whole foods market, london w8
the opening of whole foods has attracted much attention. i’m stuck at home studying for much of this month but my lovely friend liz, and her partner alan, visited the shop on the eve of its opening (6 june). this is what they thought…
the closure of barkers and dickens & jones department stores was a real loss. i always enjoyed their relative emptiness, particularly in d&j compared to the carnage on nearby oxford street. no doubt the lack of crowds had something to do with their closures.
still, it was good news when we heard that barkers would re-emerge as the first uk branch of the american owned whole foods market - it would be europe’s largest space for selling mostly-organic food.
the store refit feels classy and high-spec. first impressions are impressive as many of the original features remain: high ceilings, lots of art deco detail, huge windows overlooking kensington high street.
it smells fabulous as, on entering, you pass through the pastries, bread and cakes section. the main hall includes features such as a cheese-cooling room, a large wine space, flowers to go and a take-away hot food bar and salad area.
the basement, with icy aircon, resembles a traditional supermarket, though at “kensington ladies who lunch” prices! there is lots of attractively displayed fresh produce, interesting unseen before frozen foods and brands you recognise but in flavours or packaging you’ve not come across.
there is a very good selection of chocolate, fresh leaf tea, and fresh coffee beans as well as a make your own muesli bar, eggs you can mix and match in your own box and so on. it’s not necessarily a place for your weekly shop, but there is lots of shelf-appeal with many items suitable for the foodie who has everything.
we decided to eat at the store –the first floor is dedicated to food outlets (the homemade icecream and pizzas looked particularly good) and you can also take anything you’ve purchased and eat it upstairs. this decision prompted my gripes.
there appears to be just one area of tills and the queue was really off putting - i was carrying some fresh coffee which i couldn’t face waiting to pay for before alan arrived. i couldn’t see any tills on the lower ground floor, presumably you have to take things upstairs to pay for them as well. thankfully there are trolley escalators and a lift to help you do this.
if i worked in the area i would think twice before popping in for an impulse purchase and i imagine it will be worse at the weekend.
but we were determined to have some food. we collected various excellent looking and smelling indian food and salads. charged at £1.79 per 100g we were slightly horrified at the price of our respective meals – about £9 and £12. these were not large meals and while tasty did not justify the prices. also by the time we paid, got upstairs, found a table, got drinks from a concession and sat down, the food was only lukewarm. microwaves are provided but surely it could have been better thought through?
in the future, i might head upstairs for coffee and cake with a friend while shopping in the area, but that’s it.
the upstairs space itself is much less special than the other floors. conversations join together in unending waves of sound plus there was an incredibly loud and annoying dj (presumably intended to make the space seem hip, rather than what it really is - an expensive upscale store canteen). i’ve seen this concept executed with much greater value and style in both asia and america.
to sum up: an interesting and worthwhile addition to london, a mix of harvey nichols and selfridges foodhalls, probably slightly less expensive and more of a destination place. oh, and excellent toilets with fresh flowers, china soap dispensers and tall ceilings.
the barkers building, 63–97 kensington high street, london w8 5se
monday–saturday: 8 a.m.–10 p.m.
sundays: upstairs at the market 10 a.m.–6 pm; market hall & provision hall open for browsing 11 a.m.–12 noon, open for purchasing 12 noon–6 p.m.