New Sunday food market in O2 car park

At 10am this Sunday, West Hampstead welcomes a new food market. The imaginatively named 255 Finchley Road Market is in the O2 car park (some old hands may remember when the Swiss Cottage farmers market was there on Wednesdays, before our own Saturday market had started).

Land Securities, owners of the O2, approached the Food Commission, which already runs the successful Brook Green Market and Kitchen about setting something up. The market will be at the Sainsbury’s end of the car park (on the ‘bus stop’ side) but you won’t be able to miss it – there will be more than 20 stalls, including:

  • Astons Organic Bakery
  • Dee’s Pies
  • Popina Bakery (a familiar face from the Saturday market)
  • Mini Crops (oh so trendy micro greens, sadly not at micro prices)
  • Wild Country Organics (another familiar face from our Saturday market)
  • Woodlands Jersey Beef (beef from Hampshire’s Meon valley)
  • Picks Organic Farm (for those other meats)
  • The Mushroom Table (biodynamic mushrooms – for the biodynamic man – or woman, in your life)

For you homesick Europeans there are a range of European stalls (buy now, before Brexit tariffs)

  • La Contrada (Italian cheese and hams)
  • L’Ami Jac (French wines selected by a Scotsman)
  • Montadito (Spanish foods)
  • The Olive Bar (anti-Brexit, antipasti from across Europe)
  • Nonya Secrets (from further afield, Malay/Singaporean sauces)
  • Quickes Cheese (cloth-bound cheddar)
  • Pep and Lekker (vegan and gluten-free soups)

If you are bit peckish on the day they will have a few stalls selling food to eat then and there:

  • Ede and Bibe (Italian street food)
  • Fruiliamo (Northern Italian street food – mainly vegan/gluten free)
  • The Three Little Pigs (BBQ’d meats in pitta wraps)
  • Rocks (Shellfish cooked on charcoal)
  • Picks Organic Meats (yes the same ones as above, they also sell hot sausages etc)

Looks like quite an interesting selection. And if all that isn’t enough, as at their Brook Green market there will be events such as gin week, butchery workshops, and cheese & wine demos.

London Farmer’s Markets had its own plans for a Sunday market but that planning application has since been withdrawn, so 255 Finchley Road has well and truly stolen a march on them. The new market may well attract a slightly different crowd from the Iverson Road Saturday market, not least the thousands of extra visitors to the O2 centre/Homebase and residents living up and down the Finchley Road. The market will be open 10am to 3pm on Sundays.

Give local foster kids a gift this Christmas

The O2 centre and Camden council are collaborating again to encourage shoppers to give a small present for one of 129 children who are in foster care in the local area this year. Last year, the scheme distributed more than 100 presents.

Homebase has donated a “Gift Tree”, whichi is standing proudly on the upper level of the O2 centre. The tree is decorated with gift tags that have the name and age of a local foster child. Choose a gift tag and then buy a present – pretty simple, and with Tiger and Waterstones both on hand, there’s really no excuse. Gifts can be dropped off at the centre management offices (easy to find) and will be distributed in time for Christmas Day.

Jason King, who runs the O2 Centre said, “We hope the ‘Gift Tree’ will help bring some Christmas magic to more children and young people within our local community, many of whom will have had a tough year. As shoppers are picking up gifts and stocking fillers for their friends and families, we hope that many of them will also be inspired to pick up one extra gift that will make a big difference to a child in foster care.”

129 children and young people are currently in foster care within Camden for a wide variety of reasons. Some may have been affected by an illness in the family, others have suffered abuse or neglect, or a breakdown in family relations, while others have come to the UK unaccompanied from abroad.

West Hampstead O2 Centre gift tree

O2 Centre looks to start-ups to boost food offer

People don’t tend to salivate at the prospect of shopping centre dining. Indeed, in some places it seems we’ve barely moved on since the days when a jacket potato with chilli was considered cutting-edge cuisine.

Yet, on the eve of another restaurant opening there – Frankie & Benny’s starts trading Monday – the O2 Centre on Finchley Road is showing signs of becoming a dining destination, especially as two more intriguing eating places have popped up in and among the more familiar chains. Not that it’s easy for these start-ups to mix it with the big boys. It take determination and a keen understanding of what the centre looks for from restaurants.

Falafel City, on the upper floor, was founded by Mitan Sachdev and his wife Kajal in 2011. It took them two years to refine their recipes and bring their product to market – and, crucially, to find the right location to open their first restaurant.

Mitan and Kajal Sachdev

Kajal and Mitan Sachdev

Mitan gave up his career at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to follow his dream of becoming a restaurateur. Kajal developed all the recipes. “She’s an amazing cook”, he says. The couple has created what they believe to be a unique concept: freshly-cooked falafels with an international twist, served in a bright and buzzy fast-food environment.

One of the main hurdles for the fledgling business was finding suitable premises to rent. From the outset, the Sachdevs knew that they wanted their business to be surrounded by premium brands, but with no track record of running a restaurant, many retail landlords were reluctant to take them on.

The O2 Centre unit was ideal, says Mitan, who’s far removed from the clichéd streetfood vendor parking a van in a south London carpark. “We’re grateful to the O2 Centre management for taking a bit of a punt” he says. Perhaps reflecting his corporate background he adds, “I always wanted to be near a Vue, and near a Virgin Active.” How convenient!

It’s clear that branding has played a big part in Falafel City’s success. “If you want to play with the big boys, you have to look the part,” explains Mitan. Indeed, Falafel City, with its distinctive rotating sign, fits in comfortably alongside its nearest neighbours Byron and Yo! Sushi.

Affia Bioh has a similar story. Affia gave up her job in banking to start selling Ghanaian food. After successfully testing the market with a chilled range, which Selfridges took on and still sell in its food hall, she wanted to branch out to a “Chop Bar”. The result: Chop Pot, which sits opposite Waterstone’s on the ground floor on the way to Sainsbury’s and sells hot takeaway food.

Affia Bioh at Chop Pot

Affia Bioh at Chop Pot

The O2 Centre was a logical location for Affia, who was born and raised in the area – she attended South Hampstead School for Girls and St Augustine’s in Kilburn. She likes the diversity of the local population. “Local people are very inquisitive about different cuisines and want to try them”, she says. She’s happy to talk customers through the different dishes, which are Ghanaian street food classics such as Jollof Rice, a spicy one-pot rice dish, and a deliciously rich chicken and peanut stew.

Like the Sachdevs, Affia is pleased with the support she has received from the O2 Centre and recognises that it’s taking a chance on a small start-up business, and proud to be offering something different. “I’m carrying the torch for West African food in the O2 Centre,” she says proudly.

Jason King, who manages the O2 Centre on behalf of owner Land Securities, says he welcomes the arrival of both Falafel City and Chop Pot. “There’s a lot of pressure on the shopping centre industry from online businesses, so the whole experiential side, such as food and leisure, is increasingly important.”

For Jason, it seems that creating an environment where well-known chains rub shoulders with smaller players is an important means of differentiation. “It prevents that feeling of ‘every shopping centre looks the same’ which can creep in if you’re not careful.”

He sees it as mutually beneficial: start-ups gain exposure and visibility, while the centre gets credibility by being able to boast a wide range of dining options. “In terms of the variety, we have a good mix. Byron is a great brand for us to have. Nando’s is still one of the big movers and shakers, and Yo! Sushi is a worldwide brand. It’s great to have them alongside small startups like Falafel City and Chop Pot, which is a lovely story of someone setting themselves up in business with a great product and lots of enthusiasm, but who have also got their branding to a level where it can fit in amongst the bigger players.”

Once again, the importance of branding comes to the fore. “It’s got to feel right,” says Jason. “We’ve got a design guide in terms of what we want to see from shop fits. We’re not looking for conformity, but looking to set the bar at a certain level.”

Anna Adamczyk, restaurant manager at Zizzi, one of the centre’s long standing tenants, agrees. “The new developments here are exciting for everyone – the local community and existing businesses. Hopefully by having more options for customers, the O2 Centre will become a destination for those looking for somewhere to have a bite to eat.”

Centre manager Jason’s enthusiasm come to the fore as he talks about the changes underway; three new restaurants (Wagamama, Rossopomodoro and Frankie & Benny’s) are opening on the top level next to Falafel City. The work is scheduled to be completed by June or July, and the centre is planning a big launch event to promote itself as a dining destination. Zizzi also confirmed that its restaurant will be getting a refurb in July. It’s taken a while though, Wagamama and Rossopomodoro were first mooted at the start of 2013.

Jason King has been at the O2 Centre since Land Securities bought it in 2010. The place has changed quite considerably in that time, both in terms of the brands it’s brought in and the physical changes to the building. The company is intent on creating the kind of place that people in the Swiss Cottage/West Hampstead area – and beyond – will want to spend time in. Goodbye Jurassic Park-style fake rock interior and Hello outdoor terrace, which will be shared between the three new restaurants, bringing al-fresco dining to the centre – even if al fresco does mean “view of Finchley Road traffic”.

What do you think? Has the O2 Centre transformed into a dining destination, or is it still more of a pre-cinema pitstop? As ever, feel free to leave your comments below.

Growth area plans: Clear guidelines or muddy waters?

West Hampstead is growing – that’s blindingly obvious to anyone who’s walked past the marketing suite promoting West Hampstead Square since the paper came down from the windows. How, therefore, do we keep some sort of oversight of all the plans and proposals so that the end result isn’t some hideous mish-mash of buildings that are under-supported by local services.

“Surely that’s what the Neighbourhood Development Plan is about?”, you ask, sensibly.

You’d think so, but Camden seems to want to something more formal on top of that, looking specifically at the “growth area”, which is around the stations. What role is left for the NDF then when it comes to policies in that growth area? It already has to dovetail with the borough plan, the London plan, and national planning policies.

It is not at all clear how Camden’s Growth Area planning guidelines would fit in with existing plans for the area. Is this going to play into the hands of developers who’ll find the inevitable loopholes between the various documents and push through proposals that may not serve West Hampstead well.

At the last Neighbourhood Development Forum meeting, Richard Mileham from Camden planning, presented a few slides on Camden’s latest thinking. Judging by the the slides and the questions that followed, it wasn’t as illuminating as many had hoped.

The London Plan has identified this area as suitable for 800 new homes and 100 new jobs. Already, it’s expected that West Hampstead will deliver more than this – certainly in terms of homes. “Future change needs to be coordinated and allow stakeholders to be involved.” Er, yes.

There was one slide titled “Draft urban design principles”, which gives some insight into the sort of planning decisions at stake. Click the map below for a larger picture, but it includes a “major new public park” where the Audi garage is now. It also suggests moving Homebase nearer to the O2, and generally improving pedestrian access around the area. Clearly it is just a draft idea, but it suggests that the plans could involve some quite major reshaping, including of course the anticipated development of the O2 car park itself.

Specifically on green spaces, council officers said they would very much like to have residents’ views regarding a preference for many small spaces or fewer large spaces.

At the whampforum I held a couple of months ago the majority view was that large-scale development of the area was broadly welcomed with the important proviso that it wasn’t just cookie cutter blocks of flats, and that these were well designed spaces at ground level.

There is a set of objectives for this new growth area plan, each of which ties in with both the place plan and objectives of the current draft of the NDP, which makes one wonder what exactly this new initiative is adding.

Growth and uses

  • Growth to exceed London Plan targets and to be in the region of 1,000 homes and 7,000 sq m of business floorspace (along with some other uses)
  • A mix of uses, including substantial new housing, town centre, employment and community uses, and open space

Street environment

  • Improved street environment and interchange around transport facilities, including improved crossing and wider pavements by ensuring that developments are set back adequately
  • Upgrade routes and community safety along Blackburn Road to the O2 Centre, Billy Fury Way, Black Path and Potteries footpaths
  • Investigate long term opportunities for improving the movement routes around the area including north to south across the railways
  • Improved bicycle movement and routes and deliver improvements to cycle safety, ease of movement and cycle parking

Public open space

  • On-site public open space and improve existing parks and open spaces and identify potential new sites
  • Address the missing green habitat link along the railway lands and enhance biodiversity


  • Sustainable and safe design of the highest quality that respects the character and heritage value of West Hampstead

The next steps apparently are to undertake initial feasibility and urban design work, then to engage the public on the options in the autumn. Once the option has been decided (and it’s really not at all clear what sort of options we’re talking about), then it could either feed into the NDP or be a separate, council-led Supplementary Planning Document, which seeks to clarify issues for a particular site or topic within a larger planning framework.

At the NDF meeting, there were a lot of questions asked, and answers given where possible.

  • What did “sustainability” mean in this context? It refers to modifying energy efficiency and use of renewable materials.
  • Is design quality written in as a standard? There are general objectives pertaining to this and the current work/consultation will look at them in more detail. New council criteria is ‘building for life’.
  • What about community facilities (GPs/schools/parking etc.): When plans are considered, infrastructure requirements are taken into account.
  • Would developments start before the NDP came into force? This is unlikely to be a problem as the timescale of both are similar.
  • What about the pressure on transport? TfL considers the area a strategic interchange. With regards to lifts at stations – accessibility is a TfL priority [also see this article].
  • What about environment and space – would the same foresight be applied as was around Swiss Cottage? Will it be safe along the railway tracks? The paths are being widened and turned into a public area.
  • Would there be a masterplan for the area, like the Olympic site has? This is difficult due to the various different owners. Can only develop objectives rather than a masterplan.
  • Will there be height restrictions to preserve traditional views in area? A plan of views needs to be prepared for consideration. High walls could be ‘greened’ and green roofs could be a possibility.
  • Do trees have to be replaced? If they are protected, or if planners oblige developers to care for trees.
  • Will infrastructure, e.g., new surgery/medical centre and even sewerage be adequate? The planning document will take about a year and will tie in with NDP.

What can we deduce from all this? The positive angle is that Camden is conscious of the pace and scale of change in West Hampstead and wants to be sure that firm guidelines and planning principles are in place. A less positive spin on it suggests that this is duplicating the work of the NDP, potentially undermining it. Actively incorporating ideas developed by Camden in this process into the NDP would lead to less confusion for residents and developers alike. Why muddy the waters?

Byron opens for business in the O2

The O2 is undergoing something of a transformation, as we’ve discussed. Today was an important landmark in this evolution as Byron opened. Byron is a burger chain that began as an idea in 2007 and now has 27 locations in London and a few further afield.

Its main claim seems to be that it does a good straightforward burger and it does it well, in a nice atmosphere. I thought I’d go along to the latest Byron and check it out, while keeping my Twitter followers up to speed.

There was some surprise that I’d never been to a Byron before, but to be honest I don’t go to burger places that often. I like a good burger for sure, but almost never have one in this country that delivers the whole package. I’m fortunate (if that’s the word ) to have been to some strange off-the-beaten-track towns in the US and even in some out of the way holes, you can still get burgers that put most of the premium offerings here to shame (kudos to the first burger joint here that can put bison burgers squarely on the map).

Anyway, back to Byron. The wide frontage is inviting and the glitzy showbiz sign fits in rather well.

All in all, a decent first day for them. My waitress was particularly friendly and smiley. I did mention that my burger was bizarrely unevenly cooked (although as I said to them, I actually prefer burgers slightly underdone so it didn’t affect my enjoyment of it) and as the manager came over to get my feedback I was willing to share the good and the disappointing.

The cinema crowd will be a big part of their business, and I expect they will do a healthy lunch trade from local businesses and kids during the holidays. It’s not the cheapest burger place around – even with the discount, although throwing in a fairly generous tip, my bill came to £20. But it fills a gap in the market and the formula is clearly working well for the chain to expand at the rate it is.

Just one teeny thing… here’s the card they give you at the end (it’s a three of diamonds on the other side – dunno why).

Yeah, so, it’s like, not Finchley. Swiss Cottage, West Hampstead, Finchley Road, NW3… all acceptable. Finchley is a lot further north. Tsk.

I leave you with the video from Byron’s website. Not because they’re paying me to (they’re not), but because I actually rather like it and I had the same trouble getting ketchup out of the bottle. The little book from which the photo earlier was taken is the stills version of this video.

Is Wagamama highlight of new O2 tenants?

As the O2 centre’s refurbishments draw to a close, there’s been much excitement about who’ll be moving into the space alongside the existing tenants.

This week, thanks to someone pointing me in the direction of this brochure, we got to find out some of the answers.

Noodle purveyors Wagamama, pizza & pasta restaurant Rossopomodoro, Danish furniture retailer BoConcept, and Tiger Stores – which sort of defies classification (see below) – are all moving in.

They will join hamburger joint Byron, which already has signs up, and Paperchase and Oliver Bonas, which have already opened. Of the others, only BoConcept is being trailered on the shopping centre’s website.

According to Nash Bond, which is letting the units on behalf of the centre’s owner Land Securities, there are two units still available. One large unit on the first floor (£190,000 annual rent) and one smaller one on the ground floor (£75,000 annual rent) tucked round the corner by the road to and from the car park.

£75,000 a year for this unit

The existing operations you know and (at least in the case of Camden councillor Tulip Siddiq and Nando’s) clearly love are all staying put although Sparkle Bar & Lounge will be no more – it was always a pop-up.

Yo! Sushi has already moved out of its unit to take up space between the escalators and the lift. Its existing restaurant spot will be occupied by Wagamama. Rossopomodoro will take the place of Sparkle (formerly Zuccato) and Byron is taking the designated burger spot of the Fine Burger Co.

The three anchor tenants are Sainsbury, Virgin Active, and Vue cinemas. It would be interesting to know how Habitat feels about BoConcept’s arrival, although furniture shops do tend to cluster together. One also wonders about Zizzi and Rossopomodoro sitting so close together, and lets not forget there’s a small Pizza Express just down the road too.

Is this a good thing for us? I would argue yes. I don’t think any of these operations are putting any plucky independents at risk. The O2 has always had chain tenants as you’d expect, and they compete with each other more than with anything further afield (and even less with businesses in the heart of West Hampstead). The attempt at an infographic that’s meant to lure retailers in talks about Swiss Cottage but makes no mention of West Hampstead, which is a bit surprising given that the centre clearly pulls people in from the West End Lane area.

Click for full-size

Whether some of the other noodle options on Finchley Road, especially Oriental Star, might find Wagamama too hot to handle remains to be seen. Credit should also go to Land Securities for trying to make innovative use of the empty space as and when it came up, with various pop-up ideas, especially in what used to be Zuccato.

Here’s where everyone’s going to end up

Which brings us back to Tiger.

Reaction to Tiger Stores moving to the O2 Centre

Storified by West Hampstead· Sat, Jan 05 2013 09:41:53

The "Tiger" moving into the old Walkabout at the O2 is in fact NOT a bar but a retailer selling, er, stuff Hampstead
@WHampstead Tiger is brilliant and you will not say a word against it.Nathan Hamer
@WHampstead the shop Tiger is brilliant. My friend gets fab stuff from the one in Harrow ;)Ruth
@WHampstead It’s actually got some rather handy stuff in. Kind of like Muji.Ruth
@WHampstead @njhamer I’ve heard good things too! Do we know when it opens?Paramount Properties
@WHampstead @njhamer fabulous, because there is a ‘build your own straw’ kit I want to get my hands on… whatever that actually is!Paramount Properties
@WHampstead @njhamer perhaps even some type of #whampchallenge… they have balloon modelling kits too, you see.Paramount Properties
@WHampstead I see. I’ve been to the one in Hammersmith, has some quite good/useful stuff.Jane Ennis
christ – i’ve unleashed some sort of Tiger Stores fan club outrage with that mild description. Thank god I didn’t say "pointless"West Hampstead
@WHampstead they sell some of the most pointless useless crap you could ever want.Lizzie
@WHampstead I guess that space is doomed to mediocrityPatrick Hurley
Further research seems to suggest that it’s a poundshop for the middle classes (Bearnaise Sauce for £1, 24 Danish flag stickers for £1)West Hampstead
@WHampstead Bearnaise Sauce for £1…? Stay well clear of it…!TheCrystalShip
@WHampstead really? Just what we don’t need!!Rach
@WHampstead I like ‘THIS IS A WEBSITE NOT A WEBSHOP’. Alright, alright, I wasn’t going to buy your crap anyway.Fiona Barrows
@WHampstead I want to take stickers saying ‘THIS ITEM IS FOR SALE’. Just in case people get confused and need to know how a shop works.Fiona Barrows
@WHampstead I would order them online but IT IS NOT A WEBSHOP.Fiona Barrows
@WHampstead bored housewives might like the look of this…
@rach_1511 @WHampstead I was laughing at my desk so had to explain to my colleague. Sent her the link. She genuinely likes some of the stuffFiona Barrows
@fbarrows @whampstead but its not a web shop&some of things she likes might not be available!How ridiculous.I really can wait til it opens!Rach
@WHampstead They sell Tiger cornflakes and you can then make the box into a puppet theatre. JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED.Fiona Barrows
@WHampstead But do they sell actual tigers?Davies
@WHampstead I can afford 329 things in there or one thing from Habitat next door. It’s a bizarre (bazaar, if you will) shopping experienceLewis Hill
@WHampstead @daviesinthecity I honestly think that shop looks brilliant and I will be visiting at my earliest convenience.nicky j
@WHampstead They do socks for £1 each. Something odd there.Phil Lunn
@WHampstead I own a harmonica purchased at the Tiger in Hammersmith. It doesn’t sound very good, but I’m 90% sure that’s my fault.Sam Wong
and on a similar theme:
@WHampstead poundland has a sale on, presumably to entice those people who thought a quid was a bit steep…Jen

O2 facade alterations

It appears that work is due to start soon on alterations to the O2 centre on Finchley Road. These are largely cosmetic. If you’re interested then the relevant planning applications then head off here, here, here, and here, but these are probably more of interest to specialist architects than to most O2 users.

Instead, I can offer you a picture of what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done (this is from a 2011 application and there have been some amendments since then, but they are all minor). There are some interior changes planned as well, but really everyon’e waiting to see what happens with the large premises immediately to the right as you walk in, which has been empty now for some time.