The arrival of Italian food hall chain Eataly’s long-awaited first UK site is a big deal, in all manner of speaking. From a literal standpoint, it’s massive: the flagship 42,000sq ft venue, which has just opened next to Liverpool Street station on Broadgate in the City of London, is spread over two floors and can aptly be described as a foodie’s playground.
Behind its colossal revolving entrance doors, Eataly boasts a grab-and-go food market with dedicated pizza and pasta bars, the latter of which has a machine that can produce around 80kg of fresh pasta an hour. There’s also a giant wood-fired bread oven producing hundreds of loaves a day, which are available to takeaway; a towering indoor bar area stocked with wine, beer and spirits; an outdoor terrace with Aperol spritzeria; a dedicated dessert area (Via del Dolce) showcasing Italian cakes, pastry, cannoli and handmade gelato; a ‘Made in Eataly’ area stocking Italian paninis, focaccia, salads and classic meals to go; and the illy-branded Gran Caffè. And that’s just the ground floor…
Head upstairs, and you’ll find three independent restaurant spaces; a retail area stocking more than 5,000 Italian and local food products, with fruit and vegetables sourced from renowned catering supplier Natoora, and featuring fresh food counters including a butchers, fishmonger, and individual cured meat and cheese counters; a ‘cheese laboratory’ producing fresh mozzarella and Italian cheeses on site every day; a cookery school; and a mammoth wine cellar with more than 2,000 labels, which Eataly claims is London’s biggest single selection of Italian wines on sale.
Having first been announced way back in 2018, the arrival of Eataly in London has been a long time coming; it was originally scheduled to launch in 2020 before the pandemic pushed things back a year. For CEO Nicola Farinetti, who opened the first Eataly in Torino, Italy, back in 2007, finally getting the doors open in the capital is a relief. “We’re so proud and excited to open the doors to Eataly London for the first time,” he says. “We have a lot of faith in what we have to offer, all which is built on passion and the idea that good food brings people together.
“It’s not been the easiest year for the retail and hospitality sectors, but the industry has seen amazing innovation and resilience and a level of customer support that demonstrate exactly how much people care about food culture and spending quality time together. We’ve spent months getting things right so that visitors can live the true Eataly experience safely and enjoyably.”
To that end, Eataly has worked hard to make sure its mantra of ‘Eat, Shop, Learn’ is still front and centre, even if operations have had to be temporarily rethought as a result of the ongoing Coronavirus restrictions. For example, with the stalls unable to hand out food samples to guests as they pass by, much has been done to open out the kitchens and ensure the food preparation is visible to customers.
For now the indoor restaurant and bar areas remain closed, but are set to launch once restrictions ease on indoor hospitality settings later this month. A ‘grand opening’ is scheduled for 20 May, and will see two of the indoor restaurants begin service: Cucina del Mercato and Pasta e Pizza. The latter, as it sounds, will focus on wood-fired pizza and traditional pasta dishes; while the former will feature an ever-changing menu created from the stock of the fresh food counters. A third restaurant, Terra, which will have more of a fine-dining focus and contains a giant, three tonne wood-fire grill in the centre of its open kitchen, is scheduled to open in September.
“Traditionally, we would launch all of our services at once, to deliver our ‘Eat, Shop, Learn’ mantra through the variety of produce and services we offer,” explains Farinetti. “We have adapted swiftly to the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown, expanding our capacity for out outdoor dining, and ensuring we offer e-commerce and delivery over the initial launch period. All this is to offer the best possible Eataly experience even while we await to launch our indoor eateries, restaurants and cooking school.”
“It’s not been the easiest year for the retail
and hospitality sectors, but the industry
has seen amazing innovation and resilience"
Eataly can fairly be described as a premium offering, but has tailored its prices to ensure it remains broadly accessible. According to executive chef Eliano Crespi, each restaurant - including Terra - will have as low an entry point as possible.
This is certainly borne out in the launch menus. At Pasta e Pizza, a main dish will cost between £7 and £15, and include spaghetto di Gragnano IGP with Datterino tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, Sicilian salt and basil; Napoli pizza with Italian tomatoes, mozzarella, capers and salted anchovies; and calzone with cotto ham, mushrooms, tomato and fiordilatte. At Cucina del Mercato, meanwhile, small plates are typically set at between £5 and £9 and include Vicente Marino mackerel with rustic bread and pickled tropea onion; soft wild fennel-scented salami; and cuttlefish tartar with chilli, lime and chives.
Eataly’s arrival in London also represents an evolution of the UK’s food hall model. Until now the country’s many food hall operators have all broadly stuck close to the blueprint fashioned by the likes of Hawker House and Dinerama, which brought a number of independent street food and/or restaurant traders together under one roof. In contrast, Eataly assumes complete autonomy of its food stalls and restaurant spaces by operating them all in-house - a model some other players in segment are rumoured to be considering adopting in the future.
Beyond Broadgate, Farinetti is keeping tight-lipped about his plans to grow Eataly in the UK. In total the group currently operates more than 40 food halls, across 15 countries. “All our focus at the moment is on our first UK store, as openings are a long process,” he says. “We are so excited to introduce ourselves to Londoners, and to open in the city. But if the right opportunity for expansion, either in the capital or regionally, presents itself in the future, we would of course consider it.”