In Food + Drink

The Fancy Food Hall Trend Is Here To Stay

A little more specialised than traditional markets with fancied up food offerings (see: Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market), food halls are popping up in cosmopolitan cities all over the world. There’s Lisbon’s Time Out Market, Amsterdam’s Foodhallen and Mercato Centrale in Florence.

The trend has exploded in major US cities like Los Angeles – Grand Central Market, Corporation Food Hall and, coming soon to Koreatown, Platform 35 – and New York, where food halls have become so popular they’ve transcended ‘fad’ to become the standard lunch rush go-to.

In fact, there are currently more than 100 high end food halls in the US, and that figure is predicted to double by the end of next year. Even Starbucks has cashed in on the craze, opening up an Eataly-style marketplace at its Seattle headquarters in February. Alas, with new openings come failed plans. For the past two years, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain had been working on a Singapore-style hawker street market at New York’s Pier 57 but the project was put on hold in late 2017 following ongoing complications and failure to obtain a lease.

Pleased to meat you Photo: Eataly

For all their variety and buzz-worthiness, food halls are also a little polarising – you love them, or you hate them. At best, you can form a kind of tolerable relationship with them where you operate under a strict get-in-get-out policy. They may signal a new way to eat out, but in doing so, they run the risk of making that experience of ‘eating out’ feel not quite so special (though perhaps that’s only relevant in cities where eating out is still seen as such). There’s also the queues.

Most of us don’t mind waiting for our entrees in a restaurant because we’re comfortably tucked into a corner booth with a drink in hand. We’re less concerned about when the goat cheese tart is going to show up and more preoccupied with figuring out how the bartender got the balance so right in our whiskey sour.

At a food hall, you spend more time doing laps of the space in order to decide on what you’ll order, stand in a queue and eventually find a seat than you will on wolfing your bahn mi down. Then again, maybe that’s the price you pay for having a global smorgasboard of cuisines all neatly packed under the one roof…

Teatern at Ringen Centrum, Skanstull Photo: Ringen Centrum

But for all the battling it can sometimes feel like you’re subject to, food halls signal a successful local economy, a modern understanding of food retail, and, best of all for those of us with big appetites, an opportunity to try before you buy. Take Stockholm’s Teatern; a concept that combines fine restaurant dining with the food-court experience (though the design is decidedly more Scandi-Pinterest-inspo than Thursday night at Westfield).

A selection of primo restaurateurs from Stockholm share the 250 seat space, giving customers access to upmarket grub – from the likes of Magnus Nilsson, Stefano Catenacci and Daniel Roos – that’s cost-conscious and quick. Try a little of this and a little of that, decide what you loved most and then make plans to head to the eatery of the chef who stole your culinary heart. It’s much better than forking out for a degustation based on the advice of internet strangers, only to walk away poor and sorely disappointed, no?

Pitt Cue Co are joining the food hall game Photo: Pitt Cue Co 

The most anticipated food hall opening right now is the Market Hall trio of venues in London. Dreamt up by Simon Anderson, the restaurateur behind hip barbecue joint Pitt Cue Co, and investor Andy Lewis-Pratt, the first outpost will open in a disused ticket hall in Fulham’s Broadway station next month. Covering 10,000 sq ft, and featuring 10 kitchens and a bar, it’ll eventually become the smallest of the three food halls opening this year – Market Hall Victoria is slated for a summer launch, with 14 kitchens and 3 bars, and Market Hall West End will nab the tourist crowds on soon-to-be pedestrianised Oxford Street this northern hemisphere autumn with it’s 25 kitchens and 4 bars to choose from.

Taking a step firmly away from the food court mentality, these halls will use proper cutlery, glassware and crockery too – which is one thing you don’t get at every food hall. The crucial step in ensuring these destinations continue to feel special and worthwhile is figuring out how to create a restaurant quality experience in a smaller and more fast-paced environment – even with something as simple as handing over real cutlery. We’re already on board with the selection, the fun vibe and the convenience they offer, but having to relive the many hours wasted hanging out in sterile food courts throughout adolescence? Not so much.

Published 13 April, 2018