Rewind three decades, zoom in on Knightsbridge, and you'll see two figures, one little, one large, making a very specific beeline to a very specific place: Harrods. The figures are my mother and I and we are not heading towards fashion, the perfume counters or even the toy department, but the Food Hall. When I was young, the Harrods Food Hall spelled wonder. Gilded shelves bore gorgeously wrapped packs of puffball marshmallows; shiny glass panes sheltered the delights of the delicatessen. We would leave with a clutch of almost too-beautiful-to-eat treats, always including a samosa – my mother claimed they were the best in London.
Returning to the present day and, when asked to interview Andy Cook, Executive Head Chef at Harrods Food Halls, I'm curious. David Collins Studio has refurbished the Fresh Market Hall in the second phase of a two-year transformation of the historic Food Halls (the first saw David Collins Studio revamp the Roastery and Bake Hall). Having lived away from London for a decade, it's been a while since I visited Harrods and I wonder if it will make as vivid an impression – and whether the samosas are still the city's best.
Yes, is the short answer to the first question. This is undoubtedly the chicest place to buy food I've experienced. It feels almost like an art gallery, rather than a food market, thanks to the sumptuous displays facilitated by the refurbishment. Cinco Jotas hams hang high above the eyeline behind glass panes at one side, wheels of cheese preside over the room at another. The 'Green Wall' is not just verdant, but a magnified paint palette exhibiting vibrant carrots (I count three types), plump tomatoes, miniature pineapples. But this is no staid museum of food – people are shopping. I join them, picking up a golden shopping basket whose black lacquered handle nods to the monochrome floor and gleaming black panes framing teal and gold tiles that reach the ceiling. The new Vegetable Butchery intrigues – the 'Butcher' explains that he and his team prepare produce in any way a customer may require for a particular dish. He has just conjured up a miso-seasoned aubergine, which I'd love to be able to roast right away. Luckily, this is not just a very special food store, but also the ideal place to satisfy immediate hunger pangs: the 'ultimate roast chicken' at the Rotisserie, burnt butter and sage pasta at the central island occupied by Pasta Evangelists on one side and Karma by Vineet Bhatia on the other. It's the latter that I head for. The chef delicately boxes up two pastry prisms, each containing potatoes, peas, cumin, turmeric and chillies, to be dipped in a bright green coriander chutney; I present them to my mother. The verdict? Still the best samosas in London.
Turns out I'm not the only one with fond childhood memories of the Harrods Food Hall. Executive Chef Andy Cook tells us about his youthful trips to Harrods, the innovation at play within David Collins Studio's redesign of the Fresh Market Hall and his vision for how the space will continue to evolve.
Rmishka Singh: What was your first encounter with Harrods and the Food Halls?
Andy Cook: My earliest memory of Harrods is by far the Food Halls. I remember as a kid coming down to London and getting lost in them and looking at the displays on the counters and picking one item to take away. It's always been a magical place and I'm incredibly proud to be a part of the team here – and to work with such an exceptional team. The Harrods philosophy is 'anything is possible', and the new Fresh Market Hall certainly provides services and products beyond the realm of the expected – the Truffle offering, the Vegetable Butchery.
RS: How have customers' desires and comments fed into the new offering?
AC: Our developments within the new hall were certainly approached with the customer at the front of our minds. Customers want quality product in an efficient and accessible manner and that inspired our Food-To-Go proposition, which was previously non-existent. The Vegetable Butchery has been a huge success and something we're incredibly proud of. It's a sign of the times and customers' eating habits – more and more are adding vegetables to their diets. We've since expanded our offering to fresh juices comprised of produce from the Green Wall as well as fruits, as we've seen a vast increase in popularity across London for fresh juices. The Fresh Market Hall is also a celebration of the foodies. Each and every product we have on our shelves, from the Urbani Truffles to our salmon sourced from the Faroe Islands, has a distinct provenance, and it's definitely something our discerning customers care about when looking for ingredients.
RS: David Collins Studio has transformed the look and feel of the Fresh Market Hall. What was your vision for the Fresh Market Hall and how has this been realised? What are the unique complexities of designing a luxury Food Hall – in a listed room – and how does the design respond to the brief?
AC: The David Collins Studio team did a fantastic job bringing the Fresh Market Hall to life. We wanted a hall that had energy and that created this sense of a bustling food market in a luxury environment. Each edit within the hall is a celebration of the product we wanted to showcase, the Charcuterie, Cheese, The Rotisserie, Fish and The Butchery. At Harrods we really strive to be these creators of magic, and the theatre and engaging elements within the Fresh Market Hall have really achieved this. Customers have this complete immersive experience the minute they enter the room and this is definitely a part of the design. One of the unique complexities of designing a luxury Food Hall is showcasing fresh food in its best light, without putting the product in a state or position where it could perish. Each dish within our Deli counter has been revisited, repurposed and some are even brand new to the offering; a key need was to display the products in an inclusive and inviting way, whilst still having this level of premium quality to the look and feel. We're really happy with how the David Collins Studio team created an environment that supported this.
RS: Look is one thing, but David Collins Studio pride themselves on creating a space that functions. With 150 in-house chefs, operational smoothness must be key. From your perspective as the Executive Head Chef, how does the new design aid functionality and respond to the multiple offers within the Food Hall? Do you have any insights on how the design of the space impacts on sales?
AC: The new design of the Fresh Market Hall supports the breadth of our offer in a number of ways. Firstly, the beautiful glass displays inputted above each of the food edits help guide customers across the room, but also add such a beautiful element to it. We see most of our customers, both new and old, stop to take photos of the cheese reels above the counter, the dry aged meat in the refrigerator above The Butchery, as well the hanging legs above the Charcuterie. Sales since we opened in November have been strong, and that's not only a reflection of the hard work my team has done to bring new dishes to our proposition, or how thoroughly our expert buyers have sourced the best ingredients, but also the David Collins Studio team, who have created a space that is engaging and invites customers to get involved and try the product.
RS: Is there any innovation at play in the room that a customer or visitor might not notice, but which David Collins Studio incorporated to make things work better?
AC: One of the key elements throughout the entire Taste Revolution has been maintaining the rich history of our Food Halls whilst elevating the design for the modern customer. The lighting in both the Roastery & Bake Hall and now the Fresh Market Hall has added a strong inviting feel to the room, which instantly makes customers feel welcomed and settled. Feeling comfortable is a huge part of a retail experience and sensorial elements including lighting and sound really help shape that for our audience. The refrigerator behind The Butchery is incredibly useful and also beautiful to look at. I love highlighting that element to our customers and showing them the different stages of ageing for certain cuts; a number of our customers are keen meat fans and we have some who really prefer dry-aged to fresh, so we're incredibly happy to offer this in a more elevated and personal way. This is definitely where the David Collins Studio team shined, in bringing a visually beautiful element to the Food Hall which was also highly efficient.
RS: How does the look and feel of the Fresh Market Hall compare to the Roastery and Bake Hall, and how does it synergise with it?
AC: The two rooms really fit seamlessly together. The lighting, the merchandising of the product and the music are all a minor sum of many parts that give the rooms a new lease of life and energy. As the first two core parts of The Taste Revolution, we're incredibly happy with the look and feel as well as the energy brought to both rooms. Each room has elements to engage with and bespoke offerings that make each shopper's experience personal. Whether it's exploring the scents at the spice table in the Roastery & Bake Hall and personalising your own Signature Sourdough, or it's picking your favourite seasonal vegetables from our Green Wall and having it prepared into a stir fry for you, the rooms compliment their offerings with services that make it special for everyone.
RS: How do you see the Food Hall evolving now that it has opened, and how does the design allow for flexibility as the food offer evolves and changes with the seasons, food trends and so on?
AC: A core feature within the Fresh Market Hall is seasonality. As the seasons change, you will see the room change, even just through the colours. Our dishes within the Deli counter will evolve as different fruits and vegetables become more plentiful. We are also always thinking not necessarily about trends, but about our customers. We have a lot of locals, as well as international customers, who have particular favourites and it's our job to continue developing our offering to engage with them and ensure we are fulfilling their needs. Our team of Buyers are experts in the exceptional and always have their fingers on the pulse forecasting what our customers would like and elevating it the Harrods way. To give an example, we're just about to introduce roast potatoes to our Rotisserie, which will also see an expansion in its daily offering. We found that offering quality options for dinner essentials like potatoes are really appreciated by our customers, and it's something you will continue to see develop as we continue in our journey with The Taste Revolution!
Rmishka Singh is a freelance writer and editor.
Kensington Leverne is a fashion and interiors photographer living in London.