Driven by changing consumer behaviour and an ever increasing desire for choice, as well as the prevalence of online shopping, leisure-park owners have diversified and recognised the pull factor restaurants have in getting people through the door. Last month Geoff Campion took two journalists to see this first hand at Newcastle’s Metro Centre and Eldon Square.
The city of Newcastle has seen a resurgence of late, with revolutionary bars, such as The Botanist, gaining significant traction with students and locals alike. On the food front, two gargantuan leisure parks run by Intu, Metro Centre (South of the Tyne), and Eldon Square (North of the Tyne), have put choice centre stage and compiled two impressive food courts boasting a ‘who’s who’ of leading concepts in the sector.
Accessible Thai food
One brand with an abundance of ‘wow’ factor, which no doubt drives return custom to Metro Centre, is Thai street food restaurant, Thaikhun. Part of Thai Leisure Group, the restaurant has been themed on Newcastle’s docklands, boasting a shipping container bar, along with a mesmerizing array of trinkets adorning the walls, sourced directly from Thailand – it’s a treasure trove.
The food isn’t bad either. Wok chefs masterfully plough their way through lunchtime orders with exceptional precision and speed, creating clean, well balanced, powerful dishes. The most impressive aspect of the menu is its accessibility. Every item has been carefully chosen and, if necessary, tailored for the English palate.
Sharing platters get people engaging with food and have seen a resurgence in popularity recently thanks to their social catalyst abilities. Eating out is an occasion that everyone should enjoy – including all members of the family – and Thaikhun has worked hard on its children’s offer, including a collaborative adventure pack with Nat Geo, to keep little ones from causing havoc before the meal arrives.
Food court of the future
Next we headed north of the Tyne to check out the shiny, new Intu Eldon Square shopping centre. Opened last year, it is a flagship model for food courts of the future, boasting brands such as: Red’s True BBQ and TGI Friday’s (both trialling tweaked concepts at the centre); alongside Handmade Burger Co, George’s Great British Kitchen, Tapas Revolution; the list goes on. Each brand has been carefully chosen, so not to tread too heavily on the toes of others.
A special mention here needs to go to Handmade Burger Co and George’s Great British Kitchen – two brilliant concepts. One champions handmade burgers and excellent service – it even has a direct line to contact the owner for feedback, who personally replies to all enquiries. The other is a premium fish and chip offering (a category that has yet to be nailed) with a welcoming décor resembling a living room – one to watch for the future.
But, for me, the piece de resistance of the centre is the shiny new Chaophraya, on the top floor. Similarly to Thaikhun, it is crammed with artefacts shipped directly from Thailand, including an enormous Buddha statue. To get the statue over to the UK, Thai Leisure Group had to apply for an official Buddha shipping licence – no, this is not a joke – which eloquently demonstrates the importance the company places on the minutia of every detail.
As you enter the site a LOVE candle is burning bright. This stands for Love Our Values Everyday and it promotes excellent service – if you can’t keep the candle burning, how can you expect to keep customers happy? This is indicative of a company that places its people and culture above all else, driving outstanding customer experiences.
As with Thaikhun, the menu is easy to navigate and the food is accessible and well executed. For me the stand out selling points are the atmosphere and service. It’s easy to forget you’re in a shopping centre.
Let’s go shopping
It’s clear that gastronomy is alive and kicking in Newcastle and shopping centres are helping drive this. Whether this is due to changes in consumer behaviour, inflated London rents or a growing awareness of what great food is, it doesn’t matter. Shopping centres are no longer on my avoid list – I never thought I’d say that!