What: Located on the ground floor of the brutalist Centre Point building, Arcade Food Hall is a fresh incarnation of the glitzy food hall that originally opened in July 2019 but whose doors remained closed after the first lockdown.
Who: London restaurateurs du jour JKS Restaurants have taken on the operations at vast building and breathed fresh life into it. The group, which runs restaurants including Gymkhana, Brigadiers and Trishna as well as partnerships with chefs for venues such as Sabor, Lyle’s and Kitchen Table, has used its strength in depth to create a ‘world food’ offer at the location.
The food: Despite being a custodian of numerous London restaurants, JKS has not relied on its current hymn sheet for any of Arcade’s food vendors. That said, there’s a strong Asian and Middle Eastern element to the offer with options that include Hero Indian Fast Food, serving North Indian street food classics; shawarma from Shatta & Toum; sushi and omakase from Sushi Kamon; and Nepalese food from Tipan Tapan. Chef Luke Farrell oversees two concepts at the venue - a full-service Southern Thai restaurant called Plaza Khao Gaeng (pictured below) on the mezzanine floor that accepts reservations, as well as Indonesian street food kitchen Bebek! Bebek! Other options include burgers from Manna, desserts from Bompas & Parr’s new Benham & Froud Jelladrome brand; and Arcade Provisions, which serves a selection of sandwiches created by Margot and Hector Henderson.
The vibe: JKS has sensibly decided to not take the ‘rip it all out and start again approach’ that restaurateurs tend to follow regardless of the state of the site they are taking on. Instead, much of the old Arcade Food Theatre styling remains with seemingly only superficial design changes including seating and signage. The biggest change is upstairs at Plaza Khao Gaeng where the previously quite dark area has been turned into a Bangkok-style cafe complete with strip lighting, plastic covered tables and wooden slatted blinds. Significantly, JKS has introduced much needed tech throughout the venue that allows guests to order direct-to-table from each of the restaurant kitchens and bar, via QR codes present on their menus, making it easier for groups to eat together and creating a less frantic and more relaxed - yet vibey - environment as a result.
And another thing: Sabor’s Nieves Barragán Mohacho was supposed to be operating new sister brand Saborcito at Arcade but pulled out because of ongoing commitments at her Mayfair restaurant.
103-105 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1DB
Arcade 2.0 is a brave but considered reboot of the ambitious venue
Under new operator JKS Restaurants Arcade Food Hall could finally live up to its potential, writes Stefan Chomka.
The word ‘theatre’ may have been dropped from Arcade under the stewardship of its new owner JKS (it is now more prosaically called a food hall) but there is plenty on show at the rebooted venue to suggest that it could have remained part of the branding in its new guise. In fact, in many ways the new Arcade feels very similar to the old one which, given the modern look and sleek design of the original, is no bad thing. That JKS hasn’t ploughed millions into stripping it out and starting again from scratch is indicative not just of the savvy nature of the restaurant group in terms of spending but also of what it saw in the ill-fated concept first time round.
Exactly why Arcade Food Theatre failed to live up to the expectations and hype is hard to pinpoint. Opening eight months or so before the first lockdown won’t have helped but concepts of a similar scale have come out the other side of the pandemic intact. JKS obviously sees potential in the venue and the concept but it is with some subtle differences that it hopes will make a better fist of it this time round.
The key difference with Hall rather than Theatre is the food offer - not so much the style of food but in what exactly is being offered. At Theatre, restaurants including Oklava, Chotto Matte, El Pastor and Flat Iron offered reduced menus (with some new additions) that were available elsewhere, but this time round at Hall there is no repetition. The logic is sound. While JKS has a number of brands that could have fitted nicely into the venue with few tweaks and little fuss, not least kebab brand Berenjak, Taiwanese bun player Bao, and Indian food restaurant Brigadiers, this would not have created the ‘destination’ venue required to make it a success. Why, the thinking goes, would someone come to Arcade for a bao bun or a kebab when they could as easily get them down the road?
The other difference is one of operations. Where the food hall model often falls done is in the practicalities - people having to queue at separate vendors while someone else holds the table does not make for a relaxing or pleasurable experience, begging the question ‘why come here and not to a restaurant where everything comes to us?’. JKS has answered that with technology and the trusty QR code, the undisputed biggest winner of the pandemic, by allowing people to order at their table and have drinks and food come to them, thus making for a much more enjoyable experience.
While JKS has pitched the new venue as a world food offer the lean towards Asia in particular is noticeable. The eleventh hour replacement of Saborcito with Nepalese food concept Tipan Tapan has further tipped the balance in this regard, with a lack of European food options noticeable. While this might not have been the initial intention, Indian and Asian food is very much JKS’ sweet spot and in many ways its gives Arcade Food Hall a clearer focus than some of the other food halls in the capital. The noticeable exception is the American diner brand Manna’s fried chicken and smashed burgers, which seems to be at odds with the rest of the food on offer.
No sensible restaurateur would consider omitting a burger or fried chicken option from a food hall given the popularity of such dishes, but in this instance Arcade Food Hall could very much hold its own without them.