Arcade Food Theatre is here for the drama. The programme notes alone look good enough to eat.
It’s a Tottenham Court Road site-specific production beneath the Grade-II listed Centre Point tower starring an opening cast of: Tóu, an Insta-delectable katsu sandwich shop; a Lina Stores restaurant; Pastorcito, a new Mexican restaurant from the Harts Group with a rotating Pastor kebab; Oklava, peddler of Turkish delights; Chotto by Chotto Matte, an adaptation of Australian restaurateur Kurt Zdesar’s approach to Nikkei cuisine now renowned from Miami to Toronto; and much more.
You’ll nip in for a Pophams Bakery pain au oh-so-dark chocolat and maple bacon pain au raisins at 8am, and gnaw on a melt-in-your-mouth piri piri chicken leg from Casita do Frango when it shuts just before midnight. That’s my plan, anyway.
Walking into the Olympic-pool-sized space, it’s immaculately laid out in black marble and listed columns. The space used to be a bus terminal and your first thought is a perplexed “where am I going?” Resident kitchens are meant to have a shelf-life of about a year here before someone else moves in, with the hope that each will bring a new, distinctive flavour to this fast-eating medium. “It’s not going to be your average market,” says chef Ana Goncalves at Tóu, slicing around 15 hunks of cut white brioche in four seconds, slathering on raspberry jam and kimchi XO sauce, a slice of white onion and crispy cabbage. The immediacy of the experience is fun, too: you’ll lean over a heavy-set kitchen counter to chat with chefs who want to keep you at their restaurant all night.
“It’s all about the theatre of food — the sights, the sounds, the feel, the taste”, says Thierry Brocher, head of operations, giving me the grand tour of the marbled ground floor of the Centre Point tower in Tottenham Court Road. Cretaceous-looking plant life looms under soft lighting, and soft jazz floats in the mezzanine “Loft” area, where 40 people at a time will be nestled overlooking six kitchen units, glistening metal piping and the ground floor below. There’s even a bar where, with supervision, you can make your own drinks.
There’s another bar downstairs where an interpretation of Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, by artist Marco Brambilla (known for directing Kanye West’s Power video), tumbles across TV screens like a kaleidoscope. There isn’t a clock in sight. “We want people to feel a bit lost”, says Brocher. Which is not an unpleasant feeling — a little dizzying, as I nearly walk straight into a corridor that turns out to be a mirror. There will be live music: it recalls a more accessible version of The Ned.
But for all the theatrics it’s an unexpected delight to eat “market” food from crockery rather than a flavour-sapping cardboard box. Burrata Pansoti pasta at Lina Stores is made with pasta so fresh I can almost see Sicily; Pastorcito’s Super Gringa wrap, carved straight from the Pastor, is such meaty magic we should probably alert the church elders. Busting a gut three dishes in, it’s a disservice to label Chotto Matte’s Nikkei Sashimi the finest palate-cleanser I’ve had mid-meal: it’s an explosion of Peruvian flavour. And Flat Iron’s experimental storefront rolls a steak up in a Yorkshire pudding wrap.
Brocher expects to have at least 1,000 people in every day, spending about £25 a head on food. Cocktails on tap are £9, including espresso martinis, hot pink margaritas and green gimlets. It’s all very adventurous: a chocolate-infused Old Fashioned is one of the more rewarding pours I’ve enjoyed lately; a lavender G&T feels a bit like being water-boarded by potpourri. Beers only come in 43cl highball glasses, so stick to the cocktails if you’re looking to drink liberally.
St Giles Square outside has a giant screen showing the Tour de France, so it’s the sort of midpoint people will gravitate towards. I love it — although I’m the sort of melancholic who finds airport terminals alluring. The curtains are up, now on with the show.
Arcade Food Theatre is open at 103-105 New Oxford Street, WC1A 1DB. For more information, visit arcade-london.com