down to what your visitors want, never a biased you. By the way, gummy bears are awesome and should be provided free of charge to the public.

It’s more than a café, more than a bar, but not a club either. We’re a social club with an amplified vibe.
Launch night at Elephant West

What makes Fuel Café & Bar special?

It’s more than a café, more than a bar, but not a club either. We’re a social club with an amplified vibe.

You run both Fuel By Day and Fuel By Night. How are they different? Is it a bit like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

It’s exactly that! I really like that variety—I’d been thinking about it for years, but this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to combine the two in a single, highly creative space.

What suppliers are you working with?

In the morning there’s great pastries. And then Climpson & Sons provide everything for the coffee. They’re amazing folk who won’t let you sell their product unless you undergo their rather intense training. We’re talking about weighing the grain, counting the seconds from bean to extraction to get the “natural sugars” out. It makes all difference in the world. Savage Salads are working with us as our lunch supplier. Theirs is a great concept with simplicity at its core: healthy and great-tasting! We provide a great range of beers from Beavertown, gin form Elephant Gin, and we have a collaboration in the offing with Strongman’s Tipple—awesome cocktails. Plus a full range of French, Italian and Argentinian wines from L’Ami Jac, a local provider who invited us over to a rather “underground”-style wine tasting at a flat around the Latimer Road area. I wasn’t sure what I was walking into when I arrived, but after I’d tried their stuff I made a deal with them then and there.

Fuel Cafe: by day
Fuel By Day. Photograph by Dirk Lindner

What’s your favourite cocktail to mix, and your favourite to drink?

Easy: Old Fashioned, twice. I’m not one for “fruity” umbrella cocktails. I’m a fan of the minimalism of the classics. Spirits, bitters, water and sugar with a twist of orange. Usually mixed with bourbon, although there are variations with gin and rum. You could even make it with mescal (not for the shy). These type of cocktails—known as Slingers or Bittered Sling—showed up in the early days of the nineteenth century. They were great then, they’re great now. Simply put, if it ain’t broke…

“Decide on your concept and be consistent! That said, do study the competition”

What makes a great bar?

A great team!

What’s your personal taste in music?

I’ve had this question asked on numerous occasions and I still haven’t figured out the perfect answer. My personal taste in music is broad (to say the least). I started out mixing beats from the likes of Planet Rock by The Soul Sonic Force, James Brown etc. All vinyl at the time, on my beloved SL-1210. I later got into Detroit techno, followed by Berlin-style techno from a label called Minus. I do also enjoy the occasional hard-rocking day!

Elephant West: from the outside
Elephant West. Photograph by Dirk Lindner

What’s the best gig you’ve ever DJ’d?

Most memorable would have to be at a venue we used to manage with the artist Alex Berned back in BCN called The Gallery. Absolutely wicked place, with cars and motorbikes hanging from the ceiling. There was a pink Cadillac you had to wriggle your way through to get into the VIP room. Before the big launch, we handpicked three street musicians playing Balkan-inspired folk music. I then did some cuts on the decks and had them play on top. Trumpet, violin and congas mixed with DJ beats. That opening was absolutely wild!

What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to someone setting up their own café/bar?

Decide on your concept and be consistent! That said, do study the competition. You might just learn a thing or two…


Fuel By Night Launch

Friday 23 November, 6pm–midnight at 62 Wood Ln, Shepherd’s Bush, London W12 7RH

Fuel Bar and Cafe at Elephant West
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