Is it a store? An Italian food court? A cookery school? No, it’s Eataly, which is all those things and more, explains manager Matteo Ferrio. “It’s a food market and restaurant concept, a place where you can eat, shop and learn about high-quality Italian food and drink all under one roof,” he says.

It’s a concept that has made its mark across the globe, with 40 Eataly locations in 15 countries from Japan to Brazil. Now, after a false start (the Selfridges plans in 2016 never happened) and Covid-related delays, it’s finally landed in London.

The site at Broadgate, near Liverpool Street station, made its initial opening last month while indoor dining was still off limits. So it started out offering takeaways and al fresco dining. As restrictions were relaxed, a grander opening that unveiled two indoor restaurants, Cucina del Mercato and Pasta e Pizza – the latter also on Deliveroo – and several bars took place this week. Fine dining restaurant Terra and cookery school La Scuola will open soon.

It’s an unusual way to open. “Traditionally, we would launch all of our services at once, but we have adapted to the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown.” Ferrio says.

Other than that, London will stay true to the blueprint set in 2007 by Oscar Farinetti’s original store in Torino. Now led by son Nicola, Eataly’s formula is about making the disparate elements of its stores work together. The hospitality side feeds into the retail side, which offers a range of over 5,000 Italian products, a wine cellar featuring more than 2,000 labels, plus fresh produce from small, local UK growers.

Pastries, gelato, bread, pasta and mozzarella – made from milk supplied by Rivermead Dairy in Devon – are made fresh on site daily. There are also fresh meat, cheese and fish counters and a bulk refill section – Eataly’s first packaging-free offering to date.

“We cook what we sell, and we sell what we cook,” Ferrio says. “Only at Eataly can you shop all the same ingredients that are used in our restaurants and counters. We are different from the traditional food hall model, as all our restaurants and counters are run by us, with our chefs and teams.”

Working in three restaurants and six eateries spread across two floors, those chefs – among the 300 people London Eataly employs – will also run cookery classes focusing on different regions of Italy, initially online and later in person.

“It’s very important and what sets us apart from other markets and restaurants,” Ferrio says. “Our store is designed with open kitchens and production labs so we can share our craft with our customers.”

Brands have the opportunity to get involved in this education job, too. Opening week saw reps from Campari, Natoora and Venchi putting on demonstrations and tastings. Illy is behind the destination’s Gran Caffè Illy, while Aperol has the Aperol Spritzeria bar.

“We have a lot of faith in our concept and believe that the biodiversity and gastronomic traditions of Italy are so vast there is always more to explore and discover,” he says. “We change our offer seasonally and offer a range of eating and shopping experiences so there is something for everyone to enjoy.”

“We cook what we sell, and we sell what we cook”

It’s telling that he talks about shopping “experiences” rather than trips. Because as the various elements of its business show, Eatatly is first and foremost an experiential retailer. That made Covid a particularly tricky time for it to launch – but the return of indoor dining means it is feeling hopeful. Ferrio says footfall is “growing week by week” and “bookings in our restaurants are positive” since they opened up indoor seating. His optimism is backed by CEO Nicola Farinetti.

“We are delighted to finally open our doors to bring our love of Italian gastronomy to the UK at a time when consumers and hospitality professionals appreciate and need it the most,” he says.

“Togetherness is at the heart of our brand and while we will implement all the necessary safety measures, we cannot wait to meet our new locals and celebrate passionate artisans and high-quality food in a dynamic and culturally diverse reality such as London.”