A multibillion-pound upgrade is putting London's number-two commuter hub firmly on the events map
Words: Stuart Derrick
When I worked in Victoria nearly 20 years ago, it was a heads-down destination. There wasn’t much to detain you beyond a pint or two before hopping on the Tube. How times change. Over the past decade, the area has undergone a continuous overhaul, as developers zeroed in on its potential as a destination that people can visit for shopping, dining and events.
First, the concrete canyon of Victoria Street was worked over with major new developments. Cardinal Place and the Zig Zag Building brought arresting modern architecture to what had been a faceless wind tunnel of 60s office buildings. The latest piece in the development jigsaw is Land Securities’ £2.2bn Nova ‘urban campus’, which is on the doorstep of the station that dominates the area.
Victoria funnels 130m people in and out of the capital every year, and after years of being an unappealing construction site, the first three angular buildings of Nova Phase 1 have finally emerged.
Nova is 83,000sq m of office space, apartments, high-end retail and what promises to be London’s newest food quarter. For organisers tired of the squeezed and overpriced West End, it is a breath of fresh air that brings new options for private dining, events and conferences.
Transforming the area is the core concern of the Victoria Business Improvement District (BID). Established in 2010, the not-for-profit organisation works across the private and public sectors to make Victoria a better place to live, work and visit. Over the next decade, more than £4bn worth of investment will create nearly 300,000sq m of new office, commercial and residential space, and a near-150% increase in public space. The idea is to give more reasons to visit and spend time in Victoria.
Companies have already got the message, with a diverse range of businesses making the area their home. Luxury brands such as Tom Ford, Rolls-Royce, Burberry and Jimmy Choo are all in Victoria, as are media players including the Telegraph group, Google and Channel 4. Finance is a growing element, with Deutsche Bank, Mediobanca and Jupiter Asset Management all in situ.
Event organisers are also looking for fresher options in the area, says Margaretha Welsford, sales director at Etc Venues. The company’s Pimlico venue opened in 2011. ‘We were aware of what was happening in Victoria, so we would benefit from that, as well as being just across the water from Vauxhall, with all that’s happening with the Nine Elms development.’
Welsford says the changing nature of businesses in the area is shifting the types of venues in demand. ‘Hotels have been geared towards government business, but there’s less of that and many companies are looking for something more modern. We have seen an increase in IT business, possibly with the location of Google in Victoria.’
Martin Williams, founder of M Restaurants, reckons the opening of M Victoria
in January 2016 put it at the ‘spearhead of a new group of like-minded, high-quality restaurants that are coming into Victoria at a really interesting time.’
M made the move when the area was still something of a building site, but Williams saw the longer-term vision. ‘We wanted to be the first in here and we fought off competition from Australasia and Smiths of Smithfield. Land Securities bought into our view of what Victoria could be. It has a long way to go before it’s the new West End, but that’s the vision.’
With rents in the West End steep and suitable sites hard to come by, Williams is confident that a patient approach will pay off. ‘When you look at who else is here – D&D London
, Jason Atherton, Shake Shack – we can’t all be wrong.’
D&D London founder Des Gunewardena chose Nova for his latest opening, the Nordic-French bar-deli-restaurant Aster
, which can cater for small gatherings up to large receptions. He thinks Londoners are already viewing the area differently.
‘I think the perception of Victoria as somewhere full of civil servants, politicians and commuters passing through has changed significantly over the last few years. This has been due to more interesting companies moving in and also the development of retail in Cardinal Place. But Victoria has not yet got a reputation for exciting restaurants – and that is what Nova will change.’
According to Gunewardena, Nova’s 8,400sq m restaurant and retail section will attract a new foodie crowd to Victoria. Nova Food features 17 restaurants (nearly all with private dining options), while the Sir Simon Milton Square includes more than 700 outdoor seats for casual diners. As well as Aster, event bookers should look to Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa (opening this summer and catering for private parties), Jason Atherton’s Hai Cenato, and Copenhagen sushi and yakitori restaurant Sticks ’n’ Sushi, which offers teambuilding classes.
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This article was first published in Squaremeal Venues + Events, Spring/Summer 2017