The waiting is over. Waitrose is here


You’d think it was the second coming. Excitement levels on Twitter – where usually everyone is so level-headed and calm, right? – have been reaching fever pitch. But even yesterday it looked as if the fitters had their work cut out to get West Hampstead’s newest supermarket ready in time for this morning’s 7am opening. The mad dash to get the place finished has been disruptive for local residents, who have complained about lorries blocking access to the mews to the side of the building during the works.

Photo courtesy of Richard Clegg

Photo courtesy of Richard Clegg


Spit & polish…


Hoovering up the crumbs


The store manager is now open

Jennifer Brown, Chair of the West Hampstead Women’s Centre, and Geoff Berridge of the West Hampstead Community Centre were there for the ribbon cutting. Waitrose West Hampstead will share £6,000 and 100 staff working hours a year between these two organisations and the C4WS Homeless Project.

Store manager Nicky Clifford-Goss, flanked by Jane Brown and Geoff Berridge and assorted staff (sorry, partners)

Store manager Nicky Clifford-Goss, flanked by Jane Brown and Geoff Berridge and assorted staff (sorry, partners)

The new store, which has taken over from Pizza Express (causing the buggy brigade to both fret and rejoice simultaneously), does not, unsurprisingly, have a fresh meat or fish counter. So, the Hampstead Butcher & Providores should manage to cling on to that business when it opens across the road in a week or so’s time. There is coffee though, out of a machine and free to myWaitrose card holders, and some seating outside at the front, which may not please West Hampstead’s café owners, despite Waitrose’s development director Nigel Keen stating that he welcomes the chance to “play our part in ensuring [West Hampstead] remains a vibrant village”.

Local resident and early-riser Mandira Bhimjiyani was excited by the new store. “I love a good Waitrose,” she said. “Any supermarket that thinks tiramisu is essential is ok with me.”

Inside, one quickly realised how rarely you see a fully-stocked supermarket. The shop seemed to have a reasonable range of products, including a few things for the anti-Waitrose brigade to mock, such as milk alternatives and the world’s pricest mac & cheese.

Full fat also available

An oddly precise price

An oddly precise price

Little Waitrose, as the retail chain’s convenience store format is branded, has been some time in the offing. It’s never entirely clear why the levels of reverence Waitrose elicits are directly proportional to the dislike heaped on its rivals – especially Tesco. Yes, it probably sells slightly better quality food but perhaps people are genuinely impressed that even though it’s a chain, it’s a chain owned by its employees. We wrote about the original John Lewis, whose son lived in Kilburn, back in May.

The store’s opening hours are 7am to 10pm daily. Deliveries – always a bane for local motorists – have been planned to cause less disruption than Tesco’s, though will be early for local residents.


Is it a posh hotel? A boutique? No, it's a Little Waitrose. Photo via @bubela

Is it a posh hotel? A boutique? No, it’s a Little Waitrose. Photo via @bubela

Waitrose’s “long-standing ambition”

Waitrose has finally issued a press release about its probable West Hampstead opening on the Pizza Express site. Assuming it clears the planning hurdles, the John Lewis Partnership, which owns Waitrose, expects to create up to 50 new jobs, with all employees becoming partners.

Waitrose Director of Development, Nigel Keen, said:

When the the unit became available, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to realise a long-standing ambition to open a shop in West Hampstead and add the Waitrose brand to an already impressive collection of independent shops and established high street chains. We would welcome the chance to open here and play our part in ensuring it remains a vibrant village which continues to attract visitors.

Just that pesky planning permission to get now – and already a few locals are starting to grumble about the noise of deliveries. Hard to see it being enough to stop the deal being done. Waitrose says in its release that it plans to open early next year.

Little Waitrose; big lorries?

Ever since the licence application was spotted in the window of Pizza Express late last month, West Hampstead (at least on Twitter) has been abuzz with the news that Waitrose is planning to move to the neighbourhood. But what impact will another supermarket have in terms of noise and traffic, and will the fabric of the existing building be changed?

Locals’ reactions to the arrival of Waitrose have been mixed. Some have decried the appearance of yet another chain (although it’s not clear which independents are left to be wiped out), others are happy to see what is perceived as a better quality supermarket arrive, and there is a group concerned less with the corporatisation of West End Lane and more with the impact on traffic from deliveries.

This week, Waitrose submitted a slew of planning applications, which address noise, delivery and building alteration issues.

@WHampstead If it is to go ahead, it would indeed be a Little Waitrose. Thanks.
— Waitrose (@waitrose) September 12, 2013

There’s the first – it will be a Little Waitrose – the chain’s relatively new small-format version. This seems likely to be the mysterious fourth 2013 opening referred to in this Waitrose press release.

Secondly, there will be no on-site parking, which had been another concern for some. The full planning application has the relevant section.

The application proposals are for some minor alterations, a roof mounted plant room to house internal plant equipment, and new signage. The shopfront would have a powder coated aluminium fascia panel and new automatic sliding doors.

The existing shopfront will be retained, including the columns which provide an attractive frontage to West End Lane. Minor alterations are proposed in order to reflect the rebranding of the premises as Little Waitrose. Overall, the works are considered to preserve and enhance the appearance and
character of the Conservation Area.

The design approach for the remainder of the site has been to limit the number of external alterations to the building. Waitrose have worked hard to design a plant system which can be accommodated internally within the building and therefore avoid the need to provide air condenser units or other plant equipment externally. The proposed small roof mounted extension to the rear pitched roof and the louvre arrangement to the side of the building will only be visible from the side (West Cottages) elevation and will respect the character and proportions of the building.

Vehicle deliveries
Given the chaos (and ill-feeling) caused by Tesco delivery lorries, which block traffic on West End Lane, it’s not surprising that Waitrose’s delivery schedule will come under very close scrutiny.

Its submissions on the topic are reassuringly detailed, but I shall endeavour to summarise for you here:

Waitrose is suggesting that deliveries could take place using the pay & display bays either side of the fire station forecourt outside of the 8am-6.30pm pay & display hours. Naturally, it would need to ensure access to those bays outside of those hours, so is proposing loading bay restrictions for 6am-8am ad 6.30pm-8.30pm Monday to Sunday. If we look at Waitrose’s own analysis of how those bays are used now at those times, we see that occupancy rates in the mornings are: 66% at the weekends, and 84% Monday-Friday. In the evening period, the bays are occupied 100% of the time. Making them loading bays – even during this short period – will therefore have an impact on local parking.

Normally, the shop would be serviced by one 14.5m long articulated lorry arriving at 6am, It would need up to an hour to unload stock and reload empty cages.At particularly busy times of the year, such as Christmas, a second articulated lorry delivery may be required between 6.30pm and 7.30pm.

All sounds reasonable so far I guess. There is a caveat here though. This Waitrose lorry wouldn’t actually be the only delivery the shop would receive. “Ancillary servicing” would include:

  • Lenhams (crisp boxes) 12m rigid lorry – three to four times per week
  • Bunzl (cardboard) 12m rigid lorry – once a week
  • Newspapers – small van daily
  • Bread supplier – small van daily
  • Waste (food and general) – four to five times per week

Waitrose argues that it dictates when these deliveries occur, and notes that all servicing activities carried out at its Highbury Corner branch are completed by 7am every day. Whether that is viable for West Hampstead will be up for debate.

In an interesting aside, the company points out that “whilst the Council has advised that they would be minded to support the use of the parking bays as a loading bay between 7am and 8pm in principle, it is clear that Waitrose only require the loading bay to be operational for four hours per day (two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening)”

If Camden did give up these two bays it would expect Waitrose to compensate it for loss of income for two years; however, given the extent to which local businesses are clamouring for more visitor parking in West Hampstead, retaining the bays seems like it would bring far more benefit to the local economy at large. It’s surprising that Camden isn’t therefore towing a harder line on this, but reassuring that Waitrose seems minded to save the bays anyway, although it still wants those four hours a day for loading. (of course with no on-site parking, these bays would also be its nearest parking spots)

Impact on traffic
That particular stretch of road is a little tight, especially with the traffic island in the way. Waitrose therefore looked at whether buses can pass each other on West End Lane while there’s a delivery lorry parked in one of the bays. The answer appears to be yes, although it does look a little tight. Still, tight is better than stuck.

The analysis shows that the bus isable to satisfactorily manoeuvre through the Zebra crossing and past a parked Waitrose lorry without affecting the crossing or encroaching the opposing traffic lane. The diagram below is a bit hard to see, but shows a pink lorry parked outside Pizza Express and a blue northbound bus moving past it while a southbound bus travels in the other lane. It’s a tight squeeze as you can see.

There are pages more on the delivery system for those who want to get into the detail (see Appendix A).

One of the reasons Tesco delivers during the day is because local residents objected to the idea of nighttime deliveries. Noise assessments are therefore interesting. The detail here is hard to understand for the layman (me), but the main message seems to be that although the noise from deliveries would exceed accepted levels, the ambient noise at that location already exceeds accepted levels and the additional impact of Waitrose deliveries would in fact be negligible (they argue less than is actually perceptible). In other words, West End Lane is noisy at 6.30am already, and residents won’t notice the difference.

Whether this takes into account the difference between ambient noise and the sudden jolting noise of a metal cage being wheeled off a lorry isn’t clear to me.

Opening hours
Waitrose is asking for permission to open at 7am each morning (an hour
earlier than those premises are currently permitted to open). Clearly it wants to capture the rush hour pedestrians flowing down from Mill Lane and Fortune Green towards the West Hampstead stations.

Proposed floor plan (click for larger version)

One small caveat to all this – I heard from a reliable source that the leaseholder of the building also lives in one of the flats above Pizza Express. The leaseholder has to give consent for a change of use, as I understand it, so this may not all be quite as clear cut as we imagine.

Waitrose coming to West Hampstead

It’s been the most persistent rumour in West Hampstead since I’ve been running this website… Pizza Express is closing and Marks & Spencer is moving in. It had such traction that I wrote to Pizza Express a few years ago to see if it was closing down. I was reassured that this was one of its more profitable branches and no closure was imminent.

How times have changed.

There is a small sign up next to the door that announces in a rather oblique way that Waitrose, not Marks & Spencer, is applying for an alcohol licence. The licence application can’t yet be viewed online.

According to a local resident, James Leslie, the staff at Pizza Express have confirmed that Waitrose will be taking over the premises in the next three to six months. Surveyors have also apparently put a mirophone on the roof to measure the current sound levels. Could this be in advance of planning nighttime deliveries?

The application signs were also on nearby lamp posts and railings yesterday, but were removed last night.

This would give us four metro-format supermarkets, with another one set to open in West Hampstead Square. Ballymore had namedropped Waitrose, as well as Marks & Spencer, and the less well-known “grocer to the royals” Partridges. M&S would now seem to be the prime candidate for that location.

Waitrose is expanding fairly rapidly. According to its website, “This year we have set our sights on opening up to ten new supermarkets and ten new ‘little Waitrose’ convenience shops.”

Reaction on Twitter was fairly predictable:

@WHampstead Great news. My quality of life has just gone up a notch.
— Marc Fink (@martifink) August 24, 2013

@WHampstead there go my savings.
— Joshua Green (@JoshuaCGreen) August 24, 2013

@WHampstead Best. News. All. Week.
— Philip Hewlett (@PhilipHewlett) August 24, 2013

@WHampstead Yay, fingers and toes crossed!

Macaroon Mania at Waitrose Cookery School

As soon as you walk into Waitrose’s gleaming new cookery school, it’s clear they’ve splashed the cash. I went along to the Finchley Road branch, above which the school is located, to find out whether aspiring home cooks should do the same. Our aim for the evening: perfect macaroons.

The space is certainly attractive: there’s an expansive dining area with chunky light-wood tables (no doubt available from John Lewis), an attractive wall of wine and a modern bar.

Off to the side is the theatre, which looks like a TV studio kitchen, with seating for about 40 people. Separated from the dining room by a glass partition is the kitchen itself, which has a demonstration area, and then nine workstations, each with an oven, hob, fridge and cupboards and drawers filled with pans, utensils and gadgets. Around the sides more equipment sits on windowsills – behind me are umpteen Le Creuset pans, pots and tagines.

 It all looks good and of course it’s all immaculately clean (this is only the second night the kitchen has been open). The major appliances are John Lewis own brand and the stations are meant to deliberately mirror what most people have at home, although the food mixer we’re using is a top-of-the range professional one.

After a welcoming glass or two of champagne and a couple of canapés – one of which we’re accurately warned is tongue-scaldingly hot – we don our whites and gather round to watch head pastry chef James Campbell (formerly Gary Rhodes’ group head pastry chef) talk us through the macaroon making process.

When it comes to our turn, the ingredients have already been measured out although we have to separate our own eggs. We’re making Italian meringue because it is easy and stable, but it does mean pouring hot sugar syrup into whisked egg whites (a fancy digital thermometer tells us when we hit the 114 degree Celsius mark.).

We’re working in pairs, which I find a little odd – people are rarely allowed IN my kitchen, let alone permitted to pick up a spoon unless under close supervision! However, it turns out that my cooking buddy actually teaches cooking classes herself, although is quite scathing about wasting time cooking patisserie.

The vast majority of the people here are food bloggers who Waitrose has invited to this second preview night. The first one had been for the mainstream media. Celebrity Masterchef winner Lisa Faulkner had been there, and Heston himself had even made a fleeting appearance although Delia hadn’t graced the school with her presence.

There are no celebs tonight, but as the chefs introduce themselves, you realise quite quickly that it’s not just the fixtures and fittings that have cost money. Charming head chef James Bennington won a Michelin star at La Trompette, sous chef Eleni Tzirki casually namedrops Pierre Koffmann and Bruno Loubet as she introduces herself, while Aussie Wilson Chung, who’s in charge of cocktails tonight, has an astonishingly eclectic CV that includes running the kitchen at the Sydney Good Food & Wine Show.

One of the best things about the experience is the ratio of chefs to punters. As we’re busy worrying whether our peaks are stiff enough or our mixture smooth enough, one of the team is always around to advise.

While the macaroons bake, we head to the bar to learn how to make bitter orange cocktails (Grand Marnier, orange juice with maple syrup, ice – simple) and get the chance to practice our cocktail shaking technique. Then, while the macaroons cool we get a demonstration of how to make espresso martinis (these really aren’t hard either). Of course we get to drink all these things too. This isn’t an evening to have planned to drive home.

In the full version of this macaroon course, you get to make your own filling, but this has been done for us. We get to practice on some glittery pink macaroons, filling them with some berry mixture and a mulled wine flavoured liquid centre.

 For our own creations, there’s an apricot filling in the fridge and, despite some dodgy piping skills, they all end up looking pretty good. Certainly everyone seems happy as they pack the fruits of their labour into boxes to take home.

If we were paying customers, this evening course would set us back £105. Whole day courses are £175 and cover everything from Thai cookery to Boxing Day leftovers. I suspect the cookery school will be very popular with corporate events as there is so much flexibility to meet quite specific needs. It is not cheap, although I’m sure most people would enjoy the experience, and a quick trawl of other London options suggests it’s broadly in line with the market.

Waitrose Cookery School
Nearest tube: Finchley Road
T: 020 7372 6128