The Market Hall Victoria is an international food shed opposite the station terminus. I have long hated Victoria, thinking it the most provincial part of central London. It longs for the provinces, it impersonates them, it summons them. It is odd because the station itself is beautiful: a grimy Edwardian fantasy with tall grimy chimneys and a fantastical clock. But the rest of it is painful: the ugly road to parliament; the immense new blocks with their hideous restaurants; the sad and stripy Roman Catholic cathedral, which searches for grandeur but just looks weird; the Queen’s back wall, which I marvel at, because it tells so much. Victoria is a disappointment to itself. It sags and gasps. It is a stage with the scenery removed; a road out of town. You can get a bus from Victoria to Poland, and that is the best thing about it.
But no part of London is immune to the drug of gentrification, which, as it always does, makes Victoria uglier than ever. So there are fancy glass and steel buildings, which make the approach to the station look like Slough; immense and awful barn restaurants, as I said; and now an expensive multicultural canteen for a country that has never seemed to hate minorities so much.
But I think that, finally and at last, I have arrived at authentic Brexit madness. It has been a long road since I drew a cow on my ballot paper in 2016. I have never really cared about vegetables, but now that they may be taken away (I live at the very end of the A30) I am grieving and frightened. I met a kind and well-dressed French family on the path to Pendeen Lighthouse this week, and I almost fell into their arms. So I have been eating, mostly, Project Fear.
But back to the Market Hall, which is nothing like a market, unless you have never seen a market, and only slightly like a hall. Why do we make so much room for computers? The Market Hall seems designed for computers; stylistically it makes no sense without a tidy line of Apple Macs. Perhaps they are the real customers.
The noise — the music — is so unbearable, I have to ask the manager to turn it down. ‘Eleven kitchens, three bars, a coffee shop and a roof terrace!’ the blurb screams, greedily. Everyone is an addict now. The website shows the food in flashes, which is mad, as we are: so much choice but nothing you can actually grasp.
This is the second Market Hall. There is one in Fulham, with only seven kitchens and two bars — but it does, for some reason, have a fitness studio. A fitness studio in a restaurant; what to say? Another comes to the West End this year, probably with 68 restaurants and 19 bars and 12 coffee shops, and also a functioning music hall. And maybe a scaffold.
There are two slick floors, a staircase, plants flagging like liberalism, and an awful dull light from a glass ceiling: the light of Victoria.
And there are indeed 11 kitchens and three bars and a coffee shop, staffed by charming young people who, I think, have the charm of despair; what do they have left but charm? There is Monty’s Deli and Fanny’s Kebabs and the Baozi Inn; Soft Serve Society and Nonna Tonda and CookDaily; Gopal’s Corner and Super Tacos; Flank and Squirrel and Kerbisher & Malt. These are good brands serving clever food, and my chilli chicken — from Baozi Inn — is good; it tears the skin from the top of my mouth like pickled onion Monster Munch. But, ah, this place is disorientating, an agonising glut — like Twitter with food. When will we likewise turn on each other?
Market Hall Victoria, 191 Victoria St, London SW1E 5NE.