Between Arcade Food Theatre at Centre Point, Market Halls Victoria, Kerb’s Seven Dials Market, and Time Out’s endless attempts to open a food court opposite a food court in Spitalfields, the “communal dining,” gamification, and prime Instagram opportunities that food halls offer London were hard to ignore in 2020. And then came Covid-19.
The city’s growing obsession with the food hall was put on ice, and in 2021, the biggest openings are yet to resume business. Italian juggernaut Eataly is on its way, but Time Out has shelved plans for a huge market in Waterloo. Market Halls and Arcade Food Theatre have not reopened. This period of suspended animation has left time to reflect on what this mode of dining means for a restaurant scene under the microscope like never before, and how the London food hall tells a story of London itself.
These food hall and food court spaces, often airily characterised as “democratic” or “for everyone,” tell a story of a city: a story of increasing overheads for restaurants; of time-poor diners chasing the hot new thing; of landlords making money on otherwise low-value property; of communal spaces that aren’t for everyone at all. Track the unfurling of that story, as restaurants and pubs reopen after lockdown.