The recently opened extension to the Westfield shopping centre in West London had me very excited for three main reasons:
- Puttshack – the new technologically-driven mini golf concept that also sells burgers
- All Star Lanes – the ten-pin bowling venue that also sells burgers
- Ichiba – the marvellous-looking Japanese food hall. Which sadly doesn’t sell burgers
Despite its insistence on burgerlessness, I this week managed to enjoy a visit to Ichiba and was deeply impressed by what I found. Despite knowing close to zero about Japanese food (aside from an occasional bout of sushi consumption), I was taken by the breadth and depth of the range and the manifold food-for-now options as well as the general loveliness of the store design and merchandising.
The 17,400 sq. ft. outlet is a classic food hall proposition, mixing retail and foodservice in a delightful environment. The ‘supermarket’ part of the proposition is excellent, comprising around 3,000 largely imported items. While some of the range was an utter mystery to me, I was able to identify some major categories such as sake, whisky, rice, soy sauce and confectionery, including green flavour Kit Kats (green tea? wasabi?). There were also two fine-looking service counters devoted to meat and fish, while the core range was accompanied by some others such as cookware, tableware, health & beauty, cookbooks and gifts (Hello Kitty playing a strong role here).
The food-to-go counters include sections devoted to sake, noodle dishes, donburi and poke, takoyaki, okonomiyaki and yakisoba, yakitori and sushi and sashimi (I don’t know what most of those words mean, but they were on the website). There is also a bakery café located near the store’s entrance from the shopping centre.
While ‘theatre’ is in real danger of being overused when discussing sore concepts these days, it is genuinely in abundance in Ichiba, with plenty of opportunities to watch meals being prepared from scratch in open plan kitchens and workstations. Over time, the location will be providing instore cooking demos and workshops as well as regional food festivals, further enhancing the instore experience.
Ichiba is the latest concept from Japan Centre Group which also runs the eponymous and recently refurbished food hall in central London in addition to a series of ramen restaurants and a more upscale restaurant concept in Mayfair.
An interesting point about Ichiba is that it was partly funded by the Cool Japan Fund, a coalition of Japanese government, banks, manufacturers and brands to globally promote Japanese products and services, as well as by some of the suppliers and brands on display in the store, including soy sauce giant Kikkoman and famous sake brewery Gekkeikan. An intriguing and refreshingly collaborative approach to getting something like Ichiba off the ground.
The look and feel of the store, designed by Cada Design, is wonderful. The combination of plenty of natural light, well-deployed artificial light (especially the LED fridges) and a massive load of timber creates a most pleasing environment indeed. There are seating areas all over the store for punters who’ve availed themselves of the food-for-now options as well as a lovely seating area outside too. Sadly, I was unable to partake of much in the way of lunch as it was too early, but I look forward to going back with an emptier stomach.
Overall, this is a beautiful concept that deserves to flourish.
Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director