I’ve read many a snarky post on the way that food trends seem to come and go in London at the moment, be it the sudden proliferation of burger places, or the fairy ring like growth up of ramen joints in Soho. So I decided to look at it from a different point of view.
After all in other industries it’s very common to find similar merchants or manufacturers in a common geographical locale. It's usually referred to as clustering or aggregation economics.
As I understand it one of the key features of aggregation economics is that there is an increased amount of competition within the group. This certainly seems to hold true with a couple of the recent trends. The swift growth in numbers of new burger restaurants following the success of Meat Liquor has certainly demonstrated that is both a market hungry for a better product and people willing to provide it. Whether one views this as a passing trend that will burn out, or as I’m inclined to do, as a welcome readjustment of way the burger is viewed within London’s restaurant scene. One only has to take a short hop on the Eurostar to experience what it was like in London about 4 years ago.
Parisians demonstrating how much they'd love a cluster fuck of decent burger joints..
With respect to the other hyped trends, I would again argue that they are merely taking a much loved food style and elevating it to a higher quality level. For fried chicken we can see that there was evidently a market for it. See the enormous numbers of chicken cottages, KFCs and their ilk. However the shocking welfare standards that the chickens endure and the low quality of the product was obviously putting a segment of the market off, thus it makes perfect sense to follow a revival of one type of fast food with that of another.
Other obvious examples of clustering within the London restaurant scene would be the revival of Soho as a food destination and the more recent explosion of activity within Brixton Market Row and Brixton Village. It is not for nothing that Soho has been the epicentre of the no bookings places, it is surely one of the few places in the UK where one can safely go to eat without a booking safe in the knowledge that should one’s first choice be unavailable there are plenty more excellent places within very short walking distance.
The quick growth of the restaurant scene in Brixton can similarly be explained by the benefits of clustering in that potential customers are drawn to the area and see the diversity on offer, thus prompting repeat custom. It being home to a shit load of affluent mainly white folk who are newish to the area is a completely different blog post, it is still a beautiful example of businesses clustering in a new locale.
|Shonben Yokocho : Piss alley, god how I wish we had this in London.|
Finally, I’d like to dwell briefly on the Ramen renaissance in Soho, we have an area with a high concentration of restaurants, lots of potential customers who are prepared to pay slightly more for high quality produce, a dish that has previously been popularized by the Wagamama group. So what better place for there to be flowering of new openings?