Yesterday evening I was delighted to attend Arena’s latest event which strayed from the norm, being based in the informal setting of Mercato Metropolitano. Andrea Rasca, the founder opened up the event explaining his vision and hopes of creating a sustainable ‘shopping mall’ with a strong community feel.

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Video by Susan Bolam

Working at the leading foodservice agency we are forever discussing new and exciting places to eat out, yet this was the first time I had heard of Mercato Metropolitano and it was a privilege to hear the philosophy behind the concept and have a guided tour.

Mercato Metropolitano is based at an old paper mill within easy walking distance of Elephant & Castle. As I approached the entrance I could already see what a vibrant space it was with a gritty industrial feel and so on-trend, with a couple of street food vendors outside behind some long benches, encouraging customers to sit and enjoy their time there.

Within the main space are numerous food and drink vendors, who at the time I arrived were all busy getting ready for the start of the evening trade. As I learnt from our tour, one area is dedicated to Italian producers whilst the other area promotes food from Britain and other countries.

Andrea Rasca explained that he wanted to create a space which not only sold food but where customers could sit and enjoy the food that they had bought. The company has forged links with organisations such as Farmdrop and The Food Assembly to support local companies and work with the community. Andrea was clear to point out that he doesn’t believe that Italian food is the best, just that they are a nation who understand the variety and biodiversity of food which enables them to understand what is important in one’s diet and help promote the great food they find.

Small producers who will never be able to sell through large retailers are given the opportunity within Mercato Metropolitano to promote their products in the centre of London for a very small investment and a low percentage of their sales. This allows them to dip their toe in the water at minimal risk to themselves. When selecting producers Andrea first stipulates that the food is good, then he sees how natural & artisan it is and if possible, how local. Lastly it is whether it is organic, however this is not essential, most important is that the food tastes good.

The next layer within the Mercato Metropolitano ethos is a learning platform. Within the venue is the kitchen where free classes are held to teach children and students within the community the basics – not only how to cook, but also how to read labels on food products and understand ingredients. As well as a gym and a cinema there is strictly no Wifi on the premises all helping to achieve and build on Andrea’s vision of creating a community and a place to meet up in real life rather than online.

Whilst Mercato Metropolitano is not yet a zero-waste operator, Andrea Rasca is very keen to achieve this, having grown up learning from his grandmother who did not waste any food. His desire for zero waste is part of a larger vision around sustainability. As well as a small hydroponic container, there is also a mushroom farm where the coffee waste is used to grow the mushrooms which are then used in the pasta & pizzas sold on the premises – small things that all have a positive impact.
Following our wonderful tour which included a stop at a well-stocked deli selling hard to source Italian produce, a bar serving a wide range of beers including Italian artisan brews and ‘Bottles & Battles’ whose focus is on natural Italian wines from small producers, our generous host provided us with some of the fayre to enjoy accompanied with some fine wine from Tuscany.

My thanks to Arena and Mercato Metropolitano for hosting such a wonderful and informal event during which I learnt so much and met some wonderful people from our industry. And congratulations to Arena on stepping out of the comfort zone and introduce us all to this great concept.

To find out more about Mercato Metropolitano click here.