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whole foods, london

opened yesterday. as its two minutes from my house, i thought i'd take a peek on my way home from work.

quick first impression: MUCH superior to waitrose and positioned between m&s and the specialty (butcher, fruit and veg, wine etc) stores: loved to see all the reislings in the wine racks, loved that neals yard dairy stocked the cheese, loved the decent looking olive oil, the salamis etc. took some pizza home for the family - good-not-great, but better than pizza express, or even da marios.

while i couldn't see the whole store (its massive), i suspect they've done it right - the neighborhood is surrounded by londons wealthy expat (european and american) population who'll happily pay a little bit more for lots better. i can't see the shop working in londons more british neighborhoods - say the grungier islington or the east end, but kensingtons a perfect launch.

if whole foods sticks to this standard, i'm thrilled. anyone else checked the place out?

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  1. I'll take a look next time I'm in that neighborhood. I'm familiar with quite a few of the U.S. stores - last one I visited was Bellevue, WA in January. Most people interviewed on the news last night didn't seem to mind the high prices saying, 'It's London, after all.' Everyone has their priorities in life... food is often a big one and Whole Foods is very good at marketing and displaying things beautifully. So what did you buy, howler?? :-)

    20 Replies
    1. re: zuriga1

      just bought pizza for the family; i'll go shop at 9.00 pm when no-ones around and i can miss the lines. will certainly stock up on the riesling - i havent seen spatlese quality at £10 from good prducers in a while.

      prices aren't THAT high: they are mostly at the m&s sorta range and cheaper than, say, lidgates where you routinely pay £15 for a chicken.

      1. re: howler

        o how wonderful - I had no idea. I'm very tempted to leave this computer and shoot over to the other side of town (Grungy east-ender who actually is willing to pay a little extra).
        What is their fresh food section like?
        Did they have the 20 duifferent types of granola and interesting things such as home made peanutbutter?
        Do they have the big range of wash and beauty products as well, such as ALBA etc?

        I feel a little silly asking these quesitons, but this to me is very exciting!

        1. re: loisstella

          it IS fun. as to your other questions, why not come down and check it out?

          and to defend my grungy quote: its always been the case for cities in england that their west sides were wealthier and snazzier - the wind blows from the west and carries the pollution to the east. and it didn't help london that ww2 was spectacularly cruel to the east end.

          successful stores have always been about merchandizing and location, location, location. finally, as a chowhound, you CAN'T be grungy. on the other hand, if you were a (ugh) 'foodie' ...

          1. re: howler

            I'm coming!
            Think I just managed to blag myself an early exit from the office and come down to be inspired... and let's face it, I will overspend, because allthough I love my food, you are right, they wouldn't build a whole foods in Hackney! (you never know though, i live in the - up and coming - Victoria park area and the volume of the 'creative director type' and extremely expensive baby prams seem to go up by the day)

            1. re: loisstella

              enjoy! and get some riesling!

              re: victoria park - you are of course right, its where the new, funky young stuff is. i'm always amazed that london refuses to get trendy south of the river - inexorably eastward, but not southward. i suspect its a tribeca-wanna-look industrial sort of thing. but its a bit of a hike when it comes to getting out of town, no?

              other than the green papaya, i haven't found much of interest in hackney. am i missing anything?

              1. re: howler

                Well, I guess I'm one of those 'don't go south' snobs as well (yeah, I'll live in the east -end "ghetto" but don't venture south often). and yeah, it's a track if you're coming form the West -end, but of course delightfully close from the City (tube doesn't even have to get involved)

                In our area, I really like Namo (Victoria Park road), another vietnamese place.
                We have the Empress of India which is one of the new restaurants to cater for the new people (and their many infants), and it is good. Nice fresh dishes.
                However, about 2 weeks ago, a fantastic new fish and chips place opened, right next door to the Empress. It's called 'Fishshop' or 'Fishplace' or something along those lines.
                It could be a chain, but I'm not sure.
                We picked up some fish there the other day (after I had a root canal I was in the mood for some comfort food) and the cod was deliciously moist and flaky, the batter wasn't to greasy, nice; light and crispy. The mushy peas were yummie and very fresh.
                Plus, I really liked the packaging...
                Definitelly worth visitng next time you're hanging out in the lovely park.

                There's also Frocks, which unfortunatelly is a bit hit and miss. I've had a few fantastic meals there, but my most recent visit wasn't great. I hope they just had a sick chef, not a new one who's buggering things up for them. When it's good it's very good. I'll have to go again soon, and report back to you.

                A little bit out, but still close enough to call home - the steaks and friendly service of Santa Maria at Broadway market make me very happy.
                And, on saturday, at the Braodway market, you must try the mother / daughter vegetarian Indian home cooking. It's is beautiful, fragrant, 'clean', herby. An absolute favourite!

                1. re: loisstella

                  aaah, home cooked indian vegetarian food - thats the real thing, light, transcendent, spectacularly delicious.

                  ask them what region they're from next time. the guess is gujuarathi, since there are som namy (via east africa!) here.

                  1. re: howler

                    I was so impressed.
                    The usual British / Indian cooking doesn't appeal to me very much - too creamy etc,
                    We had some similar food (to the lady at Broadway) before in Northern California (Palo Alto, Sunnydale area) where you could even get an amazing breakfast...
                    The lady at Broadway has been a real discover.! It tastes of passionate homecooking, and that is the best way.

                    1. re: loisstella

                      "The usual British / Indian cooking doesn't appeal to me very much - too creamy etc,"

                      have you not seen my various rants about this?! here's one link, almost at random:

                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/31467...

                      1. re: howler

                        Ha!
                        I must admit, am a complete novice when it comes to Indian, because my experience was with the "Brick Lane" type restaurant only and I wasn't often impressed.
                        The experiences in California, and this lovely lady have opened my eyes.
                        I'd love to try more and also keen to have Indian breakfast again - I've heard West London does have some places. Have you got any tips?

                        1. re: loisstella

                          They do have make your own peanut butter at Whole Foods. I saw it on the TV last night. It's oh, so goopy. :-) The produce looked fantastic and maybe it's worth the extra pences.

                    2. re: howler

                      They're called Gujarati Rasoi and they don't just do Broadway Market.

                      http://londonfood.typepad.com/stuff/2...

                      1. re: Howard V

                        ta.

                        mother and son are almost undoubtedly from east africa, fyi. its funny how they spell 'muramba', which is a marmaladish chutney both the gujjus and maharastrians make (but never with just apple). also, its always chevda (chevdo sounds parsi-ish), but 'chevd-ro'?

                        gotta check out the food - it'll be interesting to see if they've 'africanised' it a bit.

                        1. re: Howard V

                          Sorry to ask, especially if I'm asking somehting I'm obviously overlooking... Where else are they?
                          The article mentions the stall at the market only as far as I can see....

                          1. re: loisstella

                            looks like they are at exmouth mkt on fridays and saturdays. but we really should start another thread if theres more on this subject.

                      2. re: loisstella

                        It's also worth visiting The Crown, on the south side of Victoria Park. The pub, as a whole, has organic certification. The food's pretty good, nice selection of wine and Pitfield beers.

                        1. re: Howard V

                          I'm pretty sure the Crown got transformed into a tapas bar last summer....

                    3. re: loisstella

                      Hi Lois I live in Manor Park (moved from Kensington in Feb 2006) and am always on the lookout for reliable/interesting places to eat between the City (my office is in Spitalfields) and Wanstead, so any recs gratefully received, and reciprocated.

                2. re: howler

                  not sure if your riesling was store label, but let me tell you...i was a regular at the whole foods in chicago on lincoln & belmont (if anyone knows it) and became a huge fan of the whole foods store label wines. i don't know what their strategy is--if they buy the grapes and make their own or contract out with someone--but i always found that the store label wine was really inexpensive and of above average quality. but then again, i've rarely met a bottle of wine i haven't liked. :)

              2. Although I am a very regular visiter to our local WF, around here they call it "Whole Paycheck".....I can't even imagine the price of things in a market in London.

                1. Dropped into Whole Foods this morning. I left very satisfied. All of the employees were very friendly and helpful and seemed to know what they were talking about. (There also seem to be a lot of employees brought over from the US.) I'll have photos and more details on my blog on Tuesday, but here's what really impressed me...

                  1. The cheese selection and the cheese room
                  2. The baskets that you can wheel along behind you (they are dangerous, however, in the hands of five year olds)
                  3. When I checked out, one of my items wasn't on their system. They gave it to me for free and the cashier told me--and I thought this was great--that it wasn't my fault that the salad dressing wasn't in the register, so I shouldn't have to wait for them to figure out the price. He also clarified (lest you are all heading to South Ken right now to buy all the salad dressing) that they have a great system in place to correct these sorts of problems as soon as they happen so it doesn't happen again.
                  4. The prepared food in the salad bars looks truly marvelous. That being said, my Whole Foods in Chicago had a ton of salad dressings, and I only saw three out at WFSouthKen.

                  There is definitely some constructive criticism--I felt like I should have had my boarding card and passport ready as I went through the tills--but I thought it was pretty great for a grocery store. (Also, I checked out at 12 and all in all didn't wait that long.) WF is not Borough Market, but then again, nothing is.

                  Felt bad for the poor folks at M&S who had hired a guy on stilts and all sorts of young women with sashes to try to lure people in. They have a strong product...they shouldn't be afraid. (And well, a guy in stilts in never going to solve any problems.)

                  1. I spent a happy hour at Whole Foods today.

                    Overall reaction: a great addition to the high street, in particular because it carries a wide range of interesting brands and items not carried elsewhere. But I was less impressed than I thought I'd be by the layout and display.

                    Good points:
                    - Great range (which I hope will encourage other high-end supermarkets to expand their offering).
                    - Huge selection of smoked fish (oodles of different types of smoked salmon etc)
                    - Some interesting stuff in the produce section (fresh horseradish, banana flowers, palm hearts, great *proper-sized* bunches of fresh herbs)
                    - Really interesting snacks, crisps etc
                    - The fresh peanut/almond/cashew-butter bar
                    - A nice fish counter (reminding me of Andronico's in Palo Alto); although maybe a bit too much tuna and swordfish (yawn!)
                    - Some tasty-looking dry-aged beef in cold storage
                    - A zillion types of organic milk!
                    - Prices not as high as I expected
                    - Incredibly friendly and enthusiastic service throughout

                    What impressed me less:
                    - The store layout and display wasn't as classy as WFMs I remember from the US. This isn't a big deal, but I wasn't as blown away as I expected to be (examples: a lot of poor quality/small/obscure signage, making it hard to navigate)
                    - No fresh galangal or thai basil (surprising given the size of the Thai condiments section and the otherwise great produce)

                    But a great place, and good news for shoppers - not least because the other high-end supermarkets will have to up their game to compete!

                    10 Replies
                      1. re: abpstigand

                        Whole Foods is reviewed in today's Observer.

                        Clearly they aim for a select and selective customer base and have probably picked the one part of the UK where folk might reguarly cross their threshold.

                        £9.99 a kilo for non-organic cherries? In the European cherry season? Surely they are having a laugh at their customer's expense (although another Brit phrase came to mind).

                        As Sunday Times food critic Adrian Gill comments it's a "very American approach to food". I doubt whether UK supermarket chains will be quaking in their boots.

                        John

                        1. re: Brit on a Trip

                          my, my - all this from newspaper reports. just imagine how much more sure you'd be of your opinions if you actually went there (grin).

                          fyi, brits are a minority at the store - its mostly expats - so an "american approach to food" is fine. and its been so crowded that yesterday i saw they'd had to put up a line and restrict entry.

                          1. re: Brit on a Trip

                            Ocado is showing cherries at £14.51 a kilo at the moment.

                            Perhaps the Observer journalist should have done some basic research before assuming Whole Foods are idiots... :-)

                            UK supermarkets spend a fair bit of time looking at store layouts and offerings in other countries, and see the high-end US 'market' format as an attractive one. So the presence of one of the masters of the genre in a very affluent London market will if anything speed up the trend.

                            1. re: Brit on a Trip

                              Just curious... what did Gill say was the 'American approach to food?'

                                1. re: Brit on a Trip

                                  Thanks for the link. I see Gill equates American approach with 'volume.'

                                  1. re: zuriga1

                                    Yeah, I read that and thought "Hmmm". It's not something I've particularly noticed when I've visited supermarkets in the US - they don't seem to me to be too different between, say, a major Sainsbury's here, or a major Carrefour in France or Spain.

                                    I take the journo's point about mustard variety though. There was a time when I was sucker for every new, different mustard I came across in a foodie shop. Now I just have Colman's powder for scorchingly hot English; and a good Dijon and a grain.

                                    1. re: Brit on a Trip

                                      The only difference I miss between the supermarkets here vs the U.S., is the larger 'volume' amount of cake mixes, muffin mixes etc. that I had back there. I confess to being a rather lazy baker. I was surprised to see how little there is in the UK baking sections but there is good reason for it. I was the same with mustards. They can overwhelm the pantry and for no good reason. But then I just found Mrs. Bridge's Balsamic grain - it's good!

                                      1. re: zuriga1

                                        One thing I miss about grocery stores in the U.S. is that the shelves always seem to be full. Go to a grocery store in London at 7 p.m. on a Thursday and it's slim pickins! And let's say they have lemon yogurt on Monday...there's no guarantee they'll have lemon on Thursday...cherry or something else, maybe.

                                        Is it me?

                          2. I'm a Californian expat living in Shoreditch and I am so pleased WF is here. I am equally pleased that I don't live anywhere near it (for many of the same reasons that we didn't choose to live in SouthKen - just not right for us). Whole Paycheck, indeed! I like not having to make the choice of my local groceries or Whole Foods - at least not on a daily/weekly basis.

                            That said...I hear they have a good selection of own-brand stuff, and - MY FAVORITE - blue corn tortilla chips which I have been as of yet unable to find in London. We won't be going this weekend, but are planning to head over there very early in a week or so.

                            (And - off topic - but I don't nec. think that the East End would be that wrong for WF...they've done quite well South of Market in San Francisco...admittedly nearer the ballpark than deeper into the area, but...)

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: KaCHing

                              The store is in High St Kensington and not South Kensington. It is a monstrous carbuncle in Ken High and thank goodness people are beginning to realiseit. there are mountains of stuff thrown out everyday and the area at the rearsmells horendous and must be a safety hazard K & C environmental take note. The sasusages and prepared dishes look extremely tired and flacid and as for the Salads and Curries....£17.00 a kilo...please !!
                              Chocolates are now old and tasteless, eggs came from a box labelled eggs !!

                              The biggest disaster is that they closed the old entrances through Barkers arcade which used to have a huge pedestrian flow and they closed the side entance as well forcing everyone to go in and out of the main entrance passing the most intimidating heavies which would not be out of place in a Nightclub plus plainclothes detectives
                              patolling the store !! Get wise guys..you are guarding dead fish and potatoes not Harrods Jewellery. The wastage in food and the cost of all these cameras and wages would not cover the cost of the odd bag of beans occasionally filched

                              1. re: cameron1

                                i take it you didn't like the place (grin)