Shopping for Spring

A subject I love talking about and debating is whether ‘retail theatre’ in supermarkets is still as relevant today as it was in days gone by. Since Covid, all of my repeat supermarket items have been bought on Ocado. It means that I can do my shopping late at night and I have no parking worries or difficulties lugging bags into the house. But I still love the thrill of a supermarket – of choosing special vegetables, picking out cheeses, and seeing the produce in front of me. And I am always on the prowl for retail theatre – I just cannot help myself! 

Since moving to London three decades ago, I have wandered down Portobello Road virtually every Saturday morning to look at antiques. (I tried having my own stall one Saturday, selling my own bits and pieces, but after virtually no sales, I learnt that it is far easier to buy than to sell! I promptly returned to the other side of the table.)  

Notting Hill has changed over the years and become more gentrified and affluent, which has meant that many of the dealers have gone online or moved out due to the high rental costs and the demand for the space from luxury boutiques and upmarket restaurants. 

The vibrant Portobello Market offers a mix of vintage goods, street eats, souvenirs & more.
The vibrant Portobello Market offers a mix of vintage goods, street eats, souvenirs & more. Image credit: Rixie –


One retail theatre stand-out is Notting Hill Fish + Meat. An energetic and brave Aussie, ex-advertising and marketing guy Chris D’Sylva was originally a customer at the store called Fish Shop in Kensington, before he bought into the business in 2019. When the pandemic hit, the store was considered an essential business, and that’s when Chris really got going.  

Restaurants had closed all over London, and he advertised for staff and hired some of the best chefs in the country to come and work for him. Within months, he had 25 rotating chefs serving customers, and overnight he went from selling just fish to offering meat, fruit and veg, cheese and most importantly of all, retail theatre!  

Any day of the week during the pandemic, there were queues outside the store, with people swapping recipes and chatting about meals and ingredients. Word got around and people came from far and wide. Chris then opened a second site in Holland Park with a bright pink neon sign in the window, loud, pumping rock music, and the most tantalising merchandise. He named it Supermarket of Dreams – or, as he calls it, “the most ridiculous version of Tesco Express possible”.   

Today, the stores are still really busy. Almost like a stage set, there are huge carcasses and entire fish on the shopfloor and baskets overflowing with exotic-looking vegetables. With two stores, The Fish + Meat store were able to make their own ranges of bone broths, ragus and sausages. It is a treat to wander through the shops. They’re not very big, but it’s difficult to leave empty handed.   

Another new example of retail theatre is Artfarm’s FARM SHOP. Three years ago, I wrote a column about my visit to Durslade Farm in Somerset. It was August 2021 – during the pandemic-era UK staycation boom – and I had opted to take the long way home from Cornwall to London. Instead of hitting the motorways, we meandered through the countryside, using the journey as an opportunity to visit amazing local galleries, shops, restaurants and hotels – including the original FARM SHOP in Bruton, Somerset.  

Another new example of retail theatre is Artfarm’s FARM SHOP in Somerset.

So, I was thrilled when Artfarm opened its doors to FARM SHOP Mayfair a couple of months ago. The 4,000 square feet shop occupies a site on the corner of South Audley Street and Aldford Street in Mayfair. The building itself has lived many lives: it was originally home to the flower shop of Constance Spry, who was the florist to HM Queen Elizabeth II, as well as being the co-inventor of Coronation chicken!  

The store is immaculate. With green and white striped awning, the shop celebrates artisanal food, selling products from both emerging and established producers. There’s kombucha, sourdough bread, chocolate, cheese and freshly-picked and beautifully displayed fruit and vegetables, as well as coffees, cakes, and cheese toasties and hot roast beef sandwiches to takeaway. On the walls is artwork commissioned from alumni of the Royal Drawing School. It’s very different from the Supermarket of Dreams, possibly due to the postcodes – Mayfair is intimidatingly grand and exclusive and this is reflected FARM SHOP Mayfair. 

And it wouldn’t be an Artfarm spot without some excellent hospitality. Down the stairs from FARM SHOP is a new wine bar, where you can order daily specials, as well as charcuterie and cheese from the counter upstairs. Unlike many of its neighbours in Mayfair, the wine bar prides itself on its affordable prices, with glasses of house wine starting at £4.50 a glass.  

And lastly, there’s Panzer’s, the iconic deli and grocery store in St John’s Wood. I wrote about Panzer’s way back in 2018, and still cannot resist my weekly loaf of Dusty Knuckle bread from there. There’s great music – the best hits from The Beatles, Rolling Stones and the like – and customers often walk around singing. The merchandise constantly changes, particularly at the front, depending on the time of year.  Close to the American School, Panzer’s celebrates at the front gondolas events like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas and the Jewish Festivals in a way that makes you want to join in the celebrations.  

Artfarm recently opened its doors to the 4,000 square feet FARM SHOP Mayfair.

As my examples of retail theatre are all in exclusive stores, who better to pose my question to than to Ewan Venters, CEO at Hauser & Wirth (Artfarm). A grocer by trade, Ewan started out life at Sainsbury’s, before becoming CEO at the greatest grocer of all time: Fortnum & Mason. So I asked him: can retail theatre only exist in ‘upmarket’ luxury stores and if so, why is that?  

Ewan reflected: “In 2024, the reality is that consumer behaviour has changed. Increasingly, people leave their homes in the morning and don’t know what they’re going to eat or where they’re going to eat it. This means that local stores, but also specialist stores, have become far more important.” Is it therefore time to bring back the fishmonger, the butcher, the cheese expert and most importantly, the food demonstrators to supermarkets?  

Please do get in touch and let me know your thoughts: | @TheMBSGroup