Street food collective Kerb (KERB) and central London landlord Shaftesbury have signed a deal to open a covered ‘street food’ market in Seven Dials, Covent Garden. Seven Dials Market will open with 26 traders and seating for hundreds of diners, according to the Evening Standard. The market is now open.
Kerb, which counts Nonna’s Gelato, soon-to-open Shoreditch restaurant Burger and Beyond, Bleecker Burger, Pizza Pilgrims, and Bao among its alumni, currently operates markets in seven London locations, including King’s Cross, Peckham, and the Gherkin. It recently departed the two-year-old Camden market. Managing director Simon Mitchell said, “We’ve worked closely with upwards of 150 brilliant independent food entrepreneurs over the last six years and see Seven Dials Market as the next step for us and them in this journey.”
Shaftesbury, meanwhile — at the centre of a programme to redevelop Chinatown and its demographics — has tightened its grip on central London’s restaurant property market. The company, which described Chinatown “as in a bit of a timewarp” in 2017, and offered no backing to restaurateurs striking over Home Office immigration raids in July, also owns vast swathes of Carnaby and Soho, including Kingly Court, home to Asma Khan’s Darjeeling Express. Referring to the market’s home, Tom Welton, executive director, called it a “significant building that required something special to give it a renewed purpose.”
This announcement happens in the context of London’s irrepressible demand for ‘street food’ or out-of-restaurant food: Market Halls has launched Fulham and Victoria; The Kitchens at Spitalfields Market continues to grow, despite concerns over rates and opening hours; Pergola continues to annex outdoor dining in west London; Dinerama continues to exist.
London’s street food appears to be moving ever further away from the term’s reality — namely, the street. Where Los Angeles still has its genuinely mobile food trucks, and Berlin has its Thai Park, London is now dominated by market halls, Instagrammable pergolas, and vast “street food” collectives which have commercialised what was once a restaurant counterculture into restaurants in miniature.
Some of these places serve quality food but it is not necessarily street food, per se, and to describe it is as such is to contribute to the widespread restriction on organic growth imposed by large groups and landlords. Chinatown’s new Central Cross development has seen street food stalls moved on; Kerb and Street Feast’s market duopoly leaves organic vendors less able to compete in what has become a big-money industry.
Which turn street food takes next will be decided by the landlords and the collectives, not the traders.