Tottenham Court Road runs across the heart of London’s Oxford Street; this one-way one-kilometre stretch was the hub of electronic retailers for decades. There was a time when the whole world seemed to land on this street to buy latest gadgets and computers. It was an incredible sight of giant TV screens and colourful computer games in shop windows.
All those stores have been replaced by coffee shops in the last two years, a complete face change due to the rise of online shopping. Around Whitfield Gardens, opposite old furniture stores Habitat and Heals, there’s a nice open area alongside Fitzrovia Mural. This space has been given way for a new street food market and it resembles a mini replica of Borough Market, a fantastic experience as large crowds gather during the day.
This’s partly because of people’s changed attitude towards simple and fresh food; you get the best from small food retailers compared to full-fledged restaurants. Charlotte Street, a parallel destination five minutes away, has a variety of restaurants. Cafés and fast-food eateries thrive on Goodge Street with an incredible and versatile selection of food from around the world. The aroma attracts a large number of lunchtime office goers to the area for their inexpensive and quick meals.
Even though Brexit’s real conclusions are a couple of years away, people have reacted with caution. As a result, there’s more opportunity for small street food joints. One notable change after the Brexit vote has been what people such as Jamie Oliver have done. Jamie’s Italian has closed down six restaurants.
Jamie’s Italian restaurants are inexpensive compared to top eateries in London, so it is obvious how much the eating out market has suffered in 12 months. Hundreds of people lost their jobs with Jamie’s Italian’s six branches closing down—the management blames it on high food costs and lower footfalls. In a way, this will open up avenues for start-ups in this business. Even though people say business is tough, it gives huge opportunities for candidates to make it big. The comfort factor is, when operations become smaller, problems will be lighter too, especially in the food business.
Street food brings a lot of nostalgia to us Indians as we grew up eating deliciously authentic food in villages and towns. I recall memories in Delhi where yummy chaat and hot milk with floating cream in shacks near Paharganj and Connaught Place’s famous underground eating out place—the aroma and taste of delicious north Indian food was always a treat. We loved the fresh smell from the small hill of onions the Punjabi chef created every evening; watching him chop them at lightning speed was one of the highlights of those days.
The concept of street food was unfamiliar in the West for a long time, other than in canteens in wholesale markets. Now people have accepted the economic benefits of pop-up fast-food restaurants where chefs take more care in their preparations and make healthier options too.
(The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain of restaurants)