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Chef Ruben Dawnay smokes and cures meat and fish from his garden in Brixton, which he combines with punchy flavours in impressive dishes like his reuben sandwiches and smoked meat tacos.

To celebrate the launch of his menu, the third in our Spotlight Emerging Chefs series, we spoke to Ruben about his life in food, from how he got started as a chef, to his favourite snacks, spices and more.

How did you get started in food?

In 2019, I entered a competition to win a spot in Brixton market, where I had to pitch a restaurant idea. I decided on a concept around Reuben sandwiches, mainly because I thought Ruben’s Reubens was a catchy name, but also because I have Polish-Jewish roots, so I’ve always been into Jewish deli-style cured fish and smoked meats. 

By chance, my dad was given a home smoker so I used that to make pastrami for my Reubens. After that, I started experimenting with smoking and curing other meat, fish and veg and it all just grew from there!

How would you describe your cooking?

My food is kind of inspired by Sunday roasts. I like to source really good quality meat, whether it’s beef cheeks or lamb shoulder, and smoke it low and slow to get the best flavour out of it. I’ll use that as the centrepiece, but serve it in different vehicles, whether it’s tacos, flatbreads or sandwiches.

Which piece of kitchen equipment could you not live without?

I have a hand blender that my parents used to use to whizz up my baby food, and now I use it to whizz up all my salsas! It’s lasted over 21 years and it still makes the best salsas!

What’s your desert island dish?

My mum’s bolognese, definitely. It has loads of delicious things in it, but the ‘secret’ ingredients are marmite, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and dark chocolate. Oh, and ketchup for a little bit of sweetness! 

Which chefs inspire you? 

When I was first starting out, I stumbled across a book by Francis Mallmann, an Argentine chef who cooks everything over fire, and was fascinated by it. And Tim Hayward’s Food DIY book was also a big inspiration for me.

What’s your go-to meal at the end of a long day?

At the end of a really long day, it’s often a bowl of cereal to be honest, because it’s cold, crunchy and easy. But I’m lucky that I live with my mum, who’s a great cook, so I usually come home to some delicious leftovers. 

What’s your favourite spice?

Smoked paprika because it makes everything taste better.

What are your favourite restaurants in London?

I love Naughty Piglets, where I work in Brixton – it has real community vibes, the food is great, and everyone who works there is lovely. 

Salas is a food truck in Peckham that makes the best North African-style wraps, which are amazing value. 

Kaosarn in Brixton Market is a really lovely Thai restaurant with an authentic, home-cooked feel.

What’s your favourite city or country for a foodie trip?

I’d have to say France, generally. The food in Paris is amazing. 

What’s your favourite shop-bought snack?

I don’t have a sweet tooth, but crisp-wise, I like Wheat Crunchies and Scampi Fries.

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Units B12-B14, Poplar Business Park, London, E14 9RL


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