whole foods market revisited
it’s now over two months since whole foods opened its first british store, which my friend liz visited, and then wrote about, on its opening evening. i’ve been to whole foods a couple of times now and thought i should add my thoughts to hers.
despite the fact that it took me six weeks to walk through the doors of the shop, i was excited about whole foods’ arrival. as liz said, it was enormously hyped and given its size i was expecting an amazing addition to my london foodie address book. just how many new and exciting products could they fit into a department store?!? i was keen to find out.
sadly, my overwhelming feeling is one of disappointment. all those new and exciting products, that i’d not seen in other shops or markets? they just weren’t there.
i know that i make quite a lot of effort to shop in a broad range of delis, specialist food shops and markets so perhaps it’s not surprising that most of the products on whole foods shelves were familiar. for a lot of people though, i think that’s probably its biggest selling point. you no longer have to visit all those individual shops, as here everything is under one roof.
however, for someone like me, who enjoys making time for exploring food shops, what you save you in time and effort you (and all of us) lose, by not supporting individual businesses that collectively give london its wonderful food diversity.
setting all that aside, and looking at the shop on its own merits, whole foods is a mixed bag. the basement is reminiscent of an upmarket traditional supermarket, stocking meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and a wide range of store cupboard products. i liked the range of the fruit & veg section - fresh water chestnuts or palm hearts anyone? there was a wonderful table of heirloom tomatoes but the air-con means that none of the fruit or vegetables smell of much, which is a real disappointment and put me off buying anything, as did the prices!
the fish counter is not bad and the shelves of other products hold a huge number of ethnic ingredients, pickles, chutneys, jams, spices, oils and vinegars as well as an extensive range of (mostly organic) drinks, juices, biscuits and snacks. it is the products on these shelves that you can find scattered across london, and in the case of the ethnic products, at much cheaper prices in shops within those communities. there is also an extensive toiletries section, focussing on organic and natural products.
the ground floor is home to the bakery (interesting looking bread but awful looking cakes, all butter icing and lurid colours), cheese counter and room (the icy temperatures hide the wonderful aroma of the cheeses) and a fabulous cold-meats counter (a wonderful range of salamis, sausages, hams and similar meaty products). the smell of the olives, capers and other mezze snacks that are on display next to this counter practically had me drooling in the aisles.
there is also a large wine area (which i didn’t explore) plus chiller cabinets stacked high with foods you could create a picnic from – hummus, olives, cheese etc. there was also a salad bar and a hot-food unit both of which contained too many things that looked tired and unappealing – dried up macaroni cheese, madam?
as liz wrote, the café area upstairs is nothing special but, there is some seating next to the wonderful tall windows which look out over the high street and these are well worth seeking out if you decide to stop for a drink or something to eat.
did i buy anything? well, yes, of course! some chocolate-coated ginger for david, smoked oatcakes, a fig vinegar, some gruyere cheese, chilli paste plus packets of pink peppercorns and szechuan peppercorns.
£18 lighter and with a small bag in my hand, i left the shop with mixed feelings. somehow i was missing something that had never existed, except in my head.