Street food focus: Market Hall Oxford St
Henry Norman attends the reopening of Market Halls’ flagship site and samples Chick Chick Crew, DF Tacos and Le Bab...
London’s main street dining destinations tend to be slightly away from the centre, in zone two semi-suburban locations such Camden in the north, Shoreditch in the east and Brixton in the south. Breaking the mould, however, is Market Halls, which boasts not only its flagship site just off Oxford Street (in the old BHS Building) but the nearby Victoria one too. Its Marketing strategy is to put street food at the centre.
The UK’s biggest food hall, the Oxford Street outlet boasts room for 430 diners, over 60 dishes, eight vendors and two bars. The biggest stat, though, is two – the number of years it has now been closed for. This time has been used to adapt the interior, with the upstairs bar having been taken over by Swingers (the crazy golf people… as opposed to the crazy sex people). It has duly been replaced by a huge, front and centre bar that welcomes you as soon as you arrive.
The general layout remains the same, with the venue dealing heavily in right-angles. The vendors are placed one-by-one in rows facing each other, which makes for an authentic atmosphere. It comes commendably close to replicating the hustle (but not the hassle) of being in a market in, say, south-east Asia, with all the sights and smells vying for your attention.
On the food front, I try and think outside of the Hot Box and sample some of the new vendors who have moved in. First up is Le Bab and its pork shawarma, with the hope that the choice of meat will add a point of difference to this Lebanese staple. However, it veers too far from the tried and tested, with the seasoning not providing the distinctive shawarma taste that makes it unique. Regardless, it’s an extremely good pork wrap in its own right.
Onto a trader that is not only new here, but is brand new to the whole scene, Chick Chick Crew. The wings act as a decent starter, but could do with a little more in the way of crunch and contrast. The exterior isn’t quite as crispy as is ideal and the Korean sauce could do with an additional drizzle to offset it.
No such reservations about the buffalo chicken burger, though, which the server correctly advises me to take medium. This is already hot enough as it is, though the cheese also makes its presence felt due to the addition of not one but two different types. It many be the most visually striking dish you’ll ever see, but it’s hands down the best one I sample over the evening.
Finally, onto an old favourite, DF Tacos, which is Wahaca’s newer Californified concept. DF dishes up Tex alongside the Mex, although the burgers and burritos have both been banished from the abbreviated menu on offer here, leaving the choice fairly obvious.
The sweet and smoky chicken tacos are very good, though they have me reaching for the outlet’s extremely good range of accompanying sauces to add some spice. The buttermilk chicken tacos, in my hombre opinion, take things up another level, both taste and texture-wise. The frying makes for a more satisfying chew, while the addition of chipotle mayo adds the required Mex factor.
The return of Market Hall Oxford Street is extremely welcome, offering a range of superb independent eating options in what can be a slightly soulless part of town. The chain is all set to launch a new outlet in Canary Wharf – we will, of course, report back as soon as it opens.