The supermarket-restaurant hybrid has been around for a while now, but a dedicated term started popping up a lot in American publications back in 2016 with the question: ‘are grocerants the future?’
It was either a Jetsons-esque fantasy of ultra-convenience or a dystopian, productivity-fuelled erasure of one of life’s greatest joys (the restaurant).
A lot of us would be more likely to agree with the latter. No matter how much you love supermarkets and restaurants, it’s unlikely that you’ll be dying to blur the lines; supermarkets are a bit of a chore at the end of the day. They’re loud, busy, and just generally not the type of place you want to hang out. The American approach to supermarkets is far more performative – a trip to Trader Joe’s in New York City feels like a trip to a theme park in comparison to your local Tesco Metro – they want you to stay for longer. The British ideal of a supermarket – one that you’re funnelled in and out of as quickly as possible with minimal eye contact and conversation – meant that the original definition of a grocerant could not survive the journey across the pond.
Instead, in London, it’s been switched around. With the likes of Lulu’s, London Shell Co., Forno, Oren Delicatessen and more launching just in the past year, the grocerants have certainly landed in town. But instead of being the supermarket’s side hustle, they’re the restaurant’s.
Like a lot of recent trends, this one was influenced by Covid. As lockdowns forced the hospitality biz to pivot dramatically in order to stay afloat, some restaurants switched to delivery mode while others moved towards retail. Now, nearly three years later, a few of the places that shifted have stayed put. One such example is London Shell Co., about to launch its third site and first land-based location, which became a wet fish retailer while Covid restrictions were stopping service. The new restaurant will serve up the likes of whole Cornish crab to share, house-cured anchovies and trout sausages with mash, while doubling up as a wine shop and fishmonger.
And during those days of being trapped at home, lots of us got more creative in the kitchen in a bid to remember the taste of a non-home-cooked meal. The more intrepid we became, the more we went on the hunt for specialist ingredients until even big Tesco wouldn’t cut it anymore. Enter the deli – specifically, in this case, the deli that’s part of a restaurant. Lulu’s, wine bar and little sister of Llewelyn’s in Herne Hill, is a prime example, especially as it’s a great spot to grab some (currently) very trendy tinned seafood from The Tinned Fish Market.
These are the kind of grocerants we can get behind: the ones that provide some of the city’s best spots with an extra source of income in an unkind climate and mean that, whether we’d rather stay in or go out, dinner’s sorted.
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Featured photo credit: Matt Russell