WHOLE FOODS: A WHOLE LOT O’ NUTIN’
As in so many things, whither goest The good ol’ US of Stateside so goest Blighty.
It is no surprise then, that yesterday, the squealing hordes descended upon the first UK branch of Wholefoods, the uber chain which has transformed US food retailing and whose appearances in NYC were greeted like the second coming.
I quite like pottering around the Whole Foods in Manhattan ( three of them that I have visited, I think). The displays are pretty spectacular and the range of goods on offer, impressive . I rarely buy anything there, mind you as the queues, even once the novelty of the store opening wears off, are truly hateful and who has time to stand in line for an hour to buy a smoothie, even if you are a brit and queuing counts as leisure time?
The opening of the first European branch of Whole foods in the former Barker’s site in Kensington has been greeted with equal brouhaha and, when I wandered in with my chum, Petra, at about 5pm, the place was mobbed and the queues were already beginning to test the patience of customers.
Like their US counterparts, the product range in the new branch is very extensive and, as a place to buy interesting brands and unusual items, it is certainly worth a visit. No more so, on first glance admittedly, than a well stocked Waitrose
However, also like its US counterparts, the fresh food is a real triumph of style over substance. Well displayed fish had a mat sheen and dull eyes that would never pass muster in Steve Hatt and the meat displays were very limited in choices and cuts with bright red beef alongside a limited choice of pork and lamb joints and far too many of those pre-prepared marinated this and stuffed that for the lazy cook.
A Pies & Pasties area was disappointingly empty with less stock than the counter at Selfridges and even though they had the Joselito Bellota on sale, it was being hacked at by a staff member with all the skill of a navvy. All for £16.50 for 100gms which is about a quid more than Brindisa, I think,
Upstairs in the “restaurant” area there was little more to persuade me that it would be worth travelling across town to come here on anything other than an irregular basis. Tired looking pastries, dried out pizza, a faux tapa joint, a small beer selection and gelato that was, for £1.79 a scoop, greasy and no better than supermarket premium range.
It will be colossally popular in the UK, of course where enthusiasm for food still outstrips knowledge, and, as I read one of the evening free sheets, I saw the first of what will be many vox pops squeaking about how fabulous it is and how it will change the shape of food retailing in the UK.
The latter may well be true, the former certainly is not, on a first hurried visit, at least. As Petra, quite rightly, put it " on a macro level it is extraordinary, but it doesn't hold up to micro examination" It is more a triumph of logistics than one of excellence in food.
And, be warned folks, those queues are never going to go away. Take a sleeping bag if you are popping in for a bag of sugar.