In October last year I had the misfortune to pass through Gatwick South Terminal on route to meet a client in Portugal. I say ‘pass through’ intentionally, as I tried hard not to touch the sides. The signature bar was a hideous, sticky Wetherspoons that looked like it had been shipped in from Blackpool along with the locals, and there was nowhere for a sit down lunch, unless you’re pubescent and still think Nando’s is a treat. How can an international hub so critical to Britain’s growth get away with it, I thought? How can Gatwick seriously lobby government without sniggering into their handkerchiefs at the thought of anyone grown up actually coming to check them out? You can read the original rant here.
Good old England is so open minded and future focussed that we’ve only spent several decades cogitating as to where to put this extra runway we so badly need. And we still haven’t made a decision. Never you mind that China has 66 new airports planned over the next five years (airports not runways, remember) and is currently expanding a further 100 existing airports. Oh well, I’m sure we’ll come up with a plan or something.
So, having recently visited Gatwick again, I have to say that things at South Terminal have much improved. The dreadful British public are still there of course, in their hordes. The dull of eye and loud of mouth clamour over all sorts of pre-flight crap when they’re in holiday mode, so it certainly feels like the place is making money at least. But bang in the middle of the upper concourse there’s a bright new bar exactly where it should be. Lamely titled The London Bar, presumably because it’s in Crawley, it is nonetheless a vast improvement serving contemporary cocktails, in a somewhat surly fashion, as is the wont of the younger generation.
Better still, I’m pleased to say the star of the show is no longer the utterly cynical and fictional Wondertree, it is a real restaurant, from a real living chef. Grain Store is a breath of fresh air and is lifted directly from hip Granary Square in London’s King’s Cross, beneath the glorious new Central St Martin’s College of Art. It claims to source all its meat and veg within a thirty mile radius of the airport, but it’s not until you learn that Chef Bruno Loubet refuses to serve beef (due to the damage beef farming does to the planet) that you realise something new is happening here. Grain Store is all about making vegetables the focus of the plate, not a side dish. And it does so very well indeed. It’s not the organic thing that makes it so appealing, it’s simply the fact that there’s an idea, a point of view, behind the menu. Most airport restaurants are happy to churn out burgers and pizza under the beady eyed gaze of accountants that get over excited by margins and portion control.
Many of the staff here are reassuringly pink and pimply, which is lovely because it means that like the food and the beer they too are home grown and fairly local. And they’re nicely brought up too so they can talk about the provenance of things without getting embarrassed.
I’d like to think that somehow my October rant found its way onto the Gatwick board, where a red faced businessman shook a printout of my words, banged the table and shouted ‘We need to do something…and fast!’ Sadly, I know how long it takes to pull a deal like this together, so credit where credit’s due.
Now that we have a new, energized PM there’s a much better chance we’ll actually get a decision on this damn runway. So good luck Gatwick.