GDR’s innovation research team went to see what all the fuss is about at street food innovator KERB’s new indoor food market
Despite the UK’s unpredictable (and more often than not) unsuitable weather, London’s street food market scene has continued to go from strength to strength in the last five years and shows no signs of slowing down.
Interestingly, this has happened at the same time the UK has been experiencing a “casual dining crunch”. According to an article in The Guardian, more than 1,400 UK restaurants collapsed in the year since June 2018, fuelled by customers turning their backs on chains such as Byron, Strada, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Jamie Oliver’s restaurant empire.
You might be thinking therefore that right now is not the best time to be investing big in a permanent indoor food market aimed at delivering fast casual dining experiences. But pioneers of the London street food scene, KERB have done exactly that.
Priding themselves on incubating and accelerating new and interesting food startups, KERB already has four permanent markets across the city. Now, taking things inside, the company has opened a fifth indoor market in a huge former banana warehouse in Seven Dials. GDR’s research team went along to sample what was on offer.
Variety is the spice of London life
Feeding the appetites of hungry Londoners on the lookout for everything from weekday, diet-conscious dishes and comforting Friday cheat treats, to unusual flavours and ingredients, one thing KERB does well is variety.
Occupying a 24,000 square foot space, Seven Dials Market is home to 25 independent food businesses, all with roots in the city’s streets. Upon entering via Cucumber Alley we were met with an indoor lane of specialist London producers, including family-run bakery Karaway, purveyor of award winning salamis Crown & Queue, a bottle shop featuring local drinks brands and Hackney Gelato’s small batch ice cream.
Seven Dials Market has all the things you’d expect from an experience showcasing the best of London’s street food. The interior has accents of millennial pink (of course!), plenty of neon lighting, a Market Florist (in case you need to buy a cactus on your lunch break) and a giant banana for social media moments. When we were there, there was also live music for the opening week.
Opening up into a vast food court, food vendors line the outside and a large open plan benched seating area dominates the lower level – although there are secluded seating options within each restaurant’s area for more privacy. There is a bar serving exclusive house pours, cocktails made with locally made spirits and London Pilsner ‘KERB Lager’, which was created just for the venue.
There are also a few new interesting concepts including a cheese bar called Pick and Cheese that operates on a conveyor belt system similar to that found in sushi chain, Yo Sushi!.
One touch that we liked was The Market Bookshop, located on the lower level at the back of the space, dedicated to London’s food, drink and culture in literature. With many of the vendors’ own cook books for sale, the dining space extended into the store encouraging people to browse the books as they ate. This touch firmly rooted the whole experience in the city and made for a nice moment of escape from the main atrium. At night the space will become a private hireable dining room for hosting events.
“After seven years of creating and supporting a community of food traders to thrive on the streets of London, we are incredibly excited to be taking the next step for KERB,” said founder Petra Barran. “Seven Dials Market has been a long-standing dream of ours and a complete labour of love for myself and all the team. Our ambition is to build not only a home for excellent, independent food businesses to grow, but a welcoming, open space for everyone to enjoy a big slice of London.”
Keeping the offer fresh
Aiming to beat the “casual dining crunch”, we think Seven Dials Market will do well due to its location. Customers visiting looked to be mostly local office workers (although it’s definitely not the cheapest lunch option around) but situated right in the heart of Covent Garden it is sure to pick up passing trade from tourists and shoppers. Open till 11pm, it is likely to be a buzzy spot for post-work drinks and snacks or those looking for a reasonably priced quick bite before the theatre or a night out. We visited on a Friday lunchtime so were in search of something covered in melty cheese and it certainly delivered.
And if it sticks to its strategy for championing the new and independent homegrown food businesses, the market will always have something new to offer to keep customers coming back for more.