Instead of describing what Lily Simpson looks like, I'm going to begin by telling you what she put on my lunch plate at The Detox Kitchen deli on Mortimer Street, London. From a selection of nine salads and eight mains I ended up with sweet miso aubergine, an inventive Waldorf salad with peppers and capers, a crumbling salmon burger with broad bean dip on the side and a sweet potato salad with crème fraîche, coriander, lime and chilli. Over lunch with Lily I would become as enamoured by the woman in front of me as I would with the food on my plate.
Hear the name Lily Simpson, Founder of The Detox Kitchen, and unlike the Hemsley sisters or Deliciously Ella, a face probably doesn't spring to mind. That's on purpose, she tells me, as we sit down for lunch and she politely refuses to have her photo taken. "Apart from feeling incredibly awkward in front of the camera, I wanted it to be about the company." Aside from a few interviews, such as this, Lily usually lets the food do the talking (see The Detox Kitchen instagram). "Ultimately it is about me. It's the food I like to eat, the food I create, the food I love, but I want it to be about the company, the people in the company and the feeling you get when you come in and eat our food. I don't want this constant image of me popping up in our customer's head because it is a tied connection. No way. It freaks me out."
This decision, evidently, has in no way hampered Lily's success. After working in property for four years, she started a catering company called Lily's Lovely Bites - "the worst name in the world," she laughs. At 27 she launched a food delivery service which grew into what is now The Detox Kitchen. The service currently has two hugely successful delis in Kingly St and Fitzrovia (which is heaving at lunchtime), a concession at Selfridges, a food delivery service which Gwyneth Paltrow named her go-to in London and a cookbook. This year she raised £2 million from investors to expand the brand and told the Evening Standard she would open ten delis in the next three years.
So how has she done it? Her focus is on producing quality and consistency in her dishes, all of which she produces herself with her head chef. She gets ahead in the wellness game by offering more selection in her delis and constantly inventing and evolving healthy fare. She partners with the right people, she tells me, a team of specialists, experts and those passionate about the brand - "I'm not a nutritionist" says Lily, "I'm not a chef. I'm someone who has a passion for food and likes having a business. From the beginning the most important thing has been partnering with people who can do things better than me, like Rob Hobson, the nutritionist who wrote the section in my book."
And she's not selling a dream. "Our biggest message is that if you eat better you will feel better and look better. But ultimately it all comes down to genetics. I have a ridiculously fast metabolism, so it doesn't matter what I eat, I'll always be a normal size. But I've always struggled with my skin. There's a girl in our office and her skin is like porcelain and she's not super, super healthy. Her skin will always be like that, and I will never have skin like that. It's important for girls to know and understand that. We just want to give people the best chance to feel more energised, have better skin, hair etc. But if you don't have the genes of a supermodel, you're not going to be one."
On the backlash against wellness bloggers and chefs, she's sympathetic. "No one in the industry is trying to mislead anyone. If you look at the big guys - The Hemsleys, Madeline Shaw, Deliciously Ella - they are all just trying to get people to eat healthy food. The thing is they are just all very attractive girls. We're all on the same mission, we're just going about it in different ways."
In the case of Lily Simpson, different is very refreshing. Over the course of our lunch she tells me she craved crisps for breakfast when she was pregnant with her son, forgot to feed him on a stressful car journey across France to the point that he lost his shit, and loves chocolate - "and the dirty kind, not the 90 per cent cacao bars." Gwyneth Paltrow may be a fan, but she's definitely no Paltrow herself.
Here it's about the food not the face. And as I leave the café and take note of the Detox Kitchen regulars fixated by plates filled with specialty salads, no one seems to have a problem with that.
Here Lily shares some of her favourite health food restaurants in London:
My favourite place in the world is Grangers. I wouldn't say it's super healthy but the food is delicious and super simple. It's Australian brunch food with lots of avocado but it's just amazing. I just love everything: the look, the feel, the atmosphere and the interiors.
They do an incredible brunch and an amazing granola. Their lunch is really good. Actually the dinner is amazing too. It's the quality of their food but also the combinations of flavours.
Ottolenghi & Nopi
I'm completely obsessed with Ottolenghi. I wouldnt say its super healthy but the flavours are unmatched in London. My favourite restaurant in London is his restaurant Nopi and I go there at least once a month with my husband and sit at the bar. Always sit at the bar if you go there.
They do a really good job of providing healthy food. it's not a taste sensation but you know it's from a really great source. It's super simple with really nice combinations.