The order day, I read an interesting and sad article about how American candy shops are taking over London’s West End. Import charges drive the prices of E-number-riffic cereals and putrid, gritty chocolate sky-high. What is more, the manager of one of these shops stated that some patrons will buy hundreds of quid’s worth of sweeties. In one case, someone had over £1,000 of the stuff delivered in a trolley to their front door.
I laughed and cried at the same time, before realising that only a couple of weeks before, we had been a part of a remarkably similar sorry situation. You see, Eataly has finally come to town. The expansive, IKEA-like market hall of gorgeous Italian food and wine has not exactly taken over like the candy shops, but now occupies an enormous retail space next to Liverpool Street Station, seemingly most of the length of Bishopsgate, thus making the place impossible to ignore if you happen to be in this part of The City. Having been slated to arrive for years, Eataly was delayed by the pandemic but now it was finally here and we (by “we”, I mean The European) had to visit.
We are not strangers to Eataly. When living in the UAE, we frequented the store at Dubai Mall. On one visit, we got led on by a truffle promotion and spent the best part of five hundred Dirhams on one starter, two pasta dishes and a couple of drinks. We know that their food is not cheap; in Dubai, due to import charges, and it is the same story in London, with bonus Brexit-related nonsense.
I am not exactly moaning. For buying sundries for the kitchen cupboards and fridge, Eataly cannot be beaten. The products are glorious, and when you throw them into homemade pastas and risottos, you can truly taste the difference. The restaurants in the stores can be expensive, but the food is made with Eataly’s own produce, and is divine. This was the main reason we decided to book in for lunch, opting to treat ourselves to some first-class pasta and then a leisurely saunter around the market hall for cans of crushed tomato and pesto which is as fresh as a summer afternoon.
We arrived and immediately got pissed off. Eataly, being brand new, was organised chaos. We were hoping to blag a table on the small-ish terrace overlooking the choking traffic of Bishopsgate but were instead directed upstairs to the main restaurant called Pasta e Pizza (there is also a small-bites eatery with a counter-to-table concept, called Cucina del Mercato). Pasta e Pizza is a huge, brooding, and airy space, a sensory spectacle of hubbub, enchanting smells, and big orange glasses of Aperol Spritz. It is great to see life back in the London dining scene, but the experience is not peaceful. We spent our whole lunch learning in detail about the guy eating next to us and his carefully thought-out (but idiotic) plan for retirement.
We got drinks. The European spent her lunch necking San Pellegrino and glasses of a crisp Pinot Grigio and I joined the masses on Aperol (I like the taste and love its colour). We ordered a sharing board of cheese and cured meats while we considered the pasta and pizza options.
What arrived was a burdensome spread of glorious cold cuts, served on a wooden plank so large it could have easily been an unfettled cross-section of giant sequoia. Do not get me wrong, it was a sight to behold, and as a charcuterie and cheese board, we wanted for nothing more. We had taken a homemade sourdough from Eataly’s bakery, which was fluffy and full of taste, renewing my tears at being so deficient in bread-baking compared to, well, anyone else in London really.
We punched out way through the mountain of cheese, hams, and salamis and for some reason, decided to progress to main courses. The European took her long-time favourite, spaghetto alla vongole, and I ordered a white pizza with pesto, speck and Stracciatella.
Ordering these starchy, stodgy main courses was the perfect example of a brilliant mistake. We batted through the food, loving what we were tasting. The European asserted that her pasta was cooked very well, the spaghetti sucking up the briny water from the perfectly done clams. The pizza was superb. Eataly long-proves their dough for fifty hours, giving it a bouncy texture and deep, piquant taste. The combination of toppings danced the find dance between being sultry and light. It was tough to finish, but I got there in the end.
It was a heavy, heavy lunch, taking us by surprise. Our waitress, a perma-positive Italian lady with a spring in her step (and clearly a deft skill for upselling to two piglets) mentioned how much food is doggie-bagged here. We had our own doggie-bagging to do in the market hall, so we downed our final round of wine and Aperol and settled up.
Once again, Eataly hit us in the wallet as well as the stomach. All in, the bill came to around £one-hundred and twenty, putting it in the five-hundred Dirham territory from our truffly adventures of 2017. Based on this, the guy next to us will not have much left over to invest in his pension if he eats here too often.
Having got the obligatory moaning about the price out of the way, I do think we were stung on the drink, which is pretty much standard practice in town. There is extraordinarily little to complain about in terms of food and service, save for the restaurant’s ambience being a little too similar to a cattle market. Would we go again? Yes, for sure, but next time we would order with our heads, not with our stomachs. It might be a little pricey, but I would prefer to line HMRC’s pockets buying Italian food rather than American candy and Froot Loops.