Published 8 January 2022
by Josh Barrie
Food halls have come and gone in London over the last few years. Few concepts are as divisive, or have disrupted the status quo of dining in the capital to such a degree.
It is difficult to decipher their true popularity in 2022 because of the pandemic. Given food halls require an ebb and flow, quick turnover, people coming in after work in groups to eat and drink freely, how are we to suppose Londoners have warmed to them?
Probably, for the most part, they have, because even if some haven’t worked, many remain, especially those which have offered something new and engaging, rather than the same old pizza slices and burger bars.
The arrival of Alkebulan (later this year, we expect) is likely to be well received. Its location – so important when it comes to fast-paced, communal dining – has yet to be revealed, but it will bring diversity to an area of dining that has been lacking. It has that to its credit.
Alkebulan is the work of the Harlem-based chef and restaurateur Alexander Smalls, a James Beard award winner and the owner of the respected New York restaurants The Cecil and Minton’s. He is also a Grammy Award winning opera singer.
For a while now, Smalls’ vision has been to launch the world’s first African-inspired food hall. He debuted the idea at Expo 2020 in Dubai in October, and it proved welcome, gaining a permanent residency. Next up is expansion to Harlem and London – of course the latter, for us, is good news.
Alkebulan – the oldest known name for the African continent – is, Smalls has said, about bringing about a cultural and culinary movement that celebrates the cuisine of many nations in Africa. In Dubai, the food hall included higher-end dining, street food, as well as art and music, all curated by Smalls and the hospitality group TGP International.
Foods from countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, and Ethiopia have long been available in London, but, as we all know, have been rarely represented enough in the mainstream. Smalls wants to change that – these cuisines should get more airtime, and a food hall might help to shape a more inclusive landscape.
“Despite its rich culinary heritage, African cuisine has been overlooked and underestimated for many years,” Smalls said.
“With Alkebulan, we look forward to bringing its diverse and spectacular culinary palates to the forefront by introducing a unique dining concept to two of the world’s most thriving food destinations.
“We aim to not only deliver a taste of Africa but offer a one stop destination that becomes a boiling pot of the various African cultures at the core of its 54 countries and offer opportunities to young culinary entrepreneurs from underprivileged backgrounds.
“We want to provide them space in the food halls to start their own businesses as part of an incubator program, providing support through coaching and mentoring as well as financially.”
Simon Wright, founder and chairman at TGP International, added: “Due to our vast experience within the hospitality sector, we see the huge potential for African cuisine and are immensely proud to pave the way with the ‘world’s first African dining hall’. With the concept performing so well in Dubai, it is evident that Alkebulan offers an incredible investment opportunity with unsurpassed potential.
“We see London and New York as the perfect markets to expand, putting Alkebulan on the map as a globally renowned destination for African cuisine. This is not just a dining destination but a community project that supports upcoming African talent and provides a platform for Africa’s next generation of creators. Not just in the kitchen.”